Germany’s ‘Pirate Party’ hopes for election surprise
Founded by computer geeks in Sweden in 2006 and now active in 33 countries, the Pirate Party is hoping to win over young, disaffected voters in Germany’s federal election on Sept. 27 with demands to reform copyright and patent laws along with their policies that oppose internet censorship and surveillance. But do the single-issue activists, with no stance on foreign policy or the economy, even have the faintest hope of overcoming the five percent hurdle needed to enter parliament?
This looks unlikely given the 0.9 percent of the vote they won at the European parliamentary elections in June. Nonethless, the Piratenpartei with more than 8,000 members is the fastest growing party in Germany, a development partly sparked by the German parliament’s ratification of controversial legislation on blocking certain websites in a bid to fight child pornography.
Gero Neugebauer, political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, said the traditional parties’ failure to properly understand the internet may have put wind in the Pirates’ sails. “The large parties have treated the issue as if the only people using the internet are old men with lewd ideas who want to look at pornographic images or practice paedophilia,” Neugebauer said in a recent TV interview. “If the Pirate Party manages to make clear in society the conflict which they presently represent … then they definitely have the potential to get above the five percent hurdle,” he added.
Among the ranks of the Pirate Party is a former Social Democrat member of parliament — Joerg Tauss. He resigned under pressure in September amid an investigation into possession of child pornography by state prosectors. He denies any wrongdoing. “The internet has been increasingly tightened in recent years and made into a civil rights-free zone,” Tauss said in parliament when the legislation was passed.
Alongside traditional campaigning methods, the Pirate Party has taken to the streets setting up model living rooms inside transparent containers in public squares to protest against what they see as an increasingly Orwellian police state. Support could come from younger voters, who have grown up with the internet, and who feel that established political parties are out of touch with their concerns.
“I want to be able to exchange music on the internet with my friends for free,” Florain Bischof, Pirate Party candidate for Berlin says on student networking site studiVZ. One of the party’s main policies is an easing of copyright laws.
Germany’s mainstream polling institutes do not include the Pirates as a separate party in their survey and it is not clear how popular the party would be among the population at large. So the question remains: how successful has the party been in shedding its image as a bunch of male software engineers getting stroppy about their surfing rights? And in Germany’s greying population, with voters 60 and over making up 30 percent of the rapidly ageing electorate, is a campaign targeted at gamers and those who download music doomed to fall flat?
PHOTOS: A member of the Pirate Party (above) walks in front of the Reichstag as part of its campaign for the September general election in Berlin. The Piratenpartei Deutschland was founded in Germany on September 10, 2006, following a model of Swedish analog Piratpartiet. REUTERS/Thomas Peter Below, Joerg Tauss. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch