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LES ECHOS

The Pirate Party's Next Target: The French Parliament

The growing political movement for Internet freedom, the Pirate Party, has shocked many with recent electoral success in Germany. The next objective is establishing a beachhead in France in the upcoming Parliamentary elections.

A French Pirate Party member during a protest (tornad3)
A French Pirate Party member during a protest (tornad3)

PARIS - Founded in 2006 by a group of Swedes close to the Pirate Bay illegal download website, the Pirate Party has spread across Europe. The Pirates are the spiritual heirs of the libertarian hackers from the late 20th century, who dreamed of a free circulation of culture and knowledge on the Internet.

But unlike these hackers, the European Pirates have chosen legal political action to make their voices heard. Their success is spectacular in Germany where, since Fall of 2011, they have won between 7% and 9% of the votes in four regional elections, where they now count 45 seats in total.

Inspired by the German model, the French Pirate Party decided to pursue the electoral route, aiming to legally implement a series of reforms: free non-commercial use of cultural works, right to privacy for Internet users, reform of copyright and patent law, transparency of the state and access to public records and content.

Maxime Rouquet, the Party leader, is 26 and a video game engineer. He is one of the few with an electoral experience: he ran for a by-election near Paris in 2009, under the Pirate banner, and won 2% of the votes. This year, he is running in the same district. Like a majority of his co-members, Rouquet got into politics in response to these barbaric sounding laws – Dadvis, Loppsi, Hadopi – intending to quell online downloading and strengthen Internet monitoring.

"When I realized that you could get a three-year sentence and a fine of 300,000 euros for sharing a cultural work with a friend, I realized that society was going the wrong way," Rouquet explains.

The Party stepped onto the battlefield at the beginning of this year, with only 200 members and no experience, no allies, no headquarters and no money. The Party is funded with membership fees – about ten euros a year – and thanks to its online shop, which sells caps, t-shirts and flags. Many candidates will be leading a "zero euros' campaign and asking their voters to download and print their ballot paper themselves.

Yet the Party succeeded in enrolling about 100 candidates – and as many substitutes – thanks to its blogs and collaborative websites, as well as Facebook and Twitter. In the Paris region, there are 42 candidates. Meanwhile, the number of members increases by 50 every week.

Go forth and multiply

The next step for the Pirate Party is to get out and meet the voters. The Party will have the right to broadcast TV commercials, but it won't be enough. In Paris, members organize mini-demonstrations, picnics, fairs, in addition to online discussions. Despite the lack of money, the Party works perfectly because it has a homogenous core: young, employed, IT technicians, clean-cut and looking serious and competent.

Stéphanie Geisler, 26, a software designer who is running in Paris' seventh constituency, says her aim is not to take power -- she simply wishes to see one or two Pirates in Parliament, to help the other MP's understand the different issues involved in digital technology: "I watched parliamentary debates on the subject and realized that there was a big knowledge deficit on the topic."

It would be wrong to think the Pirates are just blissful technophiles: "We are against video surveillance, against citizen databases, against automated financial transactions that make the crisis worse, and, most of all, we are against electronic voting machines: e-voting will always be opaque and election rigging will always be possible."

Liquid democracy

The second part of the Pirates' project is more atemporal: the establishment of a direct democracy regime, founded on citizens' participation on every level – an old utopia about to come true thanks to the Internet. As an example, the Party set up a system of hybrid governance. At the head of the Party, the system is normal: an administrative and political council carries out the leadership, assisted by a national council to coordinate local actions. What is different here is the program, which is entirely determined by the base: every suggestion is debated on the Internet – sometimes with excess – and then voted during a general assembly.

The French Pirates adopted the British concept of "liquid democracy": each activist and party member participates as much as he wants, in the topics he choses. Liquid Democracy is also the name of a software created by the German Pirates and that the French intend to adapt: it allows members to introduce a project on the Internet, then to debate about it, to amend it in real time and then to vote it.

With such a system in place, the Pirates' program is going to grow naturally, as the number of members grows bigger. The party will then face a developing crisis and the leaders' task will become more complicated: they will have to figure out how to become more mainstream without falling into the right-left divide that the movement pioneers said was obsolete.

Read the original article in French

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