Jacy Meyer in Prague -
With a name like the Pirate Party, one doesn't expect much in the way of serious politics. But addressing issues ranging from transparency in government to corruption, the Pirate Party is actually a solid, growing international movement that has big plans for Europe.
The Pirate Party International (PPI) General Assembly was held in Prague April 14-15. More than 200 representatives from 24 countries attended, with many more watching the events from home being live-streamed. Typically thought of as a party for 20-something tech geeks, the weekend gathering, while dominated by males, also had women and a range of ages in attendance.
While Pirate Parties from different countries focus on a number of issues, those most important to the party as a whole include civil rights, direct democracy, copyright and patent law reform, data privacy, and open sharing. And to help push these agendas, the representatives agreed at the conference to prepare a joint platform and campaign for the elections to the European Parliament in 2014.
The party has had a variety of successes since the first Pirate Party was formed in Sweden in 2006 by Rick Falkvinge. Sweden currently has two Pirates in the European Parliament and in September, the German Pirate Party entered the Berlin Parliament with nearly 9% of the vote. Further success for the German Pirates came in March when they scored an upset in the Saarland regional elections with more than 7% of the vote.
Falkvinge says that there were three things that motivated him back in 2005 to start a new political party: a software pirate debate in the EU, a copyright monopoly law in Sweden, and a data detection directive in the EU. "With the copyright monopoly in Sweden, it would have made all downloading illegal, but there's no way to know if where you are downloading from is a legal source - it struck at independent artists," Falkvinge says. "Everyone was debating this but the politicians, and I found it very odd they had such a blind spot - what does it take to get them talking?"
The Swedish Pirate Party has spawned similar parties in more than 50 countries around the world. Not all may be registered parties in their country, however elections aren't the most important thing for Pirates; campaigning and raising awareness is. In Slovenia, the party is not registered but its president, Rok Dezelak, estimates it has about 5,000 followers. "The conference has been quite exhilarating, and many decisions were made to make the party work even better and I believe it will," Dezelak says. "We have a new board, more activities, plus new members to prepare ourselves on a larger scale - EU policies and abroad - there are pressing issues regarding transparency and its effect on democracy."
One of the major issues discussed at the general assembly was the 2014 EU parliamentary elections and how the party should react and prepare for them. An idea of a European Pirate Party was floated and Dezelak for one is behind it. "I'm a strong supporter for a EUPP to take a stand and deal with the daily pressing issues from parliament and the whole structure of the EU and the Slovenian Pirate Party will definitely be very supportive in that sense," he says.
Dezelak believes the issues affecting Slovenia parallel those concerning Europe as a whole, like human rights, transparency, e-government, reform of the copyright system and open standards. Slovenia voted in a new government about six months ago and Dezelak would like to see a bit more action from them compared with the previous government. "We had a left government before, now we have a right, and I believe the new government is still pragmatic about making decision on these issues, like the [Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement]," he says. "We would like more expressed opinions, not just waiting for EU decisions."
The Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, is currently being reviewed by the European Court of Justice on whether or not the act violates EU human rights and freedoms. Many countries that had initially signed the treaty, including Slovenia, Czech Republic and Bulgaria, have delayed ratification due to public protests. "The most important thing is that we aren't sleeping," says Ivan Bartos, president of the Czech Pirate Party. "People may not see it because the media covers things that just happened and it is hard to present the constant work that the Czech Pirate Party does all the time."
The Czech Pirate Party has participated in every municipal and parliamentary election since 2010, and currently has three members serving at the municipal level. They are now gearing up for regional elections in the fall as well as the EU election. Bartos says the Czechs would prefer an EU-wide platform, rather than a European Pirate Party. "The Czechs are of the opinion that we should identify people to coordinate our approach to Brussels as one power," he says. "A EUPP in my opinion is too much bureaucracy, and there's not enough time. We prefer a platform, a dynamic environment, and media spokespeople to discuss a commonly agreed upon programme."
Bartos adds that each party has their own channels in their countries covering their population, but acting as one party and presenting the party's ideas. "Good results in one country influences the results in another," he says. "The real advantage would be a media face and informing people of the Pirates' goals."
Anna Troberg, leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, agrees with the format. "We want an EU platform for all parties; it would always vary locally, but agree on five to ten points like more openness, more democracy at the EU level," she says. "We benefit from helping each other, we are not a movement with a lot of money - we rely on donations and people working in their spare time."
As the oldest Pirate Party, she says locally they are working on broadening their platform. "Integrity, culture, knowledge is our main perspective and we are working in Sweden on broadening the platform both on the local and EU level," she says. "We realized our political core is applicable to other areas which we haven't explored before."
Opportunity and expectations
Founder Falkvinge sees two big challenges for the movement as a whole - one political and one philosophical. "Our political challenge is getting re-elected - it's one thing to get elected, another to get re-elected," he says. "I predict like the Green Party went in, went out, then went in and stayed in, I think that's what we'll do too."
Falkvinge likens what the Pirates are doing to past political movements and this is where the philosophical challenge comes in. "Look at movements before us - Liberals, Workers, Green - cycles that re-conquer democracy happen about every 40 years," he says. "If you follow the trajectory of movements before us, they started as protest movements, and then formulated an alternative to what they were protesting and moved from that to a deeper ideology. The Workers had solidarity, the Greens had sustainability. We are wording the policy we have; we share a common goal and are putting it into text."
So what does Falkvinge think the Pirates "word" might be? Empowerment is his guess. "The net is a great equalizer - everyone's voice is worth the same and it's absolutely beautiful," he says. "The empowerment issues are the most important. The net changes power structures at the core and our policy and organization reflects that."
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