European legislation on the single market for services continues to haunt beachside service providers, who fear increased competition and a loss of investment. A forthcoming ECJ ruling could prove to be significant. EURACTIV Italy reports.
On Wednesday (17 February), seaside operators were out in force in Rome to protest once again against the Bolkestein Directive, which regulates services within the internal market. It has long been a bone of contention between the EU and Italy, which fears the impact the legislation will have on around 30,000 seaside businesses that have already invested a great deal of capital and which will have to compete with other operators, from other EU countries. The affected parties have banded together to request that the Italian government address the issue.
It all began back in 2008, when the European Commission opened an infringement procedure against Italy on account of the incompatibility of its policy of automatically renewing licences for seaside operators and the Bolkestein Directive. The Directive stipulates that licences to use public land should be awarded through a tender process. This particular dispute was resolved in 2010, when Rome agreed to overhaul its procedures, despite the fact that its own legislation on the matter had not yet been approved.
Following a failed attempt by the former Minister for Tourism, Piero Gnudi, to award licences of less than 25 years through public auction, Italy bought itself some time by extending the validity of licences due to expire in 2015 until the end of 2020. This was in the hope that discussions with the Commission could be reenergised. Even former Commissioner for Maritime Affairs, Maria Damanaki, had mooted the idea of revising the Directive in order to take into account the needs of the sector, after the European Parliament requested an assessment of its impact on the industry.
The issue was further complicated at the end of 2015 when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) was asked to rule on the application of the Directive. The case concerned Promoimpresa s.r.l., an Italian company that in 2006 obtained an area of state property of some 222 m2 on Lake Garda. It intended to use the site for kiosks, bars, docks and piers and was granted a licence that expired at the end of 2010.
Instead of having its licence automatically renewed by the consortium that had issued it, the area was put to public tender, in accordance with European legislation. Promoimpresa turned to the regional administrative court of Lombardy and appealed the consortium’s decision, as well as a similar ruling in 2008, in which another court ruled that licences for state property should be awarded according to the free circulation of services, independent of pre-existing arrangements or previous licence holders.
According to Promoimpresa, both decisions conflict with national legislation which extends maritime licences until 31 December 2020, in which lake-based operators could also be included
Lombardy’s regional court turned to the ECJ for help and the Luxembourg court will rule later this month on whether the Italian law prolonging licences is compatible with European legislation on non-discrimination, competition and freedom of establishment, as enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon.
Regardless of how the court rules, Italian operators have called upon lawmakers in Rome to come up with a solution to the problem.