Unopinionated Pirates

One key factor affecting the entire ongoing Eurocrisis was known to cognoscenti as “NRW” – short for Nordrhein-Westfalen, the German state whose local elections on May 9 did much to influence both the nature and timing of Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel’s response to the grave threat to the euro and even the EU arising from the Greek financial problems. That is well and good, but those same NRW elections at the same time had another rather different significance for a separate voting bloc, one not necessarily so interested in the mere potential for collapse of the common European currency. These citizens are overwhelmingly young and male; they usually converse in Java and C++ as easily as in their native German; and they vote for the German Pirate Party, whose disappointing results in that same ballot saw its share of the overall vote drop to 1.5% from the full 2% share it had enjoyed during last Fall’s nationwide election.

You might recall that this political organization, like all the off-shoots of the original Pirate Party in Sweden, takes for its purpose advocacy mainly for Internet-related issues such as copyright reform, digital civil rights, and the prevention of Internet censorship. Philip Kuhn of Die Welt recently sat down with party leader Jens Seipenbusch for a brief interview in the wake of those poor electoral results.

The obvious question to pose was, “Why did those results regress from those you achieved just over half a year ago at the federal level?” After all, Internet-related issues during that period remained fresh within the German political landscape, what with such things as court-mandated curtailed retention of citizens’ personal data to governmental hostility towards the wanderings of the Google Street View camera-car. Seipenbusch saw as a sign of his party’s success the increased attention to such digital issues being shown by the establishment parties, including a new commission on Internet und Digitale Gesellschaft (Internet and Digital Society) formed in the lower house of the German legislature (Bundestag) to take up such matters. Nonetheless, the electoral results for NRW remain there for all to see, and he attributed them to the supposed lesser relevance of such issues to voters at the state and local levels of government.

Seipenbusch himself did gain re-election as Pirate Party leader, with 52.6% of the vote, at a party convention called in the wake of those NRW results, and he interprets that as an endorsement by the party rank-and-file of his particular political approach, namely that of having quite a lot to say on digital/Internet issues but very little about anything else. Of course, most other political parties, given that they presumably exist in order eventually to get the chance to govern in some way, generally make sure they take up a position on all or at least most outstanding policy-issues. In the interview, the Pirate Party leader does show that he recognizes the pressure to widen the scope of the party platform that way – “I want to achieve a moderate broadening of the [party] program” – but then makes it clear that the “broadening” he has in mind goes little further than covering “all the themes of the Age of Information.”

Granted, Germany is set to take some high-tech initiatives in the near future – such as an electronic passport and ELENA, a chip-card for the registration and payment of government benefits – that makes it vital that informed public discussion take place. Still, there are many public issues that the Pirate Party will miss with this platform policy. Interviewer Kuhn asks him about marijuana legalization, for example; you’d think that would be something in which the Pirate Party’s constituency would also be highly interested. Seipenbusch’s reply: “Whether we will want to get involved in a dispute about that, only the future will show.” Likewise, he has nothing to say about the current Eurocrisis and the massive financial aid to Greece – even as it dominated German newspaper headlines at the time, the topic somehow never came up even once at that recent party convention!

These, one must sadly conclude, are truly more the hallmarks of a “gimmick” political party rather than one that is trying to build up its credibility in voters’ eyes to someday govern. And it is that which probably lies behind its faltering performance at the polls.

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