Pirate party leads new breed out to change European politics
Young activists confound expectations in Germany and fledgling groups spread across continent as dissatisfaction grows When Gerwald Claus-Brunner walked into the debating chamber of Berlin’s state parliament on Thursday morning, you could be forgiven for thinking he had got lost on the way to the boiler room. Dressed in bright orange dungarees, a bandana and clod-hopping bovver boots, he very much looked as if he had arrived to fix the heating. Instead, the towering 39-year-old fished a folder out of the front pocket of his dungarees and sat down among the parliament’s 149 deputies.
Perhaps the Long John Silver headscarf should have given him away: Claus-Brunner, an electrician by trade, is one of 15 members of the Pirate party who confounded expectations at Berlin’s elections in September by winning a seat at the expense of the Free Democrats, Angela Merkel’s federal coalition partners. His parliamentary comrades include a 19-year-old student (the only female Pirate parliamentarian) and an unemployed physicist. The average age of the faction is just 29. The party, a spin-off from the Swedish Pirate Bay hacker movement, was formed in 2006. For most of those five years they were largely ignored. Few took them seriously, right up to polling day. They certainly didn’t seem to themselves, campaigning with lackadaisical slogans such as
“Do whatever you like” and “Finally: some normal people”,
rather than troubling the electorate with proper policies on knotty issues such as healthcare or education. The Pirates were elected on a manifesto of largely fantastical ideas. They promoted free public transport for all in perennially broke Berlin, civil partnerships for three or more people and a universal state income for those in and out of work, for example – as well as a firm and demonstrable commitment to transparency. Those who voted for them are unlikely to have ever believed their utopian dreams would ever become reality. Nonetheless, the Pirates won 8.9% of the vote in the German capital, and a poll on Friday suggested that were there a general election on Sunday, they would gain around 7% of the vote nationally: enough to send a few MPs to shake some feathers in the Bundestag. Though none of the established German parties are likely to want the unpredictable Pirates in a coalition, in a federal parliament where the government had only the slimmest majority, votes from some wayward Pirates could be decisive. What should worry the political establishment is that the Pirates aren’t a Berlin anomaly. They cannot be written off as the sort of thing that could only happen in the über permissive, stubbornly alternative German capital.
All over Europe, new, left-field (and sometimes right-wing) political parties are being taken seriously at the ballot box. Each has wildly different obsessions. The one thing they all share is the idea – being played out very visually in the occupations in Wall Street, London and Frankfurt – that the established way of doing politics is not working. A Hungarian party represents this notion most graphically: Lehet Más a Politika (LMP), or Politics Can Be Different, won 16 seats in the national assembly last year. It has its roots in civil society and the green and anti-globalisation movements. The LMP deputy Virag Kaufer, 36, is in many ways typical of the new breed of European politician. A former campaigner for Oxfam and other NGOs, she says her party was able to get into parliament within two years of formation because it offered an alternative.
“Hungarians are tired of the arrogance and ignorance of the political elites and their inability to change the current situation,” she said.
Most ordinary Hungarians believe their lives have got worse 22 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, said Kaufer.
“The class divide has definitely increased since the end of communism, and people are fed up of seeing the political elite with their privileges refusing to listen to the common people.”
Denied regular access to the mainstream media, which Kaufer claims is being increasingly constrained by the ruling Fidesz party, LMP has had to be more creative to get its message across. She and her colleagues have started wearing slogan T-shirts in parliament, printed with old quotes from the ruling elite to show the chasm between what they say and what they do.
“Social media is also very important for us – all of our MPs have Facebook sites, some blog, we’re using Twitter more and more,” she added.
Like Berlin’s Pirate party, which has developed a software system called LiquidFeedback, allowing ordinary Germans the opportunity to propose policies, LMP is introducing an interactive function on its website inviting Hungarians to log government cuts. The party also asks voters to submit parliamentary questions and then invites them to the national assembly in Budapest on the day their question is put to the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, or his ministers. Kaufer believes her party’s success is part of a global trend.
“All over Europe there is the same disillusionment with the political elite. You can see this with the Occupy Movement in Wall Street and elsewhere. People are demanding to be listened to, especially young people. They have nothing to lose – unemployment hasn’t been this bad for a long time. I think this is really the last chance we have to change attitudes and listen to the 99%. I am pleased that people are mobilising themselves. It shows they still believe in democracy. They could show their disillusionment in much more radical ways.”
On the ground at the Frankfurt occupation in front of the European Central Bank, protesters say they have lost faith in mainstream politics.
“I don’t think the established parties speak for me,” said 24-year-old Martin from Berlin, who voted for the Animal Rights party in the last federal election in 2009. In the recent Berlin elections, however, he plumped for the Pirates. “I think they are a step towards change,” he said, “but I don’t honestly think they will be able to achieve much within the current party political system in Germany.”
Yet to understand the influence even a small party can have, look back just a fortnight ago to what happened in the Slovakian parliament in Bratislava. There, with the eyes of the world watching, one small party managed to sabotage the first vote on the bailout fund, throwing a temporary spanner in the works to save Greece and other countries from collapse. The doggedly free marketeering Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party was set up only in 2009 after a small group of businessmen and economists decided to
“stop grumbling about the conditions in Slovakia”
and get organised, as the chairman, Richard Sulik, puts it. But after winning 12% in last year’s general election, its 22 MPs were invited to make up the numbers in a precarious four-party ruling coalition and found itself with influence way out of proportion with its size. Sulik, one of the architects of Slovakia’s 20% flat tax, was fiercely opposed to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bailout fund.
“Just like it is impossible to extinguish fire with a fan, it is equally impossible to solve the debt crisis with new debts,”
said Sulik in party pamphlet which called the EFSF
“a road to socialism”
(a potent threat in a post-communist country). When all 22 of its MPs voted against the bill, the motion failed and the government collapsed. In Poland earlier this month, another brand new party shocked the political establishment with its electoral success. Palikot’s Movement (RP), named after its charismatic founder, Janusz Palikot, was underestimated by most politicos. Before election day on 9 October, one analyst, Bartok Nowak from the Centre for International Relations in Warsaw, told the Guardianthat he would be “very surprised” if RP got over the 5% threshold needed to enter parliament. Palikot, a former MP from the ruling Civic Platform party with a peerless talent for publicity, would certainly win a lot of votes in his Warsaw constituency, said Nowak.
“But there’s only one Janusz Palikot. All of the rest of the RP candidates standing elsewhere are unknown.”
On Friday, Nowak admitted he had underestimated Palikot.
“I was surprised, but clearly Palikot tapped into something, especially among young people. They want more personal freedoms, they want the church to have less influence in public life, and they want Poland to be modernised.”
While the Polish prime minister keeps a low media profile as he constructs his cabinet, Palikot has filled the news vacuum by proposing two new laws which parliament will have to debate. All week the Polish media has been obsessing over each – one will see the cross taken down from the debating chamber in the Sejm, the Polish parliament, and the other proposes civil partnerships for gay people. Nowak believes that Palikot will be able to shape both public debate and government policy in its forthcoming term. Whether the Pirates will be able to turn their talent for garnering publicity into adoptable policies is unclear. In other words:
“Will they mess it up?”
asked Sebastian Dullien, senior policy advisor at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.
“They are getting paid salaries now – there is money to waste. There are standards they could fail to live up to. They have to prove that they are not just a joke.”
A field trip taken by three of the Berlin Pirates last week suggests they may not be taking the politics of business all that seriously. At their own cost, they flew to Iceland to visit Besti flokkurinn – the Best party – which won civic elections in Reykjavik last year. It is run by Jo[acute]n Gonnir, a comedian and singer in a punk band, who won after promising his party would break all of its manifesto pledges, which included getting a polar bear for Reykjavik Zoo and free admission to all municipal swimming pools (plus free towels for all). On their return, Christopher Lauer, one of the travelling Pirates, announced at their weekly faction meeting that the trip had gone “really well”. The Best party was interested in adopting LiquidFeedback, said Lauer, and the two parties signed a memorandum of agreement. A concrete achievement? Perhaps not. It was a “declaration on nothing” Born in SwedenSweden is the birthplace of the Pirate political movement, which scored a big electoral success in Berlin last month. The Swedish Pirate party, Piratpartiet, was formed in 2006 and has two MEPs. It has inspired spin-offs in 26 other countries, all campaigning to reform copyright and patent laws and protect an individual’s right to privacy. The Pirates dream of making the internet
“the greatest library ever created”
by limiting copyright on all “aesthetic works” to five years, and believe scrapping medical patents would save millions of lives.
Sources: The Guardian
The Pirate Party
Introduction to Politics and Principles
The Pirate Party wants to:
- Fundamentally reform copyright law,
- Get rid of the patent system,
- Ensure that citizens’ rights to privacy are respected.
With this agenda, and only this, we are making a bid for representation in the European and Swedish parliaments. Not only do we think these are worthwhile goals. We also believe they are realistically achievable on a European basis. The sentiments that led to the formation of the Pirate Party in Sweden are present throughout Europe. There are already similar political initiatives under way in several other member states. Together, we will be able to set a new course for a Europe that is currently heading in a very dangerous direction.
Reform of copyright law
The official aim of the copyright system has always been to find a balance in order to promote culture being created and spread.
Today that balance has been completely lost, to a point where the copyright laws severely restrict the very thing they are supposed to promote. The Pirate Party wants to restore the balance in the copyright legislation.
All non-commercial copying and use should be completely free. File sharing and p2p networking should be encouraged rather than criminalized. Culture and knowledge are good things, that increase in value the more they are shared. The Internet could become the greatest public library ever created. The monopoly for the copyright holder to exploit an aesthetic work commercially should be limited to five years after publication. Today’s copyright terms are simply absurd. Nobody needs to make money seventy years after he is dead. No film studio or record company bases its investment decisions on the off-chance that the product would be of interest to anyone a hundred years in the future. The commercial life of cultural works is staggeringly short in today’s world. If you haven’t made your money back in the first one or two years, you never will.
A five years copyright term for commercial use is more than enough. Non-commercial use should be free from day one. We also want a complete ban on Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies, and on contract clauses that aim to restrict the consumers’ legal rights in this area. There is no point in restoring balance and reason to the legislation, if at the same time we continue to allow the big media companies to both write and enforce their own arbitrary laws.
An abolished patent system
Pharmaceutical patents kill people in third world countries every day.
They hamper possibly life-saving research by forcing scientists to lock up their findings pending patent application, instead of sharing them with the rest of the scientific community. The latest example of this is the bird flu virus, where not even the threat of a global pandemic can make research institutions forgo their chance to make a killing on patents.
The Pirate Party has a constructive and reasoned proposal for an alternative to pharmaceutical patents. It would not only solve these problems, but also give more money to pharmaceutical research, while still cutting public spending on medicines in half. This is something we would like to discuss on a European level.
Patents in other areas range from the morally repulsive (like patents on living organisms) through the seriously harmful (patents on software and business methods) to the merely pointless (patents in the mature manufacturing industries).
Europe has all to gain and nothing to lose by abolishing patents outright. If we lead, the rest of the world will eventually follow.
Respect for the right to privacy
Following the 9/11 event in the US, Europe has allowed itself to be swept along in a panic reaction to try to end all evil by increasing the level of surveillance and control over the entire population. We Europeans should know better.
It is not twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and there are plenty of other horrific examples of surveillance-gone-wrong in Europe’s modern history. The arguments for each step on the road to the surveillance state may sound ever so convincing. But we Europeans know from experience where that road leads, and it is not somewhere we want to go.
We must pull the emergency brake on the runaway train towards a society we do not want. Terrorists may attack the open society, but only governments can abolish it.
The Pirate Party wants to prevent that from happening.
Source: Piratpartiet (Sweden’s Pirate Party)
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