In Dubrovnik, thousands of tourists invading the streets for the Summer Festival
Irene Helmes

PALMA — You live in one of those special places where people travel from all around the world to visit. A dream? More like a neverending tourist hell, says Venice resident Elisa Crepaldi. "Some of the most beautiful areas in the city are no longer accessible to locals. We have to renounce living in some neighborhoods of our own city."

A local activist named Pere Perelló, from the Spanish island resort of Palma de Mallorca, is counting his problems: "Gentrifcation, expulsion of people from their neighbourhoods, shutting down of local stores — and more." As global tourism grows, so does the weight on locals who live in vacation destinations.

Normal stores are replaced by souvenir shops and franchises.

The worldwide travel industry is setting new records every year, and locals are doing the calculations. "Everything is booked, the prices are higher and the season longer," a local Mallorca newspaper noted in late June. During the summer, as many as 180,000 passengers fly through the Palma airport every day. In the peak season, there are as many tourists as there are citizens, Biel Barceló, the tourism minister, points out.

Still, it would seem, overall, the travel boom is a positive development for a country like Spain, which has struggled with high unemployment. Right?

Not even close, says the Majorcan protest group "Ciutat per a qui l'habita" (the city for those who live in it). "It's a minority that profits at the cost of the majority," the group declared in its October 2016 founding Manifesto. "Normal stores are replaced by souvenir shops and franchises. Traditional markets are transformed into "entertainment centers for tourists," people live in fear of being evicted, we are faced with the destruction of the island."

Venice has long been held as an example of the negative consequence of tourism, where only a few tens of thousands of residents of the old town have had to learn to live with more than 30 million tourists every year. But aren't cities supposed to be big enough for everyone? Everyday experience and studies show the opposite to be true. "The locals are desperate and more and more unhappy with the tourists," Venice resident Crepaldi notes. "Even the ones who are respectful, as they no longer even get noticed."

They have no idea what the city is really like.

In Barcelona, the number of annual visitors has grown over the past three decades like in no other city — now around 30 million visitors — that specific neighborhoods are no longer nice places to live. The city's mayor Ada Colau was a vocal activist against uncontrolled mass tourism before her election in 2015.

Port cities, especially those that offer day cruises, like Dubrovnik, Croatia, the problem can be extreme: some experts fear that the narrow, crowded alleys could be a death trap in case of mass panic. "Decency and respect seem to be values forgotten by the tourists," says Crepaldi. "Whoever wants to ride their bike through the street, park his car on the Piazza San Marco or bathe in the Grand Canal obviously has no idea what the city really is like."

Nora Müller, a 27-year-old German native who now lives in Palma, has become active with "Ciutat." "Inhabitants demand their city back." she said. It is not about preferring a certain type of tourism, but of "putting a clear limit on the masses."

Locals protesting against mass tourism in La Rambla, Barcelona Photo: Jordi Boixareu

Europeans, who tend to prefer to travel individually and seek the most authentic experiences, would certainly agree with the goal of the locals. But they don't realize they are themselves part of the problem. There are no "good" or "bad" tourists anymore. In fact, the so-called "ugly" tourists may actually be less harmful.

"The travelers who are mostly in their hotels and on beaches, almost like they are confining themselves to a ghetto. They hardly disturb the locals," Nora observes. The growing number of holiday homes and boutique hotels, on the other hand, does have an effect on the city. "As a traveler you may feel that you are something special in your little apartment, but you are also a part of the crowd."

Tourism researcher Jeroen Oskam, director of the hospitality management school in the Hague, points out the often paradoxical foreign perceptions: "In Berlin, one million Airbnb visitors in 2016 felt they were not part of the tourist mass," Oskam said. "The marketing is brilliant. The image of the cliché tourist taking selfies in front of the Eiffel tower is contrasted with travelers sitting in an apartment enjoying their time together"

Both hotels and Airbnb contribute to the overburden of cities.

It is a well-known joke that tourists are looking for non-touristic experiences. "Hotels can't keep up — when you stay at a hotel, you are by definition a tourist. But it doesn't mean that Airbnb users are not part of mass tourism either."

Majorca's "Cuitat per a qui l'habita" has targeting speculators and investors. On a small scale, the sharing economy can offer short-term advantages to inhabitants, but when it becomes a mass thing, it is ultimately taken over by big companies. It is not individual travelers or owners of holiday homes they oppose, but the developement that comes with them.

"The part of speculation varies between cities depending on local regulations,", Oskam observes. "Both hotels and Airbnb contribute to the overburden of cities," he says. But there is a difference: "Cities can regulate hotels, not Airbnb rentals."But these regulations are what locals are asking for around the world, in New York, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Berlin. Inevitably, locals wind up in conflict with their own year-round neighbors: the worst nightmare for one is the livelihood of someone else, whether it is about housing or tourist shops or bars. "There are those who choose to close their eyes," says Crepaldi of her fellow Venetians. "You can earn a lot of money from tourism."

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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