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Italy’s beaches are a battleground of the European economy

To venture outdoors in heat-struck southern Europe these days is an act of sweaty defiance. Perhaps the only sensible place to head for is the seaside. In most countries, little more is needed for a successful beach outing than a few spades, a parasol and sunscreen (trashy romance novel optional). Those heading for the shore in Italy, however, should also bring their wallets. From Bari to Venice to Palermo, much of the Italian coast is in effect the private property of a lucky few. Families holding concessions to run beach-side establishments monopolise the shoreline with row after row of reclining chairs and brightly-coloured parasols. Forking out the price of a couple of cinema tickets for a day’s shade is a staple of Italian summers, on a par with gelato and the national football team underperforming in the World Cup.

As economic actors go, there may be worse than these amiable balneari, dedicated to offering sweltering customers a respite from the sun and an occasional lemonade. And yet, the manner in which Italian beaches are run has left European authorities redder in the face than a toddler unattended in the sun. For over a decade the European Commission in distant, drizzly Brussels has tried to make the sector comply with rules ensuring the eu economy is open and competitive. In its view the balneari arrangements amount to the capture of a lucrative business sector by protected incumbents—the very thing crimping European growth. Is that so? To grasp the nature of this vital issue better, Charlemagne grabbed his sunglasses and flip-flops for a visit to the Italian coast.

Source: The Economist