Pirates in the Parliament

by Henry Farrell on June 16, 2009

I’ve got a long post in the works touching on some of the same issues as John’s “recent piece”:https://crookedtimber.org/2009/06/10/suicidally-strong-ip/, which began as a response to Larry Lessig’s recent silliness on socialism (which he has qualified in the meantime) but has since metastasized into something much shaggier and alarming. In the meantime, some speculation regarding a smaller question – is the Pirate Party’s presence in the European Parliament going to change anything? This is something that I wanted to talk about in a “bloggingheads debate”:http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/20468 with Judah Grunstein yesterday, but we got stuck into more general questions of copyright good or bad. Anyway – my answer to the question is yes, plausibly – but around the margins, and depending on what alliances it strikes.

First and most obviously – the Pirate Party has a very small presence in the European Parliament – either one or two seats depending on whether the Lisbon Treaty (which _inter alia_ reallocates seats among countries) goes through. This is obviously vastly insufficient to get anything done beyond blustering in the Assembly, unless they strike some canny tactical alliances. To have any significant role in making legislation in the European Parliament, you need to join up with a cross-national umbrella group/party that has representation in at least seven (if my memory serves me correctly; can’t be bothered to look it up) countries. What really matters in the Parliament is not the public debates on the floor, but what takes place in its various committees, and in negotiations between the _rapporteurs_ for particular items of legislation and the Council of EU member states. All this facilitates a semi-duopoly between the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats’ umbrella groups, with the Liberals (a combination of enthusiastic free marketeers like the German FDP with more civil-liberties oriented people like the UK Lib Dems) getting some look-in, the Greens a (very) occasional nod, and everyone else having to satisfy themselves with crumbs.

So the Pirate Party need to join up with one of the existing groupings in order to get anything done. And they know this – as quoted in a recent “BBC News story”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8089102.stm

Mr Falkvinge said they were still considering their position. “We’re looking at four different EU Parliament groups,” he said. “However, we’re probably going to join either the Green block or the ALDE group [HF – this is the liberal umbrella group].”

In theory, the Greens are an easier fit. Their grouping in Parliament is notably elastic, including not only Greens, but also a rag-tag alliance of regional parties who need an institutional home given Parliament rules and find the Green bloc at least somewhat congenial. But my preference would be to see the Pirates join the liberals in the ALDE grouping. This would, on the one hand, help reinforce and expand the ALDE’s emphasis on civil liberties. Graham Watson, who is their current leader, has been one of the key people pushing back against national governments on extraordinary renditions, surveillance etc. One of the reasons that the Pirate Party has done so well in Sweden is precisely that (as John notes) efforts to protect strong IP through disclosure of file-sharers’ personal information etc have become a civil rights issue. If this frame gets adopted more widely in the Parliament (and it may well, given the tenor of recent debates), then the Pirate Party might actually play a quite effective role in focusing argument. The second reason is that membership of ALDE rather than the Greens might serve usefully to focus the Pirate Party’s attention on the stuff that I (personally) think is important – copyright extensions forevah and all that, rather than the unlimited file-sharing as a fundamental right stuff, which I personally don’t find very helpful (but then I wouldn’t, since I don’t use filesharing services for illegal downloads myself).

So – if the Pirate’s Party are going to get anything done, they are going to have to get institutionalized into the system, at least to some extent, facing the usual tradeoffs that wild-eyed radicals face when they actually win electedseats. Since my personal stance on these issues is somewhere in the wide spacebetween the Pirate Party’s stated position and the so-called mainstream, I think that a bit of institutionalization would be a very good thing (others, with different positions may vary). It would be nice to see some voices in elected politics expressing opinions that diverge from the copyright-maximalist ones – even when (as here) reformists are still seriously outgunned, they can still have significant consequences by showing up and shouting loudly when bad things seem to be afoot.



Dan 06.16.09 at 4:49 pm

My inner etymology geek would love to see the Pirate Party pull off a filibuster. Sadly, I don’t think there’s much scope for that in the European Parliament.


Jacob Christensen 06.16.09 at 4:59 pm

Not so much a comment as a couple of links:

The Swedish electoral researcher Henrik Oscarsson has a very good blog (in Swedish) where he has discussed where PP’s voters came from, etc.

His posts concerning PP are here.

Also, Christian Engström has a blog (also in Swedish) – and no, he hasn’t answered your questions but maybe a closer reading of the “Demokrati i EU” posts will give a clue.

Well, once you’ve run those blogs through Google Translate, they’ll probably sound like the Swedish chef… :-)


JulesLt 06.17.09 at 7:26 am

I was sat on a train a few weeks back and heard some guy talking about how ‘the government’ were going to stop downloading, and ‘whatever happened to freedom of speech’. At which point I wanted to join in and tell him that downloading Hollywood films for free has absolutely nothing to do with his right to express his opinion without persecution.

Obviously, the prospect on not being able to take without contributing exercised him far more than, say, the re-introduction of detention without criminal charge or trial, or stop and search, or the wide misuse of anti-terrorism laws against legitimate protest.

Now I don’t know about in Sweden, but certainly in the UK their are politicians who have publicly opposed those far more important issues, without appealing to the sit-at-home so called copyright reformers – who – and I will keep re-iterating this point – generally seem to express a large preference for the products of the Hollywood studios, porn firms, and major music labels, rather than the output of people producing amateur film and music for free)


David Weman 06.17.09 at 10:36 am

At least going by their own statements, the Pirate Party’s more focus on civil liberties than file sharing.


David Weman 06.17.09 at 10:39 am

I would guess they’ll join ALDE, it seems a better fit. Falkvinge’s a libertarian, their MEP is a former member of the conventionl liberal party. Overall they’re ideologically diverse but seem mostly rightleaning.


BigBa 06.23.09 at 5:22 am


I’m not so sure we can take the de-linking of illegal downloading and freedom of expression for granted.

Now, maybe I’m just addled from fantasies of free-wheeling oral culture unlocking the radical potential of folk in an anarchist utopia disco-dance festival of joy and delight, but it strikes me that the ability to get culture/information/ideas/opinions is a prerequisite for producing culture/information/ideas/opinions.

Because, 1) before anybody will listen, you gotta know the lingo, and 2) this is the RE-MIX! Uh! Uh! (Because a copy-righted Daedalus means no Puzzle Master, right?)

Now, that may not mean that everyone should be able to download willynilly, but I do think freedom of speech is at least relevant to the discussion. Even if it’s a discussion of fresh hot amateur newdz and old Elvis albums.

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