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Pirate Party fires broadside at German political establishment

Published: 28 Sep 2009 15:10 GMT+02:00

Inspired by the original Swedish Piratpartiet, now the northern country’s third-largest political party when it comes to membership, the German outfit was founded in September 2006.

Just three years later, they have apparently gained an impressive foothold among German voters – winning two percent of the vote for Sunday's parliamentary election, according to preliminary results. In several big cities like Berlin, Braunschweig and Nuremberg, the party even exceeded three percent.

How did a rebel political grouping based almost exclusively on information privacy issues, such as maintaining freedom of the internet, make such a big leap in such a short time?

“We have the hard work of our members and lots of exposure due to incidents that highlighted our issues in recent years,” Pirate Party spokesperson Simon Lange told The Local on Monday. “Our rights have been constricted and many people have had experience with this problem – whether it’s with internet blocking or state surveillance and data storage.”

According to the Pirate Party, where the average age among their more than 9,000 members is reportedly just 29-years-old, some 13 percent of the country’s first-time male voters checked the PIRATEN box on their ballots.

“It shows we’re very attractive to young people who not only wanted to fight against the new conservative schwarz-gelb coalition, but feel alienated by the traditional parties,” Lange said.

According to news magazine Der Spiegel, the Pirate Party has the conservative Christian Democratic ministers to thank for its success. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble made many enemies among the internet advocacy set with his surveillance initiatives. Meanwhile Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen’s attempts to censor internet child pornography with backing from internet service providers earned her the nickname of “Censorsula” among Pirate Party members.

But internet child pornography has already created scandal for the party. In early September state prosecutors filed charges against Jörg Tauss, Germany's only MP at the time for the Pirate Party, on suspicion of possession and distribution of child pornography.

When investigation of Tauss began, the former Social Democrat renounced his party and became a Pirate Party member, saying authorities were confusing his work to fight child pornography with criminal possession.

The case could prove a stumbling block in the party’s goal to reach the five percent of votes necessary to enter parliament in the 2013 election, but so far its leadership seems undaunted.

“He’s a member like any other, and a good one at that with all of his political experience and work to fight child pornography,” Lange told The Local, adding that Tauss would remain in good standing with the party unless he was found guilty by German courts.

Now the party plans to continue fighting for legitimacy and recognition on the political stage, and they already have their eyes on North Rhine-Westphalia’s state elections in 2010, he said.

“I do think that other politicians are taking us seriously,” Lange said. “The Greens and the FDP have already recognised us as worthy opponents.”

Several media reports on Monday compared the new party to the grassroots development of the environmentalist Greens in the 1980s. Now a major opposition party in Germany which gained more than 10 percent of the vote on Sunday, the Pirate Party is pleased with the comparison.

“Developing in that way wouldn’t be bad,” Lange said.

(The sixth place for the Pirate Party counts Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian sister party the CSU as one parliamentary entity despite being two parties.)

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Kristen Allen (kristen.allen@thelocal.de)

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