What Impact Could the Orange Vests Have on Italian Politics?

As the Italian Government begins to ease its country out of the recent lockdown designed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of right-wing protesters took to the streets of 70 Italian cities on Tuesday, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government. They accused his administration of being incapable of handling the COVID-19 crisis. They also demanded that Italy readopts the lira currency and drops the euro.

The demonstrations were staged to coincide with Italy’s Republic Day.

What is the Orange Vest Movement?

The rallies were organized by right-wing opposition parties to give voice to what they referred to as “the country that does not give up,” referring to Italian citizens devastated by the virus and struggling to cope with its substantial consequences. The protest took place in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo.

Many of Italy’s right-wing leaders joined the demonstrations, including the League’s Matteo Salvini, Georgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, and Forza Italia’s Antonio Tajani. They joined together with hundreds of protesters to unfurl a 500-meter long Italian flag.

This protest was later joined by “Orange Vest” protesters, who are led by former army general Antonio Pappalardo.

Born on social media, the orange vests’ membership includes conspiracy theorists, anti-vaccination activists as well as ordinary Italian citizens who have seen their economic fortunes hindered by the lockdown. Many of their members also oppose Italy’s EU membership.

This is Just the Beginning for the Orange Vests

Pappalardo told protesters that children should not be made to wear masks and threatened to slap anyone who did. He argued that only he will take care of his lungs, stating that such containment measures infringe upon his freedom.

The Orange Vest movement insists that it is not going away. Organizers told the Daily Express that Tuesday’s rally was only a rehearsal for one that they have planned for July 4th. They intend to shape the future direction of Italian politics. It is too early to judge how successful they may be, but in order to gain an insight into what sort of impact these protests have, the Gilets Jaunes movement is a good example.

Inspired by the Gilets Jaunes

The number of protests in France has diminished, but the Gilets Jaunes still forced the French Government into providing billions of euros of tax breaks for French citizens, and they put neglected swathes of the country back on the map. Frédéric Gonthier, a political scientist at the Pacte research center and the School of Political Studies in Grenoble, told France 24 that they have put the working classes back at the heart of France’s political debate.

If the Orange Vests pursue their aims successfully, they are likely to have a similar impact on Italian politics. Euractiv reports that Giovanni Orsina, professor of politics at Rome’s LUISS University, told AFP that right-wing propaganda will become more attractive if people begin to suffer throughout the country.

How Will Conte Respond?

There are plenty of reasons to believe the Orange Vest movement may continue to grow in numbers. Already, millions of Italians have lost their jobs and the Italian economy is likely to contract by 9.1 percent this year- the worst peacetime decline in nearly a century.

A Tecne poll conduced on April 9th-10th found that support for leaving the EU was as high as 49 percent.

But the Orange Vests’ true impact on Italian politics will be measured by how Conte’s government responds to this movement. Considering he is a fervent supporter of the euro, he is unlikely to take Italy out of the eurozone. Assuming he stays in power, he may be forced into making further concessions to speed up Italy’s economic recovery if the orange vests succeed, which is what he did earlier this year by providing a €4 billion tax break for businesses.

If the League regains power, then Salvini will attempt to please the orange vests as much as he can, more so than Conte.

Either way, the Orange Vest movement represents significant dissatisfaction and anger towards Italy’s political establishment. Ordinary Italians are beginning to witness the potential they could have to transform Italian politics forever, but that depends on whether the Orange Vests succeed in expanding their membership and whether they continue to boost their visibility in the long-term.