Pirates Lose Influence in EU Parliament

The shock and drama of the anti-EU and pro-fascist parties’ progress was of course the most important development in the EU parliament election. There is a lot to be discussed about that and who knows: perhaps some of it can touch the digital policy issues? But before that, Netopia looks closer at the only party that has a single focus on digital policy – the Pirate Party. Yes, single focus, despite what the Pirates claimed in the campaign, they traded their votes on all issues except digital policy to the Greens in order to get their support on file-sharing and anti-copyright. In this EU parliament election, the Pirate Party lost two seats from Sweden and won one from Germany. Europe’s voters sent MEPs Christian Engström and Amelia Andersdotter back home, and Germany’s Julia Reda to Brussels. Half the votes and five years of experience lost for the Pirates. Looking closer at the national results, 2,2% of Sweden’s voters chose the Pirates, but only 1,4% of Germany’s. Popular support is thus bigger in Sweden, but Germany has four times as many seats in European Parliament. And Sweden’s support for the Pirates is down from 7,1% in the 2009 elections, more than two thirds of voters moved on.

For all their efforts to brand themselves as internet freedom activists and privacy watch dogs, the Pirates’ real policy has always been free entertainment. Free as in free of charge. By embracing file-sharing and attempting to make unauthorised mass distribution of copyright content legal, the Pirate Party managed to ride the wave that Napster and The Pirate Bay set in motion. It is populism dressed up as civil rights defence. The Pirates most important policy victory was the EU Parliament’s veto on the ACTA trade agreement, which they have taken opportunity to point out in the campaign. (Not that ACTA would really have stopped illegal file-sharing, but who cares about details?) More recently, the Pirates have tried to connect their image to the fight against mass surveillance online and Edward Snowden’s self-sacrificing revelations. (And Julian Assange before him, except his gloria was stained by the sex crime allegations that he still refuses to answer.) However, the real dilemma for the Pirate Party is that it has never found an answer to the conflict between freedom of speech and privacy. They talk about both as absolutes in an almost binary way (you either have it or you don’t), but the two often clash. Radical freedom of speech means no restriction, but defamation and hate speech can violate privacy and is limited in most countries. If “speech” is not only words, but also data, images, videos, voice recordings and perhaps bank statements, the list of conflicts grows very long, very fast. By embracing radical freedom of expression and information, the Pirates end up defending the NSA, Google, Facebook and all the “little brother” prying eyes that strip away our privacy online. It’s an impossible equation and the core of the Pirates ideological confusion. Perhaps the newly elected MEP Reda can figure it out? Or maybe not. My bet is pirate policy is going to go out of fashion faster than eyebrow piercings.