German media sceptical of Pirate Party momentum

Pirate party election poster in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, April 2012 "Free knowledge" - education is one of the party's campaign themes

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Its success in Germany's biggest state election last month has cemented the Pirate Party's status as the coming force in German politics.

The party took nearly 8% of the vote in North Rhine-Westphalia, meaning it is now represented in four of Germany's 16 state legislatures.

But German media and many commentators remain sceptical over its policies, and its ability to overcome internal divisions.

In its public statements, this new liberal political force now has much broader concerns than just the rights of citizens in a "digital society".

Policies include:

  • Calls for a guaranteed basic income for everyone
  • Action against racism and right-wing extremism
  • Free education at all levels; free local public transport
  • Abandoning nuclear power
  • Equal status for marriage and registered partnerships between two or more people
  • Legalisation of drugs
  • Separation of state and church

But local press reports on the Pirates' first steps in Berlin's state assembly paint the picture of a party grappling with its own principles and struggling to shed its single-issue image.

'Not enough'

The party's first election success at state level came in September 2011, when it won 15 seats in the 149-strong Berlin assembly.

Half a year later, the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel was unimpressed with the work of the elected Pirates. There had been "fierce internal disputes", and Pirate assembly members had a habit of using Twitter to "publicly have a go at each other", the paper said.

Der Tagesspiegel conceded that the Pirates had scored some points on their core themes, notably by initiating a debate on police access to mobile phone data.

But in other fields the parliamentary group "has not yet made its mark". "What the Pirates have delivered to date is not enough for a serious party," the paper concluded.

Press coverage in April and May did not improve, with a crop of unflattering headlines.

"Pirate Baum admits to novice's mistakes," said the best-selling local tabloid B.Z. on 6 April. The article quoted assembly group leader Andreas Baum as saying that the elected Pirates had been slow to get organised.

On 23 April, the same paper ran the headline: "Pirate chief stumbles over terrible Nazi comparison".

The article explained that the assembly group's secretary, Martin Delius, had told the weekly Der Spiegel that "the rise of the Pirate Party is as rapid as that of the Nazi party between 1928 and 1933".

The 27-year-old had reportedly been shocked at his own remark but had let it stand in the interest of transparency, one of the principles espoused by the Pirates, the paper said.

Popularity undented
Pirate party election poster in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, April 2012 "You are not going to vote anyway" - the party targets disillusioned voters

Media reports on internal rows and PR disasters do not appear to have damaged the popularity of Berlin's Pirates.

Berlin's Pirates "continue to be on the way up", the B.Z. said on 4 May after an opinion poll credited them with 15% of voting intentions in the next state elections, up from 8.9% in September 2011 and just one point behind Berlin's Greens

On 15 May, Stephan Klecha of the centre for research on democracy at the University of Goettingen told the Berliner Zeitung that the Pirates were attracting voters "who are dissatisfied with the established parties".

He listed internet freedom, the "mantra" of transparency, and non-conformism as factors contributing to the party's appeal.

According to Mr Klecha, the Pirate Party attracts the same kind of voters as right-wing populist parties in Western Europe: mainly dissatisfied young men, including many unemployed people.

But there are some differences: "The Pirates are educated to an above-average level and they are very positive about democracy," Mr Klecha said.

The latest polls suggest that nationally support for the Pirate Party stands at between 7 and 12%, well clear of the 5% of the vote required to gain seats in federal elections due to be held in September or October 2013.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here

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