27th Jun 2019

Pirates to join Green or Liberal groups in EU parliament

The civil libertarian swashbucklers of the Swedish Pirate Party are to join either the Green or the Liberal groupings in the European Parliament, the leading candidate for the party has said.

"We will probably join either the Greens or the Liberals," Christian Engstroem, a computer programmer and the candidate heading the party's list, told EUobserver.

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  • The Swedish Pirates say they are beyond the port-starboard divide (Photo: Pixie.Notat)

"There have been no formal discussions, but we have been invited by a few groups for informal talks," he added.

As the party is a single-issue formation dedicated solely to online civil liberties, Mr Engstroem said the Pirates would join the grouping in the parliament that is closest to its positions on internet freedoms.

At which point, the party would then vote in line with the grouping on all other issues.

The latest domestic polls in Sweden have put the party on between six and eight percent. In Sweden, parties must exceed a threshold of four percent to win a seat.

"It's very, very promising. We're very confident of winning one seat. The question is whether we'll manage two."

Support for the party has exploded amongst young people in particular since the sentencing of four individuals to a year in prison for aiding websurfers to access streamed television and films without permission of the copyright owners.

Some 13 percent of voters under the age 30 plan to vote for the party and the median age of members is 26 years old.

However, just seven percent of those aged 30 to 49 back the pirates and only three percent of those 49 and over do.

Beyond left and right

Mr Engstroem stressed that net politics and the policies of his party go beyond the traditional left-right division.

"We are explicitly neutral on the left-right debate," he said.

"While in Swedish national politics the [far-left] Left Party and the Greens are reasonably sensible on our issues, the best individual politicians, such as Carl Siegfried, come from the Conservative party," he said, "even if the party as a whole is on the wrong side of the issues."

The candidate himself was a member of Sweden's centrist Liberal People's Party for twenty years and the founder of the Pirate Party, Richard Falkvinge, was a member of the conservative Moderate Party's youth wing.

"And our members and activists come from all over the place politically," he said.

However, in the European Parliament, when a telecoms package amendment that required member states to seek a court order before cutting off internet access passed, in general, the left side of the house was more in favour of the measure, while the right tended to oppose it, supporting the arguments of the major media conglomerates.

Equally, in the French National Assembly when the so-called Hadopi law, which would see the internet access cut of websurfers found to be repeatedly downloading copyright materieal without permission, was considered, the left-right split was even sharper, with the house cleaving almost precisely in two over the issue.

On the issue of net neutrality, another issue dear to the hearts of internet activists, from Europe to the United States - the two territories where the topic has made headlines - the left has backed legislation that would ensure equality for all packets of information zipping across the web, while the right alongside the major telecoms firms prefers to let service providers set their own pricing strategies that could prioritise some information over others.

Mr Engstroem rejects this polarisation though. "This is simply a case of who's in government at the time. In France, the left has been more sympathetic, but that's just because the right is in power and they will oppose what the government proposes.

"If the left had been in power, they would have proposed something similar. It would have just been the other way round."

'Net Politics are decided in Brussels'

A division that is very clear however is the male-female, or, perhaps more precisely, the geek/non-geek split.

The party has the support of around 10.5 percent among men, but just 1.5 percent of women.

"Computer nerds were the first to discover this issue and nerds are mainly men," said Mr Engstroem, "but this is slightly better now. Some women are starting to notice too."

"But the underlying issue is something that affects everyone. The net is one of the biggest changes to society since the printing press. It makes sense that this societal shift is reflected in politics."

The candidate said that he first personally got involved in the issue when campaigning against the EU's Software Patent Directive in 2005, which was ultimately rejected by the parliament.

"Simply put, net politics is decided in Brussels, so that's where we've got involved," he said. "This is why of all political issues, it's net politics that is bringing people, young people to engage at the EU level."

He added that his experience in 2005 "brought a whole new perspective on how the EU works, which we didn't really know before. It taught us that working together across Europe, we can make a change, we can have a success."

Mr Engstroem may say he does not take sides in the left-right debate, but he does sound a slightly eurosceptic note: "However, we also learnt about the undemocratic machine that is the European Union."

Danny the Red, Danny the Green, Danny the Geek?

The Greens, for their part, confirm that there have been discussions.

"I have heard there has been some contact. They might join us or the Liberals," said Green spokesperson Chris Coakley.

"We are very open to the idea, and the Pirates' position on internet freedom is very aligned with ours," he added. "If you look at how we have voted, we're pretty consistent on this."

"It was [Green co-leader] Dany Cohn-Bendit who submitted the [the telecoms package] amendment that said there should be no cutting of an individual's internet connection without a judicial decision, which ultimately passed, after all."

In 2008, the European Greens even put out a pro-file-sharing video mocking the anti-downloading warnings screened in cinemas and found at the beginning of most DVDs. Produced by Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter, the clip was uploaded to the Pirate Bay, the controversial site that aided file-sharing and whose founders were sentenced to prison in Sweden.

The Liberals, for their part however said there have been "no formal discussions".

"If there is an application, then it is up to the elected members to decide whether the can join. At this point I can't speculate," said Jeroen Reijnen, spokesman for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested that Dany Cohn-Bendit had requested a vote on the controversial amendment to the telecoms package. Mr Cohn-Bendit moved the amendment, but it was MEP Rebecca Harms who called for it to be voted on ahead of a compromise text during the full sitting of the house.


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