The season starts again but the Council of State intervenes on beach concessions: «Tenders now»

The season on the Italian beaches is about to start and where are we? Stop, where we were months ago. On April 11, thousands of beach business owners took to the streets of Rome to ask the government to abandon the “we'll see” attitude and give an answer to a sector that has 10 thousand establishments and employs more than 44 thousand people. The request is for a decree-law before the start of the tourist season, to crystallize the mapping of the beaches created by the government and delivered to the European Commission to resolve the concessions issue. In the meantime, we proceed in no particular order: Whatever municipality you go, whatever situation you find.

But where are we at and why did the chaos break out? State property falls under state jurisdiction, but management is entrusted to the Municipalities and Port Authorities. In the absence of a law (promised in the electoral campaign by the majority) today we are proceeding in no particular order and so there are many Municipalities which, following the Italian law in force and the European directive, have launched new tenders for the new concessions. And the “old” dealers are at risk and are protesting. There are few certainties. First of all, there is the Bolkestein Directive and Italy is in breach of it. The rule is clear: where the number of concessions is limited (due to scarcity of natural resources) a tender is needed, for a limited duration, without automatic renewal and without preferences for the previous concessionaire. In short, concessions (and related earnings) are not a right acquired forever, as has been the case up to now. And in Italy today the only certainty is law 118/2022 approved by Draghi, which, respecting European law, set the expiry of the concessions at 31 December 2023 with a technical extension until 31 December 2024. The deadlines were then postponed by a year by the Meloni government with the Milleproroghe decree, but in contrast with European standards and therefore in doubt according to many local administrators who do not take the risk of “postponing”. In the tug-of-war, Palazzo Chigi mapped the maritime state property. The results? 33% of Italian coastlines are under concession and 67% are free and concessionable. The mapping was delivered to Brussels and the experts are therefore asking that the government take advantage of this data to demonstrate to Europe that in Italy there is no “shortage of natural resources” and therefore the Bolkestein directive can be stemmed. This is what beachgoers are asking for. But while everything is at a standstill and the deadline is approaching, the Municipalities are moving. Many local administrations have published notices and made tenders (writing independently the rules for awarding concessions), others have relied on the postponement of dates decided by the Meloni government, others are waiting. A chaos.

And so comes the request for a decree-law from Assobalneari Italia, an association belonging to Federturismo Confindustria and La Base Balneare con Donnedamare. “We are convinced that the mapping created by our government is the tool to achieve the economic objectives proposed by the Bolkestein Directive. We have requested that the data relating to lake and river coasts also be integrated”, say the two associations

I am in Italy 26,313 concessions were registered, 15,414 are for tourist-recreational use (58.6% of the total, even if they occupy just 0.50% of the total state-owned area). In fact, 72.3% do not exceed 3 thousand square meters. I'm mostly in Emilia Romagna (14.7%), Tuscany (12.9%) and Liguria (11.4%) (Nomisma data for Italian seaside union and Fipe-Confcommercio). The turnover of the sector is around 15 billion euros (Nomisma), but the State collects just over 92 million euros from concessions (2020 Court of Auditors data). And the European directive requires you to respect the rules. In this situation comes the summer of 2024, with forecasts (Domoskopika) of 65.8 million arrivals in Italy and over 266 million presences.

The seaside issue is not just Italian. In Spain the application of the rules on new concessions has begun and there will be many changes already this summer. An example? In Formentera several historic nightlife venues will disappear. The Piratabus, the Lucky, the Cala Saona? They will not be able to open unless under a different name and management. The new regulation for concessions has come into force. New more restrictive criteria, especially in terms of environmental respect. Consequence? Many of the old and historic chiringuitos did not pass the test, making room for new managers who respect the required green regulations. But the season is upon us. It will be a race against time.

Ps. A little while ago the Council of State pronounced: «The Council of State, stop the exemptions on concessions for beaches, the tenders immediately». The ruling has been published: «The criteria of justice of the EU Court must be applied to immediately start the tender procedure to assign the concession in a truly competitive context. Disapply the extensions, the beach resource is scarce”