The lower house of the French Parliament adopted yesterday two controversial amendments that will facilitate sales of eyeglasses over the internet. The amendments had been proposed by the French Socialist government, claiming that it will foster competition in the high-margin optical retail sector, helping consumers to save up to €1 billion a year in their eyewear purchases, which are still subsidized by the state and by mutual insurance funds, by bringing retail prices down by 3à to 40 percent.

Industry officials have been criticizing the amendments, claiming that they will lead to job losses in the trade, that it will reduce the quality of eye care and that it will encourage the transfer of lens surfacing and frame manufacturing operations from France to China.

One of the amendments, which are part of a more comprehensive bill regulating consumption, authorizes any entrepreneur to open an optical store as long as he or she employs a certified optician, in line with a European directive. The other one forces ophthalmologists to record the patient's interpupillary distance in their prescriptions, making it easier for the client to purchase eyeglasses on the internet. Opticians generally take care of this measurement in France as part of their fitting services.

A few days earlier, the National Assembly had voted another amendment that eliminates the monopoly that drugstores and optical stores currently have on the sale of contact lens solutions.

The amendments proposed by the government follow an intense debate about the relatively high cost of eye care in France. The government took up some of the arguments mentioned by Marc Simoncini, founder of the low-cost Sensee online store, who has also bought an e-commerce operation for contact lenses, Lentillesmoincheres.com. Some big physical retailers such as Optic 2000 noted that some of the glasses they sell are very competitive, too.