In Greece, Trying to Order Anything Except a Heineken Is a Challenge

Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted some facts about the US.  For example, it’s relatively easy to start up a new business here, and the bureaucracy and permits most entrepreneurs face here is piddling compared to in other countries.  One of the European countries that has been in big financial trouble recently is Greece.  Today a story in the NY Times illustrates part of what got them into such a financial mess, the hurdles the rules present to opening a new business and hiring local staff.

Demetri Politopoulos has spent the last 12 years trying to open a microbrewery in Komotini, Greece.  He’s had his tires slashed, his products vandalized and been threatened at his brewery. It seems that getting anything except a cold Heineken in Greece is tough. So far the brewer has lost $5.3 million euros with a scheme to bottle and sell a ‘Snapple-like beverage’ made from herbal tea, using herbs that grow around where he has his brewery. But oh no…in Greece brewers can only produce beer, nothing else.

It’s this 19th century law that’s keeping him and others from exporting their products, and it’s part of why so few businesses are interested in investing in Greece.  But it’s still a great place to be a pharmacist, or some other occupations who have been built golden corrals that keep competitors out and their profits high. For example, those pharmacists can grab some of the highest prices on the continent, and face no competition. Lawyers, too have fixed fees, making them the highest paid of all of Europe’s lawyers.

Even the wages in Greece are set to be out of whack…they average 24% higher than in Germany, where everybody makes a whole lot already. But back to our brewer: He got into trouble when he challenged beer distributors who sell Heineken that’s brewed by by Athenian brewery, with an astounding 98% market share. Still, the brewer believes things will change, and he’s not giving up on the dream of having his Vergina beer available all across the country.