What kind of country would put pirates in charge of the government? The answer is: a country like Germany. Last fall, voters in Berlin elected members of the German Pirate Party to state parliament. In March, the party won further seats in the tiny state of Saarland. According to a recent poll, it’s poised to continue storming the ship of state. With national support at 13 percent, it has overtaken the Green Party to become the country’s third most popular party. All without ever having decided on a clear party platform.
Indeed, given its name, the German Pirate Party is appropriately anarchic, with a history of hammering out policy disagreements via venomous (and public) Twitter spats. Its hierarchy is largely flat and often evolving. Founded in 2006 as an offshoot of a similar party in Sweden, on a platform of defending copyright infringement and illegal downloads, it has since cast about for something more to stand for. Civil liberties remain central, including calls for drug legalization, digital privacy, and the separation of church and state, but so are such issues as free public transport and Wi-Fi and an unconditional minimum income—in short, a series of policy positions seemingly catering to the shut-in, videogaming demographic.
The party has appealed to a generation raised on Facebook, the Occupy protests, and file-sharing sites such as the Pirate Bay. In Europe, success in the polls can often be self-perpetuating, as a demonstration of support can qualify a party for state funding. At a time of electoral uncertainty and disaffection, the Pirate Movement has established footholds across the continent, with a smattering of municipal council positions in the Spain, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. After Germany, the most successful version is in Sweden, where the Pirate Party holds two seats in the European parliament and supporters have managed to register Internet piracy as an official religion. Germany holds two further state elections next month. If its Pirate Party continues its winning streak, maybe it should consider renaming itself the Privateers. Isn’t that what they call pirates who come in from the cold?