First Pirate MEP: We expect party to grow

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Pirate parties in EU countries are expected to grow, because they address issues of high importance in the modern society that is based on digital information, Christian Engström, Swedish Pirate MEP, told EURACTIV Germany in an exclusive interview. 

Christian Engström, 51, is a Swedish computer programmer, activist and politician. He is deputy chairman of the Swedish Pirate Party, one of the great success stories of the 2009 European elections in Sweden, as they came from nowhere to win a parliamentary seat. Engström sits with the Green/EFA group.

?He spoke to EURACTIV Germany's Jana Nikolin.

Last week (9th November), the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany declared the 5% threshold in elections for the European Parliament to be unconstitutional. Do you expect the German Pirate Party to be present in the European Parliament from 2014 onwards?

Yes, we are certain that the German Pirate Party will get at least 1 or 2 seats, but probably more. In the various regional elections, the German Pirate Party has consistently received one or two percent of the votes. If you look at the polls in Germany right now, the Pirate Party ranks even around 10%, which would add up to 10 seats.

How is the relationship between the Swedish and the German Pirates?

We are very much part of the same movement. Even if the German Pirate Party has a somewhat wider agenda than we have, both parties address the same core issues. And we are discussing in Sweden right now, if we too should extend our own programme. So the German Pirate Party is a great inspiration for us in Sweden. I have not really had the chance to go to Berlin and talk to the German Pirates, but this is something I very much look forward to.

Which party is more successful?

The Swedish Pirate Party was the first of its kind in the world and we got seven percent in the EU elections, which was a fantastic result. However, at the moment the Germans have the highest score. They received nine percent in Berlin.

You are deputy chairman of the Swedish Pirate Party, but cooperate with the Greens/European Free Alliance group on the European level. What would the impact on your position be, if the German Pirates managed to get into the Parliament in 2014?

My position wouldn't change at all. Even if there were 10 German Pirates in the EP by 2014, it would still not be enough to form a group of our own. But forming our own group is not the goal. In order to get something done in the European Parliament, you really have to be part of an established group, so you can build on the experience of the others. We want to spread our ideas, but not on our own.

So you expect the German Pirates to become part of another group in the European Parliament as well?

I can't speak for what the German Pirates will do when they get into the Parliament. What we did in Sweden before the elections is that we left completely open which group we would join. We said it will be either the Greens or the Liberals, depending on which one we would think is closest to us. We don't want to be perceived as a Green Party, because we are a party of our own. But my experience working in the Green group has been very positive and the cooperation is very good. What we will do after the 2014 elections, we will see. We will be part of the group, which will give us the best opportunity to spread our ideas.

Which similarities and differences are there, if you compare the agendas of the Swedish and the German Pirates?

Transparency is a core value of both parties. In Sweden our focus is on preserving freedom on the Internet and patent reform, that's it basically. The German Pirate Party addresses exactly the same issues, but they have additional issues on their agenda.

Which are the issues that are especially important to be addressed on a supranational level, which issues are more relevant for the national level?

Everything that has to do with the intellectual property, like the copyrights reform and patents, is important for the EU-level. The same applies to the freedom on the Internet. Of course, these are also national issues, but they are especially relevant to be addressed on the supranational level. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, the European Parliament voted yes to introducing a filter on the Internet to combat child pornography. I was one of only two members who voted against it, because I felt it was a badly drafted legislation for a number of reasons.

Further topics of the German Pirates, such as basic income, possession of soft drugs and free public transport, are national and even regional issues.

Many argue that the Pirate movement is just a hype. Do they underestimate the Pirate parties?

I expect Pirate parties to grow, because the topics we address are very important for our information society. Until now, none of the established parties has really dealt with these issues and that unfortunately includes the Greens. The Greens are the best party group, but they don't really have the focus on the information policy issues that we have. But these are very, very important issues for this century.

Forty years ago, when the Greens got the environmental policy on the agenda, it was tremendously important. Now all parties have an environmental agenda and we have to meet the new challenges of this century. How do we handle the information society? How do we preserve freedom on the Internet? How do we make the most of these fantastic new opportunities that the century is giving us?

So it is your goal that all the parties in the European Parliament adopt the issues of the Pirates in their programme, as it happened with the green issues before?

Yes, that is exactly our goal. Realistically speaking, we will never have our own majority anywhere. But I am confident that in the end our ideas will have majority, everywhere. I see it mostly as a question of explaining again and again what it is that we stand for, so that we gradually get more and more politicians from other parties to realise that the Pirates have a point, that these are important issues and that the Pirates have solutions to them as well.

The biggest challenge in politics is to have the endurance to keep on saying the same thing. It takes time to change the political views of other parties, so we need to see this as a long-term commitment. But this is how politics work.

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