The German Pirate Party and its Impact on Direct E-Democracy in Germany

Term Paper, 2018

16 Pages, Grade: 2,3



Table of Contents


1 The Foundation of the German Pirate Party

2 The Aims and Structure of the German Pirate Party

3 The Impact of the German Pirate Party on Transparency of Administration through the Adoption e-Democracy Initiatives

4 The Changes of the Aspect of Direct Democracy through the Influence of the German Pirate Party




The internet connects people and spreads information faster than ever before in history. This stimulates desires for more democracy and more participation – beyond hierarchically organized parties. Modern politics often involves, in representative democracies, negotiations, compromises and deal makings among different political groups, most of the time behind closed doors from the general public. On this basis, the Internet has brought its significance into all aspects of people’s lives giving us open access to knowledge and transparent insights about politics and democratic processes. Despite some opportunities for active participation in German politics, there is often a demand for greater participation opportunities for citizens. Also, electronic democracy (e-democracy) can be seen nowadays as a large concept with more successful participation for German democracy. E-democracy represents the use of Information and Communication Technologies and strategies by democratic actors (governments, elected officials, the media, political organizations, citizens/voters) within the political and governing processes of local communities, nations and on the international stage (Ulrich 2007: 25). Moreover, e-democracy suggests greater and more active participation enabled by the Internet, mobile communications, and other technologies in today´s direct democracy as well as through more participatory or direct forms of citizen involvement in addressing public challenges (Ulrich 2007: 25). In Germany, the new and unconventional style of Internet politics has enabled the German Pirate Party to take a spot on the national political stage. The Pirate Party operates quite differently from other parties and can be seen as a model that will affect other parties through adoption of direct e-democracy in the future. Apparently, their unconventional, transparent and internet-based style of politics has become the center of several public debates and gained quick popularity. It is for these reasons that this is a worthwhile topic to be examined in this paper: What impact has the digital revolution of the German Pirate Party on direct democracy in Germany and how does it affect the transparency of an administration? To answer this question, the paper is divided into four main chapters, excluding the introduction and conclusion. Chapter one lays out the foundation of the German Pirate Party and provides an insight into its origination. Chapter two examines the German Pirate Party, its structure, political agenda as well as their aims according to the political system of Germany. Chapter three aims at investigating the impact of the Pirates on transparency of administration. Finally, chapter four is dedicated to present an analysis of the changed aspect of direct democracy by the Pirate Party and its digital influence as a new social movement on German direct democracy.

1 The Foundation of the German Pirate Party

The German Pirate Party is not only a party in the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany, but a worldwide political movement. Pirate parties are an international political movement with roots in Sweden, where legal cases related to copyright law led to the formation of a party advocating modern copyright laws and free access to information (Gürbüz 2011: 18). The German Pirates were founded about nine months after their Swedish mother as the third European pirate party (there have been Pirates in Austria since July 2006) (Walter al. 2012: 19). The Swedish model donated the name as well as central programmatic and ideological fragments to the offshoots and, with its success, even inspired the German Pirates to their concrete project (Walter al. 2012: 19).

In September 2006, the Pirate Party described freedom of knowledge and culture and the protection of privacy, the guiding principle of a transparent state instead of transparent citizens, and the transparency of political processes and administration as its primary goals. According to the members of the first board, it was above all the smouldering conflicts over digital civil rights and the reform of copyright law that motivated them to establish a party. Previously, smaller initiatives had tried to influence the debates on copyright held in the European Parliament in 2005 and 2006 but had little success. Many German activists were therefore electrified by the news from Sweden. Not only because the topics of the Pirate Party there were practically congruent with their own concerns, but also because their unconventional form of organization corresponded exactly to the being and consciousness of the digital strollers (Walter al. 2012: 19).

The most important personal motive of the party founders, however, was political weariness that had grown over the years. Most of them had been interested in computer technology, Internet culture and their political implications in private and professional contexts for some time (Walter al. 2012: 19).

Looking at the political and biographical background of the founding pirates, the socio-structural and cultural similarities can today be seen like the face and character of the party. The party founders were predominantly male, mainly young, but no longer necessarily youthful and had a strong professional or private affinity to computer and Internet topics. Concepts such as Open Source and Open Access, as well as the demands for a reform of copyright law, free communication and data protection, were familiar to many from their professional lives. In addition, very few of them had previously been politically active in larger, fixed organizations, but in individual cases they had joined political initiatives, cooperated with partners and started or terminated projects (Walter al. 2012: 20).

The scope of the party quickly broadened, and nowadays active pirate parties exist in 42 countries (Kling et al. 2015: 210). The German Pirate Party is the largest of all pirate parties with 24,438 members as of January 2015 (Kling et al. 2015: 210). Since the election to the Berlin House of Representatives in September 2011, the German Pirate Party has developed a political constant at the state level (Neumann et al. 2012: 327). After the Berlin elections, the young party also made the jump over the blocking clause in the state elections in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia in 2012. In March 2012, the Pirates received 7.4% of the vote and thus won 4 seats in the Landtag of Saarland (Schlechta 2014). Subsequent 2012 polls have shown an increase in popularity in the Party. In May 2012, they won 8.2% of the vote in Schleswig-Holstein, which was sufficient to enter the state parliament, gaining 6 seats (Schlechta 2014). Also in May 2012, they won 7.8% of the vote in North Rhine-Westphalia, gaining 20 seats (Schlechta 2014). After those successful state elections, the party was able to score up to 13% in nationwide polls (Schlechta 2014). None of the 62 pirate parties worldwide has achieved comparable success. In Sweden, the mother country of the pirate movement, the “Piratpartiet” was also unable to build on its success in the 2009 European elections (Neumann et al. 2012: 327). The Pirate Party not only moved into a German state parliament for the first time in its history, but the election result shows that the Pirate Party is a political force that has serious ambitions and opportunities to influence German politics. It is therefore not absurd to assume that the Pirate Party could play an ever-greater role in the German party landscape in the future.

However, after a lengthy array of scandals and internal disputes which were handled unprofessionally and picked up by the media, the party lost the trust of voters and entered a steady decline in polls. As a result, in the Lower Saxony state election in January 2013, the Pirate Party was only able to gain about 2.1% of the votes, missing the 5% threshold needed to gain actual seats in the state parliament. Six months later during the Bavaria state election of 2013 the Pirates fared similarly, receiving again only 2% of the votes. The Berlin state election on September 2016 witnessed the collapse of support for the Pirate Party in their previous stronghold of Berlin. Their previous vote of 8.9% achieved in 2011 fell to 1.7% and the Pirate Party lost all representation in the Berlin State assembly. The Pirate Party continued to decline in 2017, dropping out from state parliaments. In the Saarland state election in March 2017, the Pirate Party received only 0.7% of the voter share and therefore lost all its seats in the Landtag of the Saarland. With the North Rhine-Westphalia state election in which it lost every seat, the Pirate Party is no longer represented in any state parliament (Hebenstreit 2017).

2 The Aims and Structure of the German Pirate Party

The program of the Pirate Party is extremely limited. With one exception, namely education, the party restricts itself to issues directly bound up with the Internet: i.e. self-determination of information, free exchange of knowledge, reform of copyright and patent laws, transparency and data protection. The Pirate Party rejects, for example, the online and video monitoring as well as retention of data by the state, which were introduced under the pretext of “anti-terror laws” by the former SPD government led by Gerhard Schröder1 and extended by the grand coalition (SPD, CDU, CSU) under Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union). The party is also opposed to patents on software — a position held by those who use and advocate Open Source software. The Pirate Party also appeals for more transparency on the part of the state and a transparent government. The freedom of information law has not been “brought to a satisfactory level”. Improved transparency of state “decision-making processes” should make these more “perceptible and comprehensible for the citizen”. According to its election program “transparency” is to end, however, precisely at that point when issues of “national security” are involved. The main source of support for the Pirate Party comes from the Internet sector. Its Bundestag candidates are almost exclusively software developers, computer scientists and engineers (Henning et al. 2009).

The Pirate Party is the product of a young and dissatisfied population that is not addressed by the established parties. The members and voters of the party are above average young. They live in urban areas and are often active in IT occupations. They feel addressed equally by the party program and the party structures.

In addition to its grassroots democratic attitude, i.e. its rejection of any form of delegation of decision-making powers, the Pirate Party stands for transparency and its implementation in public organizations like no other party (Ringel 2017: 199).

The organizational structure of the German Pirate Party is enshrined in its constitution and is similar to other opponent established parties. Firstly, the Pirate Party is divided into different national associations and emphasizes on the administrative of the Federal Republic of Germany (Gürbüz 2011: 93). Individual state associations are, in turns, subdivided into groups that are congruent with the political boundaries of countries, districts, sub-districts and municipalities (Gürbüz 2011: 94). However, the Pirates allow party double membership. In addition to the traditional structure of associations exist in the so-called pirate party crews. These are small groups of party members to get along without the formal structures and to create opportunities beyond the established forms of cooperation (Gürbüz 2011: 95).

Besides the common ideal and the political programmatic work, the members’ understanding of democracy is of fundamental importance. The party members are clearly convinced that strengthening direct democracy can restore or improve confidence in the political system in Germany (Neumann 2013: 139).

3 The Impact of the German Pirate Party on Transparency of Administration through the Adoption e-Democracy Initiatives

Besides grassroots democracy, the history of pirates is closely linked to the concept of transparency. The Pirate Party was the first German party whose foundation was planned and coordinated mainly via the Internet (Gürbüz 2011: 100).

“Transparenz ist keine Anordnung, Transparenz muss gelebt werden”2. This sentence, filled with a peculiar tension, which opposes any regulation of transparency and nevertheless claims to be necessary, is to be found in the election platform of the Berlin Pirate Party. But it is not only that transparency plays a key role, it is a core issue of the young party. However, the focus here will be less on the concrete transparency requirements of pirates than on the necessity of transparency for their political rationality (Vogelmann 2012: 101).

The all-volunteer Pirates offer little ideology and focus on promoting their flagship policies of near-total transparency and unrestricted Internet. But polls show them as the country’s third strongest political force, leapfrogging over more established parties. The party’s core pledge of transparency and participation – live transmission of all meetings and the online involvement of all party members in its decisions, countless Twitter debates and email chains – is reacting the limit of feasibility as the number of party members has mushroomed (Baetz 2012).

The party goes a long way in its concept of transparency: not only the input or output of information, but also its internal processing should be directly visible to the public. As a result, decision-making processes, e.g. in committees, working groups or boards of directors, also come into focus. The pirates therefore also discuss unpleasant topics in public. Overall, transparency is more important than in almost any other organization. Behind all this is the goal of changing the dominant direction into which visibility is nowadays: The citizens should no longer be completely transparent to the state, but vice versa (Ringel 2017: 200).

The Pirate Party complies with the demand for maximum visibility in various ways. All decision-relevant meetings (party conferences, state and federal party executive committee meetings, working group meetings) are made available via online stream or at least as audio stream and stored on the Internet, making them accessible at any time. If the transmission is not possible, e.g. due to technical defects, at least one protocol shall be prepared and made available on the party’s homepage. From the point of view of the party members, this is necessary because “pirates with party office are required to maintain constant transparency”. In addition, the pirates held lively discussions on various publicly accessible mailing lists, so that the communication processes taking place between official meetings, which often served to prepare decisions, were also available to the public. Furthermore, software programs such as Mumble (a voice conferencing software) and social media such as Twitter offer many opportunities to follow and participate in discussions between party members in a direct, unfiltered form. Finally, the income and expenses are also published on the party’s homepage (Ringel 2017: 201).

The party did not emerge in a social vacuum but was able to build on existing social discourses on the topics of “copyright, network policy or civil rights”, which were primarily conducted on the Internet. This thematic abduction resulted above all from the personal homogeneity of the party activists, whose “rooting in the milieu of Internet culture” shared a life-world horizon. The collective impulse for political activity shared by the founding members was due to a general unease over existing restrictions of individual freedoms by the state owed by the founding members to a general unease over existing restrictions of individual freedoms owed by the state (Ringel 2017: 203).


1 Gerhard Schröder was the seventh Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, a position he held from 1998 to 2005. His chancellorship was marked by extensive social and regulatory reforms, as well as a growing awareness of Germany’s global responsibility.

2 “Transparency is not an order, transparency must be lived” is a key sentence of the Pirate Party in the election program 2011, showing how the Pirate party stands for a transparent politics in the House of Representatives, in the Senate administration and in the district administrations. The program is available under:

Excerpt out of 16 pages


The German Pirate Party and its Impact on Direct E-Democracy in Germany
University of Frankfurt (Main)
Democracy in Crisis?
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Piratenpartei, Pirate Party, E-Democracy
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2018, The German Pirate Party and its Impact on Direct E-Democracy in Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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