Founded in 2006, the Pirate Party movement has scored some big and small victories over the years.
Their biggest success came in 2009 when the party scored two seats at the European Parliament. During the last year this was followed by dozens more seats in German state parliaments.
For now, however, the Pirates have yet to be voted into a national parliament. With elections coming up next week the Dutch branch of the Pirate Party (Piratenpartij) has become a surprising candidate to reach this milestone.
The Pirates previously participated in the 2010 elections, but with 0.1 percent of the total vote the results were disappointing. This year the polls are more promising with several surveys listing the Pirates as a serious contender for at least one seat.
“There are several polls in the Netherlands, some put us at ‘almost one seat’ and others at almost two seats. Seeing how the Pirate Party also attracts a lot of first time voters who are not really represented in those polls, we feel that two seats is feasible,” party leader Dirk Poot tells TorrentFreak.
Poot is not the stereotypical pimple-faced geek most outsiders expect to see when they read about the Pirate Party. The 44-year old party leader studied business and medicine, and is currently employed as a programmer developing medical software.
Poot says that the Pirate Party is much-needed in the Netherlands for a variety of reasons, not least as a counterbalance to the growing influences of the copyright lobby. One of the prime examples of the damage this lobby has done is the local Pirate Bay blockade.
“The Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world where access to the Pirate Bay has been blocked. During our recent fight with BREIN over our proxy-service, none of the other political parties voiced any protest over the fact that a political party could be censored by a private lobbying organization,” Poot says.
According to Poot the political establishment is not doing enough to address the issues at hand.
“The Dutch Copyright law has been in effect for exactly 100 years, without any significant update. It has been clear for over 10 years that this law desperately needs an update, but this has also been ignored by the existing parties.”
“They have looked the other way while BREIN was allowed to continue building jurisprudence, resulting in a virtually unchallenged position of this foundation as the de-facto Dutch Internet censor,” Poot says.
When elected, the Pirate Party plans to put these issues on the political agenda. However, the Pirates aren’t limiting themselves to file-sharing issues. The debate over medical patents and their effect on the rising costs of the Dutch medical system also became an issue in the election race, in part thanks to the Pirates.
“It was the Pirate Party that managed to put the need for patent reform on the agenda, and the mere fact that we now are participating in the elections and even polling at one or two seats is forcing other political parties to start voicing concerns over the added healthcare costs as a result of pharmaceutical patents,” Poot says.
Freedom of information is also high on the agenda of the Pirates. Unlike other parties it is willing to take a stand for Wikileaks, and the party is protesting a recent proposal that would limit people’s access to government documents.
By bringing up issues that are important to a large group of voters, they are encouraging other parties to take a stand on issues that were previously ignored.
“The Netherlands needs a Pirate Party to show the existing parties that Internet freedom and the sharing of knowledge and culture is a legitimate concern for many voters; it will force the old and established parties to finally take a stand on these issues,” Poot says.
Skeptics claim that with a single seat in the Dutch parliament (there are 150) the Pirate Party won’t be able to achieve anything of significance, but Poot disagrees.
“Even one seat would put us in a position where we could ask questions from within the system, forcing the government to heed and answer those questions. Too often questions from outside groups have been ignored; a seat in parliament would force the authorities to finally answer these concerns. It might even help the authorities to see ‘the error of their ways’.”
“As Engström and Andersdotter [Pirate Party MEPs] have shown in the European Parliament, even one or two seats can make a big difference in the decision-making process, because we’d also be in a position to inform the other members of parliament, which up until now had to rely solely on lobbyist information,” Poot says.
At a minimum, the first seat in a national parliament will be a huge boon to the dozens of other Pirate Parties worldwide. The Dutch elections will be held next Wednesday and they could mark another milestone for the Pirate Party.