Savona - “We are all English, we are all against the Brussels technocrats who want to destroy a whole category of entrepreneurs.” The community of concession holders on Liguria’s beaches is raising its voice and the Union Jack, from Sarzana to Ventimiglia. The protest involves 1,500 companies that directly employ about 5,000 workers and have a total annual revenue of nearly €700 million. They represent excellence.
The ruling of the European Court of Justice stung the concession holders: it establishes the illegitimacy of the “automatic and generally applicable” extension of the state concessions until 2020. The extension was the last hope for the Beach Clubs [i.e. It. Bagni Marini] to avoid the lottery of international tenders. And then there is the “Beach Brexit”, which burst out between beach umbrellas, chaise longues, and fruit cocktails this scorching August. The epicentre of the protest is the area around Savona, where membership reaches almost Bulgarian proportions, but the “waves” have spread as far as the French border. The symbol of the rejection of the European rules determined by the Bolkestein Directive is the English flag, which has been flapping over the lifeguard’s heads since 1 August. Of course not all of them are emotionally involved. “This thing doesn’t excite me at all,” said Andrea Sarzano, who has a degree in architecture and is a lifeguard at Bagni Italiani di Savona, “I mean, it doesn’t change anything for me, concessions or no concessions, they’ll always need us lifeguards on the beaches. Of course, I understand the drama for those who have made large investments.” Francesco Lepanto, an English teacher, says that as a bather he isn’t participating in the ‘Beach Brexit’. “Yes, it’s true, these are families that have made investments, but it isn’t fair that the ‘market’ for concessions remains immobilised,” he said, “competition is vitally important.” Paolo Pioppo, entrepreneur, is a tourist from Piedmont on vacation in Alassio who has historically been sympathetic to the English. “The flag? An effective stunt. I am on the side of the beach clubs, although I believe it is a losing battle.”
Don’t tell that to Riccardo Borgo, the owner of the “La Bussola” club at Bergeggi, who is also the national president of SIB (the Beach Clubs Union) which promoted the initiative. Borgo is more ardent than ever. “Like the English, we want Europe to change direction,” he explained, “otherwise, ideally, we will be leaving, closing the door. We are entrepreneurs through hard work not equity. We sweat for the last euro. They have to understand this in Brussels. Our companies have a history, and they deserve respect.” In Santa Margherita and Rapallo, almost all the establishments are participating in the Brexit. The response was lukewarm in Recco and Camogli. And the customers? Solidly on the side of the concession holders, “because we have a relationship and trust that we have built over the years. We go to the beach and we know we can find quality service.”In the area around Imperia, the majority of the customers have not picked up on the meaning of the symbolic protest, since they are used to seeing several countries’ flags waving on the coast. But those who are informed support the claims of the concession holders. “Tourism in Bordighera was ‘invented’ by the English,” said Marta Bianchi, “so it is a symbol that is quite appropriate to display at this time.”
Domenio Mazzitelli, the Regional President of the Beach Club Union, ordered forty flags, and not only for his “little hut”: “I distributed them to colleagues, even outside of the city, I sent them to Vallecrosia and Ospedaletti. We have invested in these beaches for decades, we won’t be driven away by multinationals.” The flags have not yet appeared in Sanremo, but they will in the coming days.