2000 gather for Pirate Party Germany national assembly

Last month, the northern German town of Neumünster saw well over 1500 pirates, as well as hundreds of press representatives and guests gather for the Pirate Party Germany's national assembly, making it the largest gathering in the history of the party. Since entering the Berlin state parliament in late 2011, the Pirate Party Germany (PP-DE) has not only doubled in size, but has also started raising international attention. From the perspective of international Pirate Parties that are just starting out, the challenges faced by PP-DE in terms of ensuring equal participation of its 28,000 members are worth a closer look.

Pirates vote at the national assembly

Pirates vote at the national assembly (CC-by-sa Ben de Biel)

Ensuring participation in times of exponential growth

The PP-DE's bi-annual national assemblies are the key events in its organizational structure and the highest authority in the party. Unlike all other major German parties, every single member is allowed to attend the assembly and to vote. Between 5 and 10 percent of all members usually exercise this right. Finding a large enough venue and financing an event of that size is becoming increasingly difficult.

A lively debate over possible solutions to this problem has largely rejected the idea of a delegate system. Pirates want to make use of technology to ensure the possibility of direct participation of all members. However, the German party law forbids online assemblies as they are exercised in Pirate Parties in other countries, as secret and secure elections for the board cannot be ensured when people vote from home via the internet.

The emerging solution is to have an assembly in several venues across the nation at the same time, connected via live stream. All members will still have to attend at one of the locations and vote in person. The results will be added up electronically, but each vote will have a paper trail. This model will be tested at the next national assembly in november, which will take place in two separate locations in the city of Bochum. The success of this project will be critical to continuing the PP-DE's standard of direct democracy.

National board elected

While the last assembly six months ago focused on the party's political platform, this weekend was dedicated to electing a new national board. Although the platform of the PP-DE is collaboratively created and decided upon by all members, the national board has considerable power in determining the strategy of the party by representing it in the media, making financial decisions and organizing administrative work.

Former vice-chairman Bernd Schlömer beat two other promising candidates for the chair: Former chairman Sebastian Nerz and Julia Schramm. 41-year-old Bernd Schlömer is seen as a unifying figure, having served on the board for three years and enjoying broad support from the party's members.

Nerz and Schramm are more controversial: the former because of his relatively critical stance on the party's opinion formation tool LiquidFeedback and his disagreements with the Berlin state parliamentary group, the latter for her public criticism of the strict German data protection laws, which she deemed somewhat detrimental to the free flow of information on the internet. The fact that both of them are among the other eight board members elected in Neumünster goes to show, however, that the party is hardly divided into camps and the personal positions of board members are still secondary to their ability to communicate the party's political platform.

the board

The board. Top: Klaus Peukert, Sebastian Nerz, Bernd Schlömer, Markus Barenhoff, Matthias Schrade. Bottom: Sven Schomaker, Julia Schramm, Swanhild Goetze, Johannes Ponader (CC-by-sa Piratenpartei Deutschland)

Prague declaration on Pirate Party Europe ratified

Among the internationally significant decisions of the weekend was PP-DE's ratification of the Prague declaration authored by pirates from all over the Europe at the Pirate Parties International Conference two weeks earlier. The signatories agree to include a common election program in their platforms for the EP elections in 2014, to coordinate their campaigns, and to establish a Pirate Party of Europe. The ratification was welcomed by guests from international Pirate Parties that attended the assembly. Board member Julia Schramm has made it her goal to help facilitate broad transnational participation in writing the common election program.

Rick Falkvinge speaking at the PP-DE national assembly

Piratpartiet founder Rick Falkvinge speaking at the PP-DE national assembly (CC-by-sa Ben de Biel)

United against racism

The national assembly brought a close to a widely publicized debate: Following the success of PP-DE over the last couple of years, the party had attracted a few people with fringe right-wing positions who sought to find a place in the party known for its strong stance on freedom of speech and the pluralism of its members. While their ideologies found no basis whatsoever in the Pirate Party's progressive and international platform, some people argued that PP-DE would have to tolerate those few members' opinions within the party on the grounds of freedom of speech.

The pirates gathered in Neumünster agreed almost unanimously that racist and anti-Semitic hate speech has no room in the party. To the extent that such statements do not impinge on other people's rights or constitute denial of the Holocaust, they are rightly protected by freedom of speech - a right that protects one from criminal prosecution. Freedom of speech does not, however, protect from criticism. A party, that has by definition agreed on a more narrow set of values than society at large, can very well protect freedom of speech as a human right, while leaving no room for racism in its own ranks. PP-DE has made it very clear that it will not serve as a platform for inhuman ideologies, but will work towards a society that judges all people on the content of their character alone.

Pirates gather in front of a banner that reads "no room for racism" (CC-by Tobias M. Eckrich)


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