By Giada Zampano
ROME (AA) – The Italian government headed by Mario Draghi faces a key test in parliament as its litigious coalition parties keep clashing over a controversial measure that would allow giving the management of Italy’s highly-lucrative beach resorts to foreign investors.
The fractious ruling coalition – which includes the left-wing Democratic Party along with the right-wing League – has recently forced Draghi to address parliament on the Ukraine conflict, after some lawmakers called for a quick end to weapon deliveries and stronger efforts to restart peace talks.
However – if Draghi’s speech succeeded in soothing divisions over the Russia-Ukraine conflict – a heated controversy over beach resorts and their possible management by multinational groups may put the whole government tenure at risk, forcing the Italian premier to face a crucial confidence vote.
Such votes – where lawmakers either approve a law or spark a government crisis – have often been used by recent governments to overcome parliamentary gridlocks.
Draghi’s government has announced earlier in the year that permits for the rich beach resort business will no longer be automatically extended to Italian private owners, but will instead be put up for auction.
The government had tried and failed to bring in the measure previously in order to introduce more competition into the €15 billion ($16 million) a year sector and to decrease prices for tourists. Beach resorts can now charge families €40 or more for a couple of sun loungers and an umbrella at the beach.
In some coastal towns, private operators occupy over 90% of the sands.
The confidence vote would focus on a key package of competition measures, which include the one on beach resorts’ licenses. A failure in winning the vote, or a poor showing by the government coalition, could deal a fatal blow to the government that is already facing increasing pressure – as families and companies are hit hard by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukrainian crisis.
The vote has not been called yet, but Draghi made clear last week that if parties decide not to back him on this key economic package – which needs approval by the end of the year – he will be ready to face the confidence test.
The Italian leader is backed by a broad majority in both branches of parliament and has good chances to win a vote of confidence, but further infighting and delays in the government’s decisions risk derailing the use of EU aid funds, which are now crucial for Italy's ailing economy.
As the Ukrainian war keeps fueling political infighting, Italy’s unruly parties are now battling over the delicate and long-discussed matter regarding the management of Italian beach resorts.
The issue is key for Italy’s troubled tourism industry, but has not been addressed for years. Sixteen years ago, EU commissioner Frederick Bolkestein convinced EU members that the concession of beaches should occur through European tenders and be opened to foreign groups.
Since then, Italian governments have failed to safeguard the peculiarities of Italy’s national beaches – known around the world for their beauty and exclusiveness – and the need for them to be part of a national protection plan.
After Europe threatened hefty sanctions for non-complying countries, Draghi announced the necessary publication of the call for international tenders by the end of 2023.
Noting that other European countries have protected national interests and kept the management of their coasts, Italy’s main right-wing parties – including the ruling League – warned that foreign groups would be ready to “take possession” of the precious beaches of Liguria, Romagna and Tuscany.
Harsh criticism also came from the far-right opposition party Brothers of Italy, which accuses the government of bending to the EU will, putting the autonomy of the Italian parliament at stake.
“This government is preparing to face its 51st vote of confidence, bowing to Brussels’ diktats,” said lawmaker Riccardo Zucconi. “With the only objective to give away Italian beaches to foreign multinationals and big groups, the Italian parliament will be marginalized once again.”
Critics of the new measure also stressed that “standardization” of Italian beaches would end up distorting the country’s vital tourist industry, already plagued by the effects of the pandemic.
The mayor of Tuscany’s Forte dei Marmi – one of Italy’s finest beach resorts – wrote an open letter to Draghi, explaining that forcing a parliamentary vote on this delicate matter would hurt Italy’s cultural heritage.
“These historical resorts should be protected, as they belong to our collective memory,” wrote Bruno Murzi, adding that the whole Italian tourism system is at risk.