Outside the Pirate Party’s Berlin headquarters, frazzled young, new politicians scurried back and forth from reporter to reporter and interview to interview on Monday morning.
Martin Delius, a 27-year-old student, who is about to become one of the party’s 15 representatives in Berlin’s state parliament admitted being overwhelmed by the results.
“We were expecting some success,” he said. “But this was more than we could have dreamed.”
Having won nearly nine percent of the vote in Berlin’s state elections Sunday, the Pirates have just scored one of their biggest victories ever. They’ll have 15 of 149 seats in the state parliament – important because the high-profile legislature often punches above its weight in German federal politics.
Delius admitted that he and his colleagues were not yet sure how they were going to make a concrete difference in the everyday lives of constituents.
“To be honest, we don’t know how we’ll do this,” he said. “This is something totally new. We just know people believed in our issues. We have to figure out how to solve problems now.”
Their inexperience was clear on Monday as the Pirates’ operations sometimes seemed to be bordering on chaos. Members said they were prepared to work hard, but other than proposing a lower voting age, free public transportation and free wireless internet, they seemed to have few concrete plans for what they wanted to get done.
At a sometimes raucous press conference in Berlin’s parliamentary building, the new parliamentarians, all but one of whom are men, said they were still working out what their next steps would be
“We are relatively fresh here and we’re not really used to this,” admitted Andreas Baum, the party’s 32-year-old leader in Berlin, as photographers crowded him for pictures.
But Berlin’s Pirates are now at the vanguard for the nascent international movement. Formed in Sweden in 2006, it preaches transparency in government, freedom on the internet and privacy for regular people. Its biggest success so far has been getting two members voted into the European Parliament.
Swedish Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge told The Local that the Berlin election was “major step upwards” and “a big leap” for the movement. He said he envisioned more electoral victories throughout Europe.
However, it remains to be seen whether the Berlin win will translate into further success for the Pirates elsewhere, one political expert told The Local.
They face a major learning curve – and dose of reality about what they can and can’t get done – in the often creaky parliamentary system, said Dr. Nils Diederich, professor emeritus of political science at the Free University of Berlin.
“They’re obviously intelligent, but they will have to learn from the ground up and it won’t be easy,” Diedrich said. “These people don’t yet have any idea how parliamentary work takes place.”
Some have criticised the Pirates for not really having a political platform, saying they are nothing more than a joke party attracting protest votes from young people – exit polls showed most Pirates’ supporters were in their early 20s.
Will the pirates be able to make real change or fizzle out like so many upstart political movements have over the years?
Baum had a ready response to a question about the party’s legitimacy: “People should just wait until the first meeting in parliament and see what happens.”
With reporting by Peter Vinthagen Simpson