Government and judicial authorities in Greece responded to the growing movement for free access to the beaches which in many cases have been taken over by beach bars and other businesses renting out seaside chaise lounges and umbrellas.
Finance Minister Costis Hadzidakis issued a statement saying breaches of the law will not be tolerated. “I have given instructions … for inspections to be stepped up,” he said.
The government “will not exempt anyone” from inspections to ensure that beach bars and related food facilities are following regulations and not blocking the public’s free access at any beach, he added.
Public access to the beaches of Greece for free is protected by the Greek constitution, he noted.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court prosecutor Georgia Adeilini launched an investigation into the issue.
Reclaim the Beach movement started on Paros, Greece
The campaign started on the Aegean island of Paros last month.
Hundreds of Paros residents gathered at the popular Santa Maria beach to protest against the uncontrolled spread of privately run loungers and umbrellas on the beaches. They demanded space to put down their towels.
A few days later, the campaign succeeded. The privately run loungers and umbrellas were removed from half of the beach.
The protests that spread to the islands of Naxos and Serifos were dubbed the “beach towel revolt,” referring to the items beachgoers brought with them to sit on before the spread of rented chairs. However, campaigners dismiss that the movement is simply about towels.
“We are united by the concern for the shrinking of public space and our displacement from the beaches of our country,” the Paros Citizens’ Movement for Free Beaches says.
“We are concerned about the lawlessness on the beaches of Paros by companies that exploit parts of the beaches and arbitrarily occupy the common space with deckchairs and umbrellas, far beyond the limits provided by the concession contracts they have signed.
“We defend the right of the citizens and visitors of our island to have free access to the beaches we love. The Greek summer is part of our soul, it is part of our identity: let’s not let anyone take it away from us,” the Movement says.
Private beaches are illegal in Greece, where the constitution stipulates that all coastal strips are state property with guaranteed public access.
However, rocketing numbers of vacationers in the tourism-reliant country have driven up demand for beaches offering sun loungers, shelters, refreshments, snacks and — all too often — loud music.
Local authorities lease limited sections of beaches to entrepreneurs who bring in the amenities during the summer months and in some cases charge customers more than 100 euros ($109) for an umbrella and a pair of chaise lounges.
On many Greek islands, it’s now difficult to find a beach without the rentals during the height of the summer tourist season.
Protesters say that some entrepreneurs often far exceed the scope of their leases, taking up entire beaches with their wares and sometimes banning non-paying visitors from setting up on their turf.