The Minister of Tourism calls for the privatization of public beaches

Italy’s best beaches are divided into ‘stabilimenti’ – beach clubs that offer serried rows of lounge chairs and umbrellas – Getty Images

Italy’s tourism minister has called for the privatization of the country’s last public beaches, weeks after handing over co-ownership of an exclusive beach club to her boyfriend.

Daniela Santanchè, a hardliner who once said she was “proud to be a fascist”, says many free beaches are haunted by “drug addicts” and covered in rubbish.

The most beautiful beaches in Italy are divided into “stabilimenti” – beach clubs which offer serried rows of sunbeds and parasols, as well as toilets, showers and normally a bar or restaurant. But they are expensive – for a family of four, renting sunbeds and an umbrella in high season can cost 50 euros or more.

The few stretches of free beach – often on the edge of the large expanse of sand – are a last refuge for modest people or those who balk at the regulations of beach clubs.

But Ms Santanchè, a prominent member of the far-right Brothers of Italy party led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, said many free beaches were marred by “garbage and drug addicts and no one takes care of them”. They better privatize them, she said.

Critics were quick to point out that the MP was until a few weeks ago a co-owner of Twiga, an expensive beach club in Forte dei Marmi on the Tuscan coast – one of the most luxurious resorts in the country.

Under political pressure, she sold her shares in the company – to her boyfriend.

“The minister, former owner of the Twiga beach club, passed on her shares to her companion and now offers to sell the free beaches to private operators. This is an acute example of a conflict of interest,” said Angelo Bonelli, from a centre-left party called Europa Verde (Greens).

Lucrative beach club concessions

“Associating drugs and litter to justify the privatization and development of the last free beaches is outrageous.”

Matteo Ricci, deputy of the opposition Democratic Party, said: “Which interests does the minister represent? Twiga beach club or Italian citizens?

As tourism minister, she should “ensure everyone’s right to go to the beach”, not erode it, he said.

The minister was discussing a project, inherited from the last government of Mario Draghi, to open up the very lucrative beach club concessions to competition.

She said it would take months to even draft an executive order on the matter and said it was important that beach clubs were not “normalized” if they fell into the hands of multinational corporations.

“Think if we could no longer eat our spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with small clams) or our parmigiana di melanzane (aubergine parmigiana), things that are part of our identity.”

Ms Santanchè served in one of Silvio Berlusconi’s governments before joining Italy’s far-right Brotherhood, which has its roots in the fascist movement.

At a 2008 rally where hardliners chanted “Duce, Duce” in reference to Mussolini, she said: “I proudly claim to be a fascist, if being a fascist means being against the cultural hegemony of the left and kicking illegal migrants in the ass.

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