The Pirate Party has been criticized by the mainstream for lacking concrete positions on many issues. Although the party sought to develop a clearer platform at its weekend convention, the results left much to be wanted.
The Pirate Party held its convention in Bochum, Germany over the weekend under ominous clouds. After managing to seat representatives in four state parliaments, the party's success is threatening to die out. Current opinion surveys from leading pollsters like Emnid show that the Pirates have declined from eight percent support to just four percent. In Germany, a political party has to win five percent of the vote in order to gain parliamentary representation.
In addition to the troubling polls, internal conflict within the party's national committee has also set the Pirates back. Two members of the committee surprisingly resigned their posts. At the same time, the media has begun to ask the Pirates what their positions are on issues like the euro crisis, poverty among the elderly, and energy policy. Time and again, the Pirates answered those questions by saying that they do not have an opinion or a policy.
Up until now, many voters have cast their ballots for the Pirates out of protest, or because they like how the party decides policy through direct grassroots democracy. But political experts are now predicting that the party will fade into irrelevance, if it does not develop concrete positions on the important issues. In a bid to save their momentum, the Pirates tried to adopt a broad party platform in Bochum.
Most other parties send delegates to represent their members at conventions. But the Pirates had invited every party member to Bochum, encouraging them to suggest positions for the party's platform. The result was a record crowd, with around 2,000 members attending. And of course they wanted to voice their opinion on the many proposals that had not been decided on the Internet beforehand.
Almost 800 points were supposed to be dealt with over the course of two days. At times, thousands lined up behind the microphones for the chance to participate in the decision-making via direct democracy. Voting dragged on for hours. Finally, the party leadership cut off the microphones in order to avoid completely getting off schedule.
Janine and Philipp say they got involved in the Pirate Party, because the Pirates want to formulate policy differently than the established parties - through openness, transparency and tolerance. That the exhaustive open mic session was cut off, did not seem to undermine Janine and Philipp's belief in direct democracy.
"The majority didn't want an endless debate," said Janine, adding that a decision made by the majority does not amount to censorship.
But others in the hall expressed outrage, with discussions about the agenda and an arbitration court breaking out and holding up the conference. Only on the second day did the Pirates manage to agree on more party positions, but in the sort of rush that they had wanted to avoid.
Party platform incomplete
Janine and Philipp like what was ultimately decided after the endless voting. The Pirates voted for their economic policy to focus on the well-being of people, not the endless drive for more growth. They decided that the still active nuclear power plants in Germany should be shutdown in three years. Rights for consumers should be strengthened and an unconditional minimum income as well as a minimum wage should be introduced.
Although Janine and Philipp believe those are all good policies, many of the journalists present at the conference shook their heads. Not even half of the 800 proposals were voted on. And the policies that were adopted seemed unrealistic to many members of the media.
Pirate Party chief Bernd Schlömer, a 41-year-old social scientist who works in the defense ministry, sees it differently.
"Vision is always the requirement for innovation and further development," Schlömer told DW. The party chief said that people are tired of being directed by the naysayers. He added that he was satisfied with what the Pirates had accomplished during their conference.
"We demonstrated that we are ready and in the position to expand our party platform," Schlömer said.
European Pirates watching
Thirty international representatives from European pirate parties watched with interest as the German Pirates discussed their positions on transparency and foreign policy. There are now Pirate Parties in more than 60 countries.
"They learn a lot from us," Gregory Engel told DW. Engel is responsible for the German Pirates cooperation with their international compatriots. He said that the German Pirates provide an example of how to develop political campaigns, raise money and organize work via the Internet.
Francesco Barbato came to Bochum to learn from the German Pirates. The Italian parliamentarian recently switched over to the Pirates and has supported the party during its development phase. Barbato said that back home in Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi ruled for so long, he has been called a terrorist for his political decision. The Pirates are not viewed in other countries as positively as they are in Germany, he said.
The Italian parliamentarian supports the Pirates' demands for a European constitution and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. From his experience in Italy, Barbato also thinks that the German Pirates are right to call for a ban on lobbying by politicians. And he agrees with their push for elected officials to account for every cent of money earned through side jobs.
Key decisions postponed
The Pirates were unable to complete their party platform by the end of the conference in Bochum. So much was left unresolved that they decided to continue formulating key policy positions at their next meeting in May 2013. Party chief Schlömer wants more dialogue to occur with party members via the Internet. That would shorten many discussions and maybe even make big party conventions superfluous, he said.
The Pirates already face their next electoral test on January 20, when voters in Lower Saxony go to the polls. They hope that their platform, although unfinished, will convince voters and win the party representation in another regional parliament. But the Pirates know that this is by no means a sure thing. And the commentary from the German media currently ranges from reserved to skeptical: "Ideological patchwork," "You shouldn't count them out," "A sign of life, nothing more."