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Germany

Pirate Party sets out to change Germany's course

The Pirates are riding a wave of political success. Many voters are supporting the upstarts out of frustration with the traditional parties. But the Pirates themselves want to be much more than a protest group.

"We have the funds of a party with 0.2 percent of the vote and the program and structure of a two percent party," said Marina Weisband, the acting political director of Germany's Pirate Party. "But the expectations people have is that of a 12 percent party."

Pollsters attribute the great success of the Pirates to voter frustration with the established parties.

"The slick answers of politicians are no longer credible," said Manfred Güllner of polling group Forsa, adding "the Pirates provide a shell for this resentment."

Watch video 03:24

Pirates' political success continues

Mainstream politicians' credibility gap makes the Pirates' unabashed dilettantism seem all the more charming, according to political scientist Karl-Rudolf Korte.

He said the Pirates' frequent statement, "we don't have any opinion on that yet," is a refreshing alternative to mainstream parties' customary posturing.

"This invites the public's attention and curiosity," he added. "It's not so much their party program, but rather their attitude and manner of dealing with topics that piques voter interest."

The Pirates are not just attractive to protest voters. They are also growing organically, with membership throughout Germany hitting almost 28,000. Their size has doubled since the Berlin election in September 2011, which gave them their first seats in a state parliament. Two years earlier, the party only had 1,000 members.

Political scientist Christoph Bieber said the growth is partly due to the fact that it's easy for members to play an active and responsible political role. In contrast, building a career within the established parties generally takes many stressful years, starting with enrollment in party youth organizations. Faced with this competition, the Pirates' rapid success learning the ropes of political theater is breathtaking.

Demands for transparency

"Citizens want to change the quality of decisions, participate more and explore different modes of communication," said Korte.

He said this demand has become an integral part of a new understanding of politics ever since people in Stuttgart began mounting headline-grabbing protests against a planned train station known as Stuttgart 21 in 2010.

The Pirates' demands for more transparency and participation in government are derived from underlying principles of the Internet. But the party is attracting attention from mainstream voters since the call for transparency has become a part of the spirit of the times.

German Pirate politician Martin Delius

Martin Delius says the Pirates are ready to board and change German politics

According to pollsters and political scientists, the Pirates have a good chance of establishing themselves among Germany's political parties. Research has shown the Pirates' support is not confined to youths and academics, but comes from all walks of life. Güllner, the pollster, described the Pirates as a "mini people's party."

"The Pirates do not appeal to any homogenous voting bloc, but to rather different groups," he said. "They are supported by voters across the entire political spectrum as well as traditional non-voters."

Meanwhile, Europe's other Pirates are jealously eyeing their German counterparts' political booty. The German Pirate Party has the largest crew in Europe - and rightly so, according to Korte.

"Germany doesn't have a strong anti-modern, right-wing, populist tendency like other European countries," he said.

Instead, a new social movement is rising out of the German center, one that is establishing itself as a party and wants a say in parliamentary affairs.

"This speaks for the quality of German democracy," Korte added.

Pirates want to set the course

A voter at a Pirate Party conference holding up a 'no' ballot

The Pirates want to be more than a protest party

Martin Delius, parliamentary manager of the Pirate Party in Berlin's state government, shares this view. He sees the German party system, with its independent funding, as a model for success.

Delius, who can look back on several months of experience in parliamentary dealings, thinks little of protests and incessant opposition.

"We also have to move in the direction of a government," he said. "We want to change something. After all, our party motto is 'Prepare to board.'"

Delius added that the Pirate Party will most likely adapt to the classical structure of German politics, with its unique definition of power and responsibility based on representative government.

A tube station with two tubes and a platform in Nuremberg

Public transport is like the Internet - except that it transports people instead of data

But just how different are the policies of the Pirate Party? In contrast to many public claims, their program touches on a broad range of topics. Bieber said the notion that the Pirates are a one-issue party is ludicrous, given that they have published numerous draft programs on the Internet for public debate.

"Many critics appear to be struggling with how to use the Internet," added Bieber, who has written a book on the Pirates.

In search of a defining issue

Germany's Green Party used to pursue the maxim of sustainability. That idea originated in the environmental movement, but became a guideline for the Greens' policies in other areas. What about the Pirate Party?

"The Pirates are currently working on a common point of reference that can apply to all political topics," namely, "the idea of platform neutrality," said Bieber.

Delius said this very technical term denotes a whole political worldview.

A voter at a Pirate Party conference holding up a 'yes' ballot

The Pirates are keen to govern Germany

"The Internet is a neutral platform offering the same resources to everybody, independent of how the platform is used," he explained. "This is the guiding principle of Pirate Party policy."

For example, the demand for an unconditional basic salary comes from this principle. So is defining public transport as a platform similar to the Internet, except that it facilitates the transport of people rather than data.

Delius said "platform neutrality" complements the Pirates' liberal persepctive on social issues.

"Neutrality is a liberal idea. Everybody should be able to act freely on one platform," he said. "At the same time, all must be granted access to this platform. That's the social element."

The Internet is not the only topic on the Pirate Party's agenda, but it is definitely a major issue for rethinking society. The web provides political legitimization and defines the political mandate.

"Those who think the Internet is past growing will be proven wrong," warned Delius. "It’s our job to set the course for more democracy and more transparent structures because the Internet has a massive impact on political order and the state."

Delius said Germany's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) are the only parliamentary party also thinking in terms of the big picture. But they offer quite different answers.

If the Pirates gain any seats in next year's German parliamentary elections, it will be interesting to see how coalition talks will pan out. According to Korte, the Pirate Party and CDU might actually make a good team since "one could learn from the other."

Author: Kay-Alexander Scholz / nk
Editor: Shant Shahrigian

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