On billionaires’ quay in Antibes, the sound of summer is the clink of champagne glasses from luxury yachts moored off the French Riviera.
In August, the biggest, most expensive and most lavish boats in the world would normally congregate in Côte d’Azur, a playground for the rich and famous.
This summer, however, Quai des Milliardaires, which is off limits to ordinary people, is unusually quiet, according to locals. They said regulations, taxes and expensive fuel charges have prompted the wealthy to drop anchor in Spain or Italy instead.
Three local politicians have written an open letter to the French president, Emmanuel Macron, bemoaning the French Riviera’s “lack of appeal” and unfair competition from Mediterranean rivals.
They complained that some of the most famous and popular resorts, including Antibes, the biggest yacht port in Europe, Saint-Tropez and Toulon have lost more than one-third of their business this year.
Officials blame the decline on France’s “strict application of European Union regulations” on the taxing of diesel, and a decree from March forcing ship owners to pay national insurance charges for crew resident in France.
Fuel for a 35-metre vessel costs €24,000 (£22,000) in France compared with €11,000 in Italy, and social charges for a crew of seven can be up to €300,000, they said.
“The seriousness of the economic situation for the yachting sector in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region forces us to approach you and call for your direct intervention,” they wrote. “The urgent harmonisation of fiscal and social regulations at a European level has become imperative …”
The letter pointed out that about 2,300 companies employing 9,600 people, with a direct turnover of €2.2bn, are at stake.
There are 142 ports in the region, including those in Corsica, which welcome 66,570 vessels a year.
Franck Dosne, the director of Port Vauban at Antibes, told newspaper La Dépêche: “The drop in the number of visitors is obvious to the naked eye if you look at a map of where the yachts are in the western Mediterranean.”
He described the impact of the social charges, which he claimed had risen from 15% to 55%, as “terrible”, even for wealthy people.
“We’re victim to a new rule that means all sailers resident in France, that’s to say all those onboard boats that stay here for more than three months, must be registered with the French social security … when most are international and already covered by the private [health] insurances of the vessel’s flag state,” Dosne said.
The Nice Chamber of Commerce said the French government’s decision not to offer visiting yachts tax-free fuel, as Italy does, was costing boat owners up to €20,000 a week.
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