When Gerwald Claus-Brunner of the Pirate Party entered the Berlin Parliament, perhaps his fellow MPs could be forgiven for thinking he was making a mockery of democracy. Sporting orange overalls and a Long John Silver headscarf, it looked like a poorly thought out Halloween costume where Clockwork Orange meets Jack Sparrow.
It wasn’t though. This was the Pirate Party entering a German state parliament. And if the other MPs didn’t notice, they don’t do suits.
Die Piratenpartei – Germany’s Pirate Party – scored an amazing feat in the Berlin state elections recently. All 15 of their candidates got elected and surpassed the parliamentary threshold for the first time, gaining 8.9% of the vote. This allowed the party to enter the Berlin parliament.
The party has been particularly successful attracting younger votes. 13% of Berlin’s first-time male voters voted for the Pirate Party, while the majority of Berlin’s new Pirate Party MPs are in their twenties or early-thirties.
The party isn’t planning on forcing German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to walk the plank anytime soon, nor do they wish to show solidarity with the more malign pirates off the coast of Somalia. Instead, they are interested in transparency and respect for privacy, particularly on the internet.
“Our main goal is to make political decision making as transparent as possible, and offering citizens the possibility to watch every Party meeting and table a motion”, says Katherina Niemeyer of the Pirate Party in Berlin.
This means live streaming party meetings on the internet, and opening up discussions to those watching, who wish to engage. The new MPs also wish to tweet and blog as much as possible inside the parliament and on the issues being dealt with, although they are restricted by parliamentary rules.
“We are going to demonstrate that it is possible to conduct a transparent approach to politics. Traditionally politics are a secret ‘no trespassing’ area. Meetings are held behind closed doors, agendas and protocols are closed, treaties are not being published”, said Chairmen of the Pirate Party, Sebastian Nerz to torrentfreak.com.
For the first time, the party will boast full-time members, as those who ran for election, and helped with the campaign, were all working voluntarily. “At the moment we are getting more and more new members who are bringing in new ways of thinking”, added Niemeyer.
The party ran their campaign almost solely on increased transparency and citizen’s rights, and were keen to empathise they were unique with campaign posters stating “Finally, something different” and “We are the ones with
the questions. You are the ones with the answers”.
The party reflects a Europe-wide movement which began in Sweden in 2006. The party’s name is inspired by “The Piracy Bureau” – a counter group to a lobby group for the copyright industry – and Piratebay.org – an illegal file-sharing website. The formation of the party coincided with Swedish government attempts to curb illegal file sharing through websites like Piratebay.org with copyright laws enacted in 2005. The party in Sweden has earned a groundswell of support, earning 7.1% of the vote in MEP elections, 2009 with Christian Engstrom and Amelia Andersdotter elected as MEPs.
The movement has spread worldwide with over 40 countries with Pirate Parties based on the Swedish model, mainly in mainland Europe. In Ireland, the party enjoyed a brief tenure, at one stage having 300 members, but ceased all activities in March 2011.
“We are an international movement, which is represented in almost every EU country. We hope to achieve a lot more if we work together on international projects”, says Niemeyer.
Klaus Wowereit, Berlin’s mayor and potential SPD candidate in the next German election, was none too pleased with the Pirate Party pushing in on established politics, saying they lack a clear profile and are little more than a protest vote.
“We disagree. For topics relevant for Berliners, like education and transport, we’ve developed a programme. Also, we have a set of basic principles, which we have widened. We are a young party, so we have not outlined our position on everything. But we are continuing to work on our basic democratic values”, responds Niemeyer.
Increased transparency has become a bigger issue with the greater prevalence of the internet in the political sphere. Wikileaks could release a cache of secret US files and subsequently evade closure by moving domains across borders. The hacking group “Anonymous” has attacked websites of the biggest companies in the world, all in the name of freedom of the internet.
Now the Pirate Party is growing to be a voice for greater transparency inside parliaments and greater respect for privacy of citizens with the internet as one of its battegrounds. In a world where the internet makes it easier than ever to get information, states and Governments may find calls for greater transparency harder and harder to ignore.