Where is the German Pirate Party headed? | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 23.11.2012
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Where is the German Pirate Party headed?

Support for the Pirate Party in Germany is waning as the upstart struggles to convince its largely young supporters of its political course. Party members and critics alike think the group needs to hone its aims.

Germany isn't the birthplace of the Pirate Party, which has enjoyed surprising success in a series of state elections over the past year. The party originated in Sweden in January 2006.

Known there as the "Piratpartiet," and as the "Piratenpartei" in Germany, the group champions Internet freedom, political transparency and human rights.

In autumn 2006, several hundred young people joined forces to launch the Pirate Party in Germany. Initially, they demanded a revision of copyright laws in the country.

Free education and public transportation

In their opinion, all of the world's knowledge should be freely available to everyone. They argued that content "monopolists" such as publishers should open up to new participation models for writers and artists as well as readers, listeners and viewers.

Marina Weisband, (zu dapd-Text) Foto: Mario Vedder/dapd

Former Pirate director Marina Weisband

Further political goals followed, such as free education and free public transportation. The Pirates also wanted the state to unconditionally guarantee a basic income.

The group often delivered a naïve response - "We don't know yet" - to the question of how they planned to achieve these goals. This disarming honesty showed leading political scientists a new type of politician able relate to voters.

From the early days of the party up until now, critics of the Pirates - including representatives of traditional parties - saw nothing more than a "chaotic heap" of activists. Former Pirate Party director Marina Weisband agrees the party needs to change.

Making politics understandable

"We need to learn that we can achieve better, sustainable solutions in a joint learning process rather than always saying 'we know where things are going'," she told DW.

Bernd Schlömer, Foto: Jörg Carstensen dpa/lbn

Pirate chairman Bernd Schlömer

Party chairman Bernd Schlömer, 41, who continues to work as a qualified criminologist, put it another way. "Politics needs to be easy to understand for everyone," he said.

The head of the Pirate Party in North Rhine-Westphalia is 55-year-old biophysicist Joachim Paul. He believes democracy needs renewal.

"We've been reduced to a private-interest democracy," he said. The established parties, he added, have neglected to engage citizens in important political issues.

The Pirate Party was initially well received by voters in local elections. Fifteen members landed seats in the Berlin state parliament in September 2011. In March 2012, they won four of the 51 seats in the Saarland state parliament. They also gained seats in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, capturing 8 percent of votes in each of those two states.

Down at that polls

Voter support for the Pirates could look very different in the general election later next year. According to the latest forecasts by opinion pollster Infratest dimap, only about 4 percent of the electorate will vote for the party. If that turns out to be the case, the Pirate Party would fall short of the required 5 percent required to win seats in the German federal parliament, the Bundestag.

Joachim Paul, (zu dapd-Text) Foto: Patrick Sinkel/dapd

Pirate Joachim Paul calls for a democratic renewal

The Pirate Party currently has about 35,000 members, while traditional parties like the Social Democrats and CDU (Christian Democratic Party) have ten times as many members. Parliamentarians in both of these major parties see little revolutionary potential in their much smaller political rival.

Still, the substantial support the Pirate Party was able to garner in previous state elections has shown the big parties that many citizens no longer agree with the status quo of politics in Germany, according to Gerd Langguth, a political science professor at the University of Bonn. Transparency, he said, makes politics more attractive to younger people.

Eyes on the national party convention

Does the Pirate Party have the potential to become the successor party to the Greens or Free Democrats? Many members of the Pirates are, in fact, former Greens, such as Joachim Paul, who viewed the Greens as being too anti-technology. Schlömer calls the Pirates "liberal" because they view themselves as a freedom party.

Pirate election celebration (zu dapd-Text) Foto: Patrick Sinkel/dapd

The Pirates aren't celebrating much these days

Along the way, however, some members have caused a stir with their right-wing views. That, according to Schlömer, is now history. "People with right-wing opinions have no place with the Pirates," he said.

It's difficult to nail down the political objectives of the Pirate Party in Germany. In fact, such objectives are still missing. "For many areas, we still need to define goals," Schlömer said. He's banking on the national party convention to establish a course.

If that fails, Schlömer admits the party could be headed for some rough waters.

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