, Bavaria. It was a grand event – around 1500 people gathered to make important decisions about the election platform. It was a time of reconciliation – the
were impressive in their way of looking ahead and their belief in the capacity of the party to work constructively towards success in the Bundesdagselections of November this year.
I am as always amazed by the organizational capacity of Germans. The halls were well-attended, the feeding opportunities supreme. Networks, press room, proper air in the big meeting hall and simultaneous sign language interpretation raised the overall impression of the event. There were many meetings with old and new friends that give me the hope, strength and motivation to continue my endeavours in Brussels. Over all, it was superinspiring and many German Pirates seemed to have a similar feeling :-)
On the Sunday morning after the final debates on opportunities for online meetings in the party I held an address:
Honourable pirates, representatives,
I’m honoured to be standing before you today in this room, where so many of you have gathered to decide on the future of Piratenpartei leading up to the elections this autumn. My base of operations is Brussels and the European Parliament. I’ve been attending this congress since Friday and some of you may have seen me lurking around the isles or in the press center with the international visitors. I assure you we’ve all been impressed with the organisation and the spirit of cooperation here.
It is challenging to do politics. One has to be friendly not only with one’s own but also with opponents. In many cases political battles can seem so long and hopeless that they are hardly worth the effort. We, the pirates, have also chosen an extremely difficult field within which to be political: the intersection between politics and technology.
Many times this distinction is not made, neither by politicians nor by technical developers. It leads to bad decision making with poor or no connection to a moral or philosophical framework for our society. In the case of privacy protection, a poor understanding of the adaptability of technology to the moral frameworks we actually want in our society leads to misplaced watering down of the European data protection regulation. Instead of seeing a strong moral framework for industry and society alike as an opportunity for our economy and domestic technology development, we have largely handed over political problem formulation to foreign technology companies.
In the case of net neutrality, a poor understanding of what constitutes technology and what constitutes an interaction between parties has led to no political action being taken whatsoever. To me it has always been clear that politics is about the interaction between different entities in society, and which terms of interaction we as politicians find morally acceptable. We want everyone on the internet to be able to create, contribute and take part, therefore net neutrality should always apply. The technical details can be solved – we need merely to make the political decision for it to be.
But strange actions do not only come from politicians. Also the technical side has difficulties resolving the political from the technical, and many of you will probably be worried about the potential inclusion of technological protection measures for copyrighted content in the most basic and fundamental of web standards. It is obvious to any casual observer that the moral framework, the political framework, within which we regulate copyright and cultural works is highly contested and it is therefore premature to codify in a technical standard a technical solutions which favours a particular political outcome.
All of these three cases, data protection, net neutrality and web standards, are examples of times in society when politics and technology are not appropriately separated, and the result is bad politics, bad technology and a society which increasingly loses trust and faith in the systems used to govern it. This is what it lies on us, the Pirates, to fix.
It is a problem of technology not being regulated enough, and it’s a problem of technology being far too regulated. For some reason, the idea that the internet should be free and therefore also unregulated has now become a popular political idea also with political parties that are not the Pirate Party. The idea is obviously wrong – legislation and the government is how we as societies self-organise to minimize conflicts and to help ourselves with resolution of conflicts when conflicts arise. We try to make our legislation in such a way that the risk of conflict is minimized, and that the scope of conflict if it does arise is as small as possible.
Many pieces of our legislation does not do that at all. Copyright law, for instance, creates conflicts between people who needn’t be in conflict, and it makes the resolution of those conflicts very difficult. We are looking at a situation in Europe now where the need to reform copyright has been plainly obvious for over a decade, but where entrenched political positions make it impossible for any useful action. After 2014 we are looking towards a new Commission in the European Union, and our publically elected institutions at all levels need to push this reform forward. We can do it in the local government, in the regional government and from the European Parliament.
We need the copyright reform not only so that our children can visit the library, have teachers that don’t habitually violate the law and access to culture for the visually impaired. We need it also to connect with our history – would you believe that despite the wealth of German television the only thing I personally am acquainted with is actually Schnappi das kleine Krokodil? We need the copyright reform also to not incentivise the development of technologies that control and lock in users and the public when we digitalise our public sector materials.
A society needs a moral compass and our industries need a moral compass. There is a political vacuum that we need to fill in terms of establishing this moral compass, and we can do it.
From my time in Brussels it’s been obvious that Pirates are more needed than ever. We have ICT discussions in transport, automobiles, electricity, city planning, water management, health care and all associated industry sectors. We need a stable set of values based on culture as a tool to build communities in Europe, and the world, and privacy as a fundamental right that we need to shape our identities and participate on a non-discriminatory basis in our democracies.
It’s important that none of the stages in the legislative process is forgotten. Often the moral frameworks are codified at the European level and refined in national or local settings. But national and local policies can and must be strong growing grounds for the values we want our socities to uphold. I believe strongly in the cooperation between the local levels.
Being here encourages me. I see a Piratenpartei open to collaboration with others, and one where the political debate thrives. You will have an important election coming up this autumn, and next year we will campaign together for the European elections. Things are moving – the data protection reform is now, and we can make it. The copyright reform will come, and we have to push it forward.
With these words I wish you a good rest of the congress. I’m sure that many of you will leave this place with as many positive impressions and new ideas as I have.