Young, spontaneous and different: In the last 18 months the Pirate Party has produced a series of election surprises. But now it seems that the ship has run aground.
There's rarely been an election defeat that allows such a perfect opportunity for puns than when Germany's youngest party, the Pirate Party, recently failed to win any seats in the state parliament in Lower Saxony. Ever since, we've been reading of the "sinking ship," the flags that are "no longer flying," the "bad headwind," the "stormy crossing" … and so on and so forth.
But reporters and political observers seem to agree on one thing: This party, which drew attention to itself with its charming lack of political know-how and enjoyed one surprise win after the other since it was formed just a year and a half ago, is now facing its demise.
Few core supporters
The reason the Pirates have fallen is that the party lost this element of surprise, according to political expert Carsten Koschmieder, who has closely followed the rise of the party.
Koschmieder says that only two percent of people who have voted for the Pirates really care about the party's core ideology of copyright protection. That's why the Pirates often fail to get over the five percent hurdle and only win seats in places where they manage to get votes from people who are not core supporters. The Pirates' surprise successes in Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein can be explained because voters were turned off by traditional parties, Koschmieder said.
"The reason for the success of the Pirates was dissatisfaction with the other candidates and a feeling that the Pirates would do everything differently," he said.
Plagued by internal battles
Again and again in the past few weeks, the Pirates have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons - namely personal disputes. To put it more precisely: The party leadership was so at odds with one another that there was more public squabbling and bullying going on than in most sandboxes.
"It's become clear that the Pirates aren't that different after all," Koschmieder said. "They have the same problems as other politicians. They have the same internal conflicts and haggling over positions. In the end, they're just like the rest of them."
The head of the Pirate Party in Berlin, Martin Delius, told DW that the party has a communication problem.
"Yes, we made mistakes," Delius said. "We have clear positions on social questions, on the minimum wage, on a united Europe - we have to communicate this message better in the future."
"That's where our national leadership has failed in the past," he said. "We have to catch up now."
Explaining the issues
Koschmieder calls these open battles a "lack of professionalism." And with regard to the content of the Pirates' manifesto, many voters surveyed before the Lower Saxony election were only able to name Internet copyright reform as one of the party's major campaign issues.
DW asked Delius: What do the Pirates stand for? What issues are they taking into their campaign?
"We are talking about transnational identity and about how it should be possible to receive civil rights apart from those that come from the national state," he said. "We are talking about a reform of the election system that gives young people and foreigners living here the right to vote, too, one based on models of direct democracy, also on the federal level with Internet platforms, and we need laws of federal transparency according to the model of the Hamburger transparency law."
For many voters, such dense rhetoric is difficult to understand and makes the party less accessible.
"We are talking about the implementation of an unconditional base income, and, until that happens, of a legally enforced all-encompassing minimum wage," Delius continued. "The alternative energy revolution has to take place! - For this to happen, we need a network of infrastructure that isn't controlled by any central providers, but allows citizens to supply their own electricity to the network."
Formulating the message
The various perspectives that one can hear among the Pirates' public voices - and their incomplete spectrum of issues - hasn't exactly made it easy for the party to sell itself in Germany. And this, says Carsten Koschmieder, is what the Pirates have to work on in the coming months.
"The Pirates have to think about what they really want, and how they can formulate their stance in a serious way," he said. "Not - 'We demand everything!' - but rather: 'We've surveyed the situation and have a reasonable concept that one of our credible representatives can present to the people.'"
If the Pirates would stop "fighting internal battles then they would have a chance to establish a basis of voters in the long-term," he added. This is no guarantee of success in their federal election campaign, but it could at least provide a sense of much needed, short-term stabilization of the party's position within the German political landscape.