Thursday, June 04, 2009

Discussing the EU Election with PiratPartiet

Say “Pirate Party” to someone, and the majority of the time, they'll think of one country – Sweden. The first Pirate Party was founded there January 1st 2006, and in just three short years has risen to become the third biggest party, by membership, in the country. Their youth movement is the biggest of all the political youth groups, with a membership around double that of the next biggest, the Moderate Party's youth group. Sweden is also home to the most popular file-sharing site in the world, with a world-leading internet infrastructure. For these reasons and many others, they have been predicted to gain at least one seat in these elections.

Their primary candidate(english), Vice-Chairman Christian Engstrom, took some time to talk about their election campaign.

The party is on a high after gaining tens of thousands of members over the last few weeks. Why do you think is the biggest reason all these people flocked to the Pirate Party now?

The verdict in the Pirate Bay case came a shock to everybody, and the membership of the Pirate Party tripled in a week. This took us from 14.000 members to 43.000, making us the third largest political party in Sweden in terms of members.

The Pirate Bay verdict came as yet another blow to everybody who likes the free and open internet. Earlier this year, first the FRA law came into effect, which gives the green light for massive surveillance of the net, and the IPRED, which gives the big film- and record companies the legal means to start hunting file sharers en masse. In addition there have been other issues, like the secret ACTA negotiations and the fight around the EU telecom package.

More and more people are coming to realize that the freedom and our civil rights on the internet are under threat, and are deciding to vote Pirate to help turn the tide.

What is the party goal for this election, and how achievable do you think it will be?

Our goal it to take one seat, to get into the parliament. To do that, we need 4% of the votes. Recent polls give us around 5%, but the numbers are very uncertain because of the low turnout that we have seen in the EU elections up until now. However, I feel quite confident we will take at least one seat.

The really big issue is mobilizing our supporters to go and vote. If everybody that agrees with us actually votes for us, we'll get in, and we'll get in big. But I am confident that we can bring the turnout for the election up quite dramatically, especially among younger voters. If we succeed in that, we win.

What sort of result will you be happy with?

I'll be very happy if we take one seat, but if get more, that is of course even better. Not only will it give us more people in Brussels to carry out the work there. It would also send a strong signal to our own government will be that it is on the wrong track and risks losing votes in the 2010 national election as well. But I will consider even one seat a major victory.

If elected, what are your three priorities?

- Respect for our civil liberties on the internet. Postal secrecy, information freedom and freedom of speech should apply on the internet as well as in the rest of society. It is totally unacceptable when politicians (like French president Sarkozy) treat the internet as if it were a toy that can be taken away from the children if they have been naughty, instead of as an important piece of our common infrastructure.

- Reform of copyright law. We want to keep copyright for commercial use, but limit the protection term to maybe 5 years from publication. Non-commercial sharing and use should be legalized completely. Today's copyright legislation has become an obstacle to creativity and innovation, and need to be scaled back.

- A more transparent and democratic EU. Having been a political activist for five years now, I have seen a lot of how controversial points are sneaked through the system in a very undemocratic way. We need to reform the decision making process in Brussels to make it open, predictable and democratic. A first step is to say No to the Lisbon treaty.

At best, there will only be a handful of 'pirates' - what can you hope to accomplish with so few?

I am confident we'll have a great impact, once we get in. There is tremendous interest in all of Europe in what is happening in Sweden right now. I have been giving interviews to the BBC on a number of occasions, to Le Monde, Die Zeit, La Republica, as well as numerous other European news outlets. According to a journalist who phoned me from Brussels to interview me, we are more or less the only subject that is being discussed in political circles there right now.

The politicians from the other parties are beginning to realize that net politics is an important area, and they know that we understand it much better than they do. I am quite sure that they will be very interested in talking to us to learn about the issue.

What's the election procedure in Sweden?

You can vote at any time from May 20 up to election day June 7. You go to a polling station and bring an id and a letter you have received saying that you are allowed to vote. You take a ballot paper marked Piratpartiet, mark one of the candidates with and X (preferably me, of course ;) ), put it in an envelope and hand it to the election officer. That's all.

The ballots are then counted the same evening, and all parties that have received more than 4% take part in the distribution of the seats, in proportion to their votes. Sweden has 18 seats in the European parliament (but 4% is still enough to get the first seat in most cases.

What changes do you think having a 'pirate party' member elected will make to how the world sees the Pirate Party?

This is where the fun part starts! I can admit that our provocative name maybe is a slight disadvantage at exactly the point we are at now (although we would never have gotten to this point without it). Once we're in, however, it becomes one of our greatest assets.

Because we have a name that can't be explained away as "business as usual", the other politicians will have to listen to us. Otherwise they will run the risk of losing seats themselves, which is more or less the only thing that never fails to raise their interest.

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