Italy's parties are set to agree a deadline of the end of 2024 to complete tenders for lucrative contracts to manage bars and other facilities on the country's beaches, politicians have said, easing tensions within the ruling coalition.
Licences to rent out sun loungers and beach umbrellas are traditionally family-controlled and passed down from one generation to another in Italy. Rival entrepreneurs say they have been unfairly deprived of a slice of a major business.
"We are close to clinching a positive solution," Federico D'Inca, minister for relations with parliament, told Reuters.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi earlier this year tried to reach a deal within his national unity coalition to launch the tenders as of Jan. 1, 2024, but centre-right Forza Italia and League parties held up approval in parliament.
They argue that keeping it in the family maintains low costs for beachgoers and prevents Italy's 7,500 kilometres of coastline from falling into the hands of big chains that might not respect local traditions.
Barring last minutes surprises, the parties are expected to approve an amendment establishing that current concessions remain in effect until the end of 2023. Italian authorities can extend them until Dec. 31, 2024 at the latest to conclude the tender process.
The coalition still needs to arrange a scheme to compensate the outgoing concessionaires if they lose the tenders, lawmakers told Reuters.
The licence system's reform is part of a bill to increase competition in product and services markets, which both houses of parliament need to approve this year to fulfil commitments Rome agreed with the European Commission. This would help Italy to unlock €40 billion in post-COVID recovery funds.
The ruling parties aim to secure Senate approval no later than 31 May, D'Inca added.
Beach concessions are officially state owned but rarely come up for public bidding, allowing Italy's balneari - or beach managers - to keep a tight grip on amenities ranging from single-shack parasol rentals to up-market bars and restaurants.
In 2019, the government raised just €115 million from the sale of beach licences, while the business itself is estimated to be worth some €15 billion annually, according to a study by the Nomisma consultancy.