Protests over shoreline use violations, which have seen hundreds of public Greek beaches covered by umbrellas and bars, are increasing in with residents and holidaymakers calling for the rightful return of beaches to the people.
Starting from Paros last month by the “Paros Citizens’ Movement for Free Beaches”, the so-called ‘Towel Movement’, has now extended to other parts of Greece, including Thasos, Corfu, Crete, and Halkidiki and has even reached neighboring Turkey, where locals announcing new protests through social media.
Fed up residents are demanding that shoreline use laws be implemented as more and more complaints are being submitted to authorities. In addition to the illegal placement of umbrellas and sunbeds and the operation of beach bars, laws concerning the permitted volume of music (50dB) are also being repeatedly violated.
It should be noted that all beaches in Greece are public and accessible to all for free.
Last week, Greece’s Supreme Court ordered an investigation into reports that beach bars were occupying and operating illegally on a number of public beaches. The decision came after a growing number of complaints on Paros and Serifos, where a beach bar was reportedly operating despite having been shut down by the municipality.
In response to the growing resentment, Greek Economy and Finance Minister Kostis Hatzidakis ordered beach inspections for violations which concern the illegal occupation be establishments of public space.
According to Greek shoreline laws, which over the last few years have repeatedly been amended, only 30 percent of public beach space can be occupied in protected areas under the Natura program such as in Falarsarna, Crete, and 50 percent in all other cases. This means that half of all Greek beaches should be free of chairs, umbrellas etc. At the same time, any sunbed or umbrella placements should be 5 meters away from the shore.
The issue has come to the forefront after hundreds of businesses countrywide are operating without having relevant permits while local authorities turn a blind eye.
In the meantime, faced with growing public rage, the government announced that it would finally be implementing the law and fines and that it would be amending the law on shoreline use again in the fall.
It should be reminded that three years ago, the Greek Tourism Ministry had announced a draft bill laying out the provisions for the development of diving and golf tourism. Among others, the legislation set out terms and amended previous legal restrictions regarding public forest, land and shoreline use for the development of tourism enterprises.
A year earlier in 2019, environmentalists and awareness-raising groups, including WWF Greece, warned that the new shoreline use law would have “catastrophic effects” and described it as a “premeditated crime”.
According to WWF Greece, the said shoreline bill with particular emphasis on Article 34 was in effect “opening the door to the mass legalization of violations both on the beach and in the sea”.
In 2021, an amendment to the shoreline use law gave rooms to let the right to use the beach for the rental of sea sport equipment, placement of tables and chairs, umbrellas and recliners for public use without restrictions.
In response to the increasing number of complaints and protests, Hatzidakis said the government would “respect the legality of beaches granted by the state and observe the contracts that have been signed in full”.
“Any violation of the legality will find us opposite,” he said, announcing that ministry units would be carrying out inspections and imposing fines on beach bars that illegally occupy space on the beach violating relevant contracts.
Indicative of the extent of the problem, 336 violations were reported in a period of 20 days.
According to media reports, the jurisdiction of shoreline use will be removed from municipal authorities and transferred to the Hellenic Public Properties Company (HPPC).
In view of the protests, consumer rights group “Quality of Life” (EKPIZO) reissued a guide recently, offering advice regarding the use of public beaches in Greece.