Undeterred, Athens Eateries, Coffee Shops Keep Taking Over Sidewalk Spaces

ATHENS – Repeated pledges by successive mayors of Greece’s capital to remove unlawfully-placed restaurant and coffee shop chairs and tables from sidewalks have failed yet again, with violations on the rise.

City officials reported that in the first four months of 2024, the Municipal Police recorded 1,246 violations of sidewalk table seating regulations, marking a 54% increase compared to the same period in 2023, highlighting the impunity enjoyed by business owners.

Despite orders to remove the tables and chairs, including 300 violations reported from April 4-21 alone, there is no indication of whether the police were ignored, if fines were issued, or if authorities dispatched crews to remove the sidewalk furniture, which forces pedestrians to walk in the streets.

Officers also conducted 466 inspections for noise pollution in bars and cafes, uncovering 136 violations that have been referred for prosecution. However, legal proceedings in Greece can be protracted, and authorities are frequently disregarded by businesses acting with impunity.

Newly elected Mayor Haris Doukas, who assumed office on January 1 with a promise to address the issue, has found himself unable to curb the practice, joining a list of mayors who have been effectively sidelined by business owners.

Athens mayors have limited authority over municipal policies, as the state holds more power in certain areas, necessitating mayors to seek permission or assistance, particularly in cases of restaurants obstructing sidewalks with tables and chairs.

While restaurants and eateries are permitted to lease space on sidewalks, many exceed their allocations without facing consequences, with fines rarely imposed and laws often flouted with impunity.

Doukas remarked on SKAI TV that fines are disproportionately low compared to the profits generated, similar to the minimal penalties for tax evasion on islands such as Mykonos, where businesses opt to pay fines rather than comply with regulations, as the financial gains far outweigh the penalties.


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