Rome street vendors protest Bolkestein free trade directive

Rome protest follows council vote against Bolkestein free trade directive.

Rome's Campo de' Fiori was empty of market stalls on 29 November as the city's street traders united to appeal to the Italian government to postpone changes to existing commercial licences until 2020.

Rome’s city council approved a motion less than a month ago to postpone the implementation of a European Union directive (Bolkestein), which is designed to open up competition within the services sector and is due to come into effect across Europe in May 2017.

The motion, which was put forward by Rome mayor Virginia Raggi’s anti-establishment Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), has placed the city council on the side of the capital's street traders. It gives Raggi the mandate to lobby central government to delay the directive, which would allow the city to retain control over tenders and licenses in the services sector until 2020.

Protestors on 29 November held placards reading "Non siamo tutti Tredicine" (We are not all Tredicines), a reference to the powerful Tredicine clan, which owns the majority of the mobile sandwich bars around the city and has political connections. Critics of Rome city council's motion, such as Alessandro Onorato from the civic list of entrepreneur Alfio Marchini, say the move plays into the hands of the Tredicine, a claim denied by Raggi.

Demonstrators were joined by representatives from diverse political backgrounds, including Rome's rightwing former mayor Gianni Alemanno, and the leader of the far-left Sinistra Italiana (SI), Stefano Fassina.

The protest comes days after Rome street traders brought traffic in the city centre to a standstill by driving hundreds of vans at slow speed during rush hour on 23 November.

The directive, named after former EU internal market commissioner Frits Bolkestein, aims to create a free market for the services sector by requiring the reissue of tenders for commercial activities such as markets, stalls and food trucks.

However the European Trade Union Congress (TUC) which is opposed to the Bolkestein directive has said it could "speed up deregulation, seriously erode workers' rights and protection, and damage the supply of essential services to European citizens."

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing anti-immigrant Lega Nord, recently described the directive as "deranged legislation that would benefit Mafia organisations, multinationals and illegal traders."