The other day an Italian newspaper asked: “Are beaches politically right or left?” That sounds strange, but the whole story is bizarre. It circles around the Italian beaches, these dream strips on the azure. The country is blessed with thousands of miles of it. They belong to the state, i.e. to all citizens – actually. In fact, however, beaches are often small, private domains, inherited over generations, fenced in or walled up. And that’s a cheek.
The state grants usage permits to lido operators, the so-called bathing, for little money: a few euros per square meter, even in the best places. Of the total of 26,689 licenses issued, 21,581 cost less than 2500 euros. Per year. The state only takes in a little more than a hundred million euros. Now when you consider that the bathing Generate a turnover of 15 billion euros a year by renting out their expensive loungers, cabins and umbrellas and with catering, the calculation is quickly made. It’s a great business.
Entrepreneur Flavio Briatore, formerly a Formula 1 Zampano and now owner of discos on all sorts of beaches, once advocated increasing the price of the licenses. “They cost far too little,” he said, remarkably altruistic. His “Twiga Beach” in Forte dei Marmi, for example, has an annual turnover of four million euros, but for this he pays only 17,619 euros in rent to the state. “I think 100,000 euros would be fair.” The colleagues bathing didn’t find it so amusing. They always argue that they have invested so much in their bathrooms that, please, everything should stay the same, forever. Some families have had their licenses since the beginning of the last century. The state has always renewed them automatically, without an invitation to tender. This is how dynasties grow up.
In 2006, Brussels decided that it would no longer work anywhere in the EU. Directive 123, also known as the “Bolkestein Directive”, stipulates that beach licenses must be advertised internationally. The excitement was great. But since Italian politics always makes itself small when powerful corporations resist, Italy has not yet implemented the norm.
Matteo Salvini from the right-wing Lega made himself the guild’s advocate and discovered new voters. They swear by him: three years ago, when Salvini ruled with the Cinque Stelle, Rome quickly extended all concessions by fifteen years until 2033. Nobody found this scandalous, not even the left. Despite reminders from Brussels. The right, which should stand up for competition and free market according to the usual standards, and the left, which should rather stand up for free beaches – all united for the privileges of the bathing. Prime Minister Mario Draghi also shied away from reform.
But now Italy’s highest administrative court has ruled: The end of December 31, 2023, all licenses will expire, Directive 123 will then also apply to Italy. Unless, of course, the beach kings take to the barricades, with Salvini as the leader of the revolution.