A Short History Of The Pirate Party, Who Just Clobbered Merkel's Allies In German Elections

Pirate Party Berlin Germany

Photo: AP

The Pirate Parties of Europe may still form a very small part of the political spectrum, but they are an extremely vocal section.Slowly but surely, they seem to be becoming the party to watch in European politics. The German party recently won 7.4 per cent of the votes in a state election last month, beating the FDP (the junior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition) by miles (they could only scrape together 1.2 per cent of the votes, Spiegel Online reports).

Incredibly, one recent poll suggests that the party could enjoy a record 12 per cent nationally.

Now armed with parliamentary seats, as well as a seat in the EU parliament, the Pirate Party has a better chance of making sure their voice is heard. We take a look at how a group of people’s dissatisfaction with internet legislation led to their creation.

The original Pirate Party was formed in Sweden in 2006.

On its website, the 'Piratpartiet' lists its three main campaign points as:

  • reformation of the copyright law,
  • abolition of patents,
  • and respect of an individual's right to privacy (from government surveillance).

They were the creators of torrent site The Pirate Bay.

One of the pioneers of the Pirate Party was Rickard 'Rick' Falkvinge.

He was inspired by the creation of 'Piratbyran', the Piracy Bureau, in 2003, whose aim was to stimulate debate about copyright laws and file sharing, according to his website. When copyright laws in Sweden got tougher in 2005, Falkvinge decided the time had come to take the debate to the politicians.

Offshoots soon sprung up all over the world, and there are now at least 50 Pirate Parties in various countries.

In 2010, 44 delegates from the international pirate community formed Pirate International, although the original Swedish party did not join, according to PressEurop.eu. Pirate International has its own constitution of membership.

The parties have frequently been dismissed by the media.

Deutsche Welle questioned the party's stance on copyright, and said its other promises, like guaranteeing a basic living wage and providing free public transport were deemed too naive. It has also been called 'its own worst enemy' by Spiegel Online, which has criticised its 'no holds barred debating culture'.

Despite this, the parties have polled surprisingly well.

The Swedish Pirate Party won 7.1 per cent of the votes in the 2009 national elections and one seat in the EU parliament in the same year, the BBC reports, while the German party grabbed nine per cent of the vote in Berlin's 2011 state elections, winning 15 seats in the legislature in the process. Numerous other Pirate Parties hold seats in local government.

Recent elections suggest this wasn't a flash in the pan.

In the recently-concluded German state elections in Saarland, the German Pirate party won 7.4 per cent of votes, or four parliamentary seats, defeating Angela Merkel's coalition partners (who could only manage 1.2 per cent), the AP reports.

They are at 12 per cent in national opinion polls.

Their success is mainly attributed to a feeling of disenfranchisement, especially among the youth.

Pollsters say 85 per cent of the Pirates' voters in Saarland did so out of disillusionment with established parties, Reuters reports.

However, not all the Pirate Party factions have done as well.

What happened in Germany cannot be replicated in the UK, according to the Guardian's John Naughton. He explains that unlike in the UK, Germany's electoral system mandates that once a party receives more than five per cent of the vote, it becomes eligible not just to hold parliamentary seats, but also to receive state financial support. Pirate Party UK is still contesting local elections, the Guardian reports.

The Pirate Party of Russia is also trying to officially register itself so it can run for parliament, but it has already been unsuccessful once, according to Ria Novosti.

They face other obstacles as well.

The party are trying hard to formulate a wider policy base.

They have broadened their agenda to include issues such as establishing a minimum wage and providing voters with more opportunities to decide on the issues of the day.

The German party is using a piece of open source software that give all party members an active hand in deliberating policy.

For more on the software, called Liquid Feedback, click here >

Their supporters say they have helped bring changes to the political landscape.

The Pirates' performance in Germany could make it difficult for parties to form coalitions, leaving a 'Grand Coalition' of the two major parties one of the only options, according to Reuters.

Their presence on the European political scene and apparent popularity (Pirate Party UK claims to have 14,000 supporters, while the one in Germany has 21,600) may force other parties to lend more focus to internet and digital copyright issues.

The Swedish Party, whose members are volunteers, is now demanding payment for their labour.

Falkvinge was also nominated to the TIME 100 list of most influential people of the year.

Despite stepping down as the leader of the Swedish Pirate Party in 2011 to devote his time to lecturing about copyright laws, Falkvinge continues to successfully plug the Pirates, thanks to his visibility in the media.

We interviewed Falkvinge last year -- click here to read it >

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