Has The German Pirate Party Lost Its Way?
from the harder-than-it-looks dept
For the last year, it seemed like the German Pirate Party could do no wrong. In November 2011, it won 9% of the vote in the Berlin parliamentary elections, then 7.4% in Saarland in March, 8.2% of the vote in Schleswig-Holstein in May, and a similar level in North Rhine-Westphalia shortly afterwards. There was a little pushback from copyright maximalists, but after ACTA's defeat in July, you might have expected the Pirates to be riding even higher in the public's favor. A recent article in the German news magazine Der Spiegel reveals that's far from the case:
a new opinion poll by the German public broadcaster ZDF put support for the party at just 6 percent, its lowest level since March. Another survey recently conducted by the Forsa research institute found that the Pirates only enjoyed 7 percent of the electorate's support, down from 9 percent in July. Indeed, it would seem that the up-and-comers are losing a bit of their magic.
As Der Spiegel points out, this is largely the Pirates' own fault. Brutal in-fighting, made all-the-more evident because of the party's laudable belief that internal discussions should be conducted in the open, is undermining the party's credibility as a serious political player:
What other party streams the meetings of its national committee live on the Internet or allows people to watch sessions of its parliamentary groups? Is there another party where it's possible to find its members' cell-phone numbers via a Google search? But the constant chatter of the crowd also has negative consequences: It makes it difficult for the party to be taken seriously as a political actor.
Equally serious has been an inability to set any overall sense of political direction:
it is still unclear where this journey is leading, and the party can't answer the relevant questions. "A unified strategy is not observable," Klaus-Peter Schäppner of the Emnid opinion-research institute told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
It is perhaps understandable that a party that coalesced around a small number of digital issues -- absurdly harsh punishments for unauthorized file sharing, or the increasing invasion of privacy by governments through the use of online surveillance -- should find it harder to arrive at a consensus on more traditional ones, like economic and social policy. But it was widely assumed that in the field of copyright, at least, it would be able to make radical and concrete proposals that set it apart.
A recent policy document on the subject, drawn up by the Pirate Party in Berlin (pdf, in German), disappoints those expectations. Where the German Pirate Party's page on copyright boldly calls for the legalization of copying for non-commercial purposes, the rejection of DRM as "immoral", and "a drastic reduction of copyright periods, far below the periods specified in the TRIPS agreement," the Berlin Pirates' paper is content to produce a series of meek observations about ways in which small improvements could be made without rocking the boat. These include the wider use of Creative Commons licenses, making court rulings freely available, and more transparency for negotiations with the German performance rights organization GEMA. None of these are bad ideas, but they're hardly the significant reform proposals that helped get the party so much attention in the first place.
Maybe the Pirate Party wants to prove its rigor and seriousness by starting from the current position, rather than seeking to overturn it; perhaps it is trying to work with the mainstream parties, and doesn't want to frighten them with radical proposals; or perhaps it has simply lost its way and ended up being assimilated by the system.
Whatever the cause, the consequences of this lack of vision could be serious. As Der Spiegel notes:
polling experts say the party is in freefall and that it may struggle to get the 5 percent of the vote it needs to win seats in the German parliament, the Bundestag, in the 2013 national election.
That's by no means inevitable, but the German Pirates certainly face a huge task if they want to avoid becoming a textbook example of how quickly a new political party's fortunes can wax and wane.