Can the Pirate Party Change German Politics?

By David W. Wise

A recent public opinion poll showing the Pirate Party at 13 percent - making it the third most popular political party in Germany - has the country's political establishment in a stir. The Pirate Party, which did not even exist six years ago, and which had rarely polled even 2 percent by this time last year, now has seats in two state legislatures scoring 8.9 percent of the vote last fall in Berlin and 7.4 percent two weeks ago in Saarland.

The party now appears poised to pick up seats in in Schleswig Holstein on May 6 and in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s largest state, on May 13. What is perhaps most amazing has been the lightening speeds with which the party has organized and fielded candidates with very little prior infrastructure in place as soon as these elections have been called.

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If the Pirates remain near these levels the mathematics of likely traditional coalitions on either the left or the right would become almost impossible to organize in the national election to be held next year. That leads to one of two possibilities, either another “grand coalition” between the two main contesting parties (CDU/CSU and the SPD) or admission of the Pirates into a three-way coalition, something that is hard to imagine. The rise of the Pirates has so far been at the expense of the center-left SPD and the Greens. The Greens, which took control of their first state government just last fall, have suddenly lost the aura as the alternative or protest party, particularly as Chancellor Merkel’s famous U-turn on nuclear power stole from them their core issue. As a result, the Green factions in Europe are trying hard to co-opt the Pirates by adopting some of its platform.

The Greens now appear middle-aged, stale and pre-digital to many alternative voters. Meanwhile, the Pirates, whose platform is very narrowly focused on Internet freedom and what they view as overly restrictive intellectual property laws, faces a dilemma of either getting pulled into becoming a more traditional party with positions on a full range of issues outside of their areas of interest and expertise, or continuing to focus their intensity and purity on this narrow range of issues at the risk of becoming cast as a fringe group.

Another issue facing the Pirates is their uncertain relationship to two other major cross-border protest movements that also burst across the globe in the second half of last year: Anonymous and the Occupy Movement.  

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David W. Wise a businessman who lives in Annapolis, Md., and a frequent writer on international affairs and national security policy.

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