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No political party has gained so much popularity over the recent year as the Pirate Party. In Germany, they managed to enter four state parliaments and are expected to do well in the federal elections of 2013. On a European level, delegations from 25 countries met this year in Prague to discuss the preparatory steps of establishing a unified European Pirate Party. Clearly, the former Swedish Anti-Copyright-Organisation is on the way to become a significant European movement. However, while a European Pirate Party could be a milestone towards a new level of democracy, there is a lot of skepticism regarding the party’s actions and goals. After all, some claim that its popularity derives from a misleading image that will vanish eventually.

Origin, ideas and goals of the Pirates

The Pirate Party was founded in Sweden in 2006. The initial demands formulated in the party's program included the reform of copyright laws, the abolition of patents and the removal of the Data Retention Act. Even though they couldn't achieve a notable result in the 2006 Swedish parliamentary elections, youth branches and international connections marked the basis for their rising popularity. In 2009, the Swedish party gained 7.1 percent of the votes in the national elections plus a seat in the EU parliament. In the following year, Pirate Parties International (PPI) formed as an umbrella organisation for 22 national branches.

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Photo: amala_tc (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Will the Pirate Party be the first to put the national pieces together into a European whole?

What seems like the "natural" evolution of a party might in fact be regarded as a sign of a paradigm shift in European politics; this year's PPI congress in Prague had a far-reaching goal on its agenda: the formation of a European Pirate Party. As an outcome of this congress, the national parties agreed to campaign together and to work towards joint participation in the 2014 European parliamentary elections. If this goal is achieved, the Pirates would represent the first bloc in the European Parliament which isn't composed of a variety of parties from a specific political range but by a single party that operates in most EU member states. The Pirates could tackle the widely discussed 'democratic deficit' of the EU by connecting the decision-making process in the European Parliament with the national party branches, thus improving its legitimacy and accountability. Moreover, an arising supranational party system could shift the current structure of European politics from competition of national identities and governments towards contestation without national affiliation.

The Pirates might have the chance to initiate a true European Movement which can combine national representation and supranational initiatives - an aspect which seems even more convincing because of the solutions and ideas the party is offering in regards to direct democracy.

For some, this idea of one party operating across national borders and elaborating legislative decisions through the EU parliament might sound disturbing and dangerous - especially against the background of the infamous legacy Cominform, which operated across the Eastern Bloc. On the other hand, the Pirates might have the chance to initiate a true European Movement which can combine national representation and supranational initiatives - an aspect which seems even more convincing because of the solutions and ideas the party is offering in regards to direct democracy.

The Pirate Party entered the political stage with highly promising innovations: transparency and participation – 'basic democracy' as Pirates member Matthias Schrade calls it. This is not only an empty concept; the Pirates are using quite innovative methods and tools to optimise democratic processes. For internal polls and decisions, the party uses a software tool called 'liquid feedback'. 'Liquid feedback' allows every user to vote on a certain topic or to appoint another delegate as a proxy - over the internet, from wherever he or she might be. It is therefore an interesting way to allow people to participate more directly in politics. The democratic deficit of the EU institutions, which crops up in many contemporary debates, might experience real change if a party arises that aims to alter the traditional way of forging democratic decisions. Another aspect that sets the Pirates apart from established parties is the fact that their representatives don't receive payment. Recently, however, there have been demands for remuneration within the Swedish Pirate party.

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