It’s been two and a half years since the European Elections in 2009, when I was elected a Member of the European Parliament for the Swedish Pirate Party. As Parliament re-opens after holiday recess, the second half of that term commences.
So what has the Pirate Party achieved so far, during the first half of the term? I’d like to highlight three successes where it is clear that we’ve made a difference.
1. The Telecoms Package was the first large test of pirate policy, directly after my election as a Member of European Parliament (MEP). The entire telecoms package was almost complete, having been negotiated during the previous Parliament. All that remained was one single point, going by the name “amendment 138” in public debate. It concerned whether a citizen could be disconnected from the Net (for sharing files illegally, for example), and what guarantees of due process the individual would have in such a case.
This is a translated article from a Swedish original. The original is here.
When I took office as MEP, the Telecoms Package was in a stage called “conciliation”. This means that a 27-person delegation from the European Parliament negotiates with civil servants from the European Council of Ministers and the European Commission about the final wording of the law. (Yes, it is odd that the elected legislators must negotiate with non-elected civil servants for the ability to legislate, but that’s how the European Union works.)
I was in the 27-person delegation from Parliament, and pushed for the policy that nobody should be disconnected from the internet at all, but if this should happen, then there must be at least an impartial judicial trial, including the right for the accused to be heard, before any disconnection would happen.
At the end of the day, we won this battle, and got as strong guarantees for a due process as was legislatively possible. We won because of many activists on the net driving the public opinion, and who put pressure on the other MEPs by mailing them and contacting them in other ways. This made the other MEPs interested in listening to what I had to say, since they knew I represented the Pirate Party and could explain what it was that the net activists wanted. The combination of external pressure of public opinion with somebody on the inside worked very well this time.
2. Books for the visually impaired, where we had a large victory, with the European Parliament voicing its formal support for a binding international agreement that guarantees access to books in accessible formats across country borders for visually impaired citizens. This is something that organizations for the visually impaired have demanded for decades, but where publishers and the copyright lobby are fighting against this in every conceivable way.
This formal support was on my initiative, after I had submitted an amendment for a report about the cultural sector in the future. (That’s how you do it: Neither the European Parliament as a whole nor individual MEPs have formal rights of initiative in the sense that we can write motions about entirely new subjects, but we can submit proposals for additions or changes to the reports that the European Commission creates.)
The amendment that I wrote was first adopted in the committee for legal affairs, JURI (where I sit), and then in the committee for cultural affairs, CULT, and finally by the parliament as a whole. The formal statement from the European Parliament isn’t legally binding as such, but the representatives of the organizations for the visually impaired that I worked with say that they see this victory as a very valuable step along the way, that has meant a lot for the morale in their own activist circles, if nothing else.
3. The Green Group adopted the Pirate Party’s program on copyright and file sharing this fall, October 2011. The principal points of this policy are legalizing file sharing and other noncommercial distribution, shortened commercial term of protection to 20 years from publication, registration for keeping the commercial exclusivity for longer than five years, free sampling, and a ban on DRM.
This is the victory I’m the most proud of and which I see as the most important, despite it (so far) not having lead to any legislation or formal statements by the European Parliament as a whole.
The reason that I see this as most important is purely mathematical. So far, I have been the lone representative for the Pirate Party among a total of 736 Members of the European Parliament. This corresponds to 0.14 per cent of the votes in Parliament. For the rest of the term, now that Amelia Andersdotter has finally been allowed to take office as a second Pirate Party representative, we will have two votes out of 754. That’s almost a doubling, but it’s still just 0.27 per cent of the votes between the two of us.
If we are to achieve a majority for Pirate Party policy, we must get a large amount of other MEPs from several other political parliamentary groups aboard the boat. Sometimes, you can create a majority for some proposals through tactical footwork (like in the two examples above), but to turn the lion’s share of Pirate Party policies into law, it takes a shift in attitude with the majority of our colleagues.
Therefore, I see it as the principal task for the Pirate Party in the European Parliament to keep being the proverbial drop that hollows the stone, which at every opportunity points out that the current information policy is stuck in a dead end but that there are better ways, and with time, get a large enough amount of colleagues from other parties to listen to and agree with our points.
This is a large piece of work that will take time, but of course, we knew that from the start. But with the experiences from the first half of the term in my back, I am confident that we’re on the right path and will win out in the end, even if there’s still quite a bit left to go.