On the weekend that just passed I attended the Pirate Parties International General Assembly. Due to the high cost that would have been involved, I attended as a remote delegate, via video conferencing software.
I was shocked by the lack of co-ordination and thought put into the conference. I had heard stories about various problems that occurred at the last two General Assemblies, but did not think the situation could have been that bad.
This years’ General Assembly was “that bad”.
I am not sure of the protocol that surrounds being blunt about the failings of your own movement, but I feel I should put on record, as Andrew Norton has (I am still looking for his liveblog of the event), my ill-feelings toward Pirate Parties International.
However, I would like to make it very clear that I have nothing against the moderators of the conference; technical or otherwise. In my opinion they did a fantastic job given the situation – it was primarily the delegates and the individuals actually chairing the conference who caused the issues. The technical moderators particularly were very accommodating given their poor English (which they admitted themselves, and which I understand – my Czech is considerably worse then their English). The choice of software for video conferencing could have been better, but otherwise they are absolved from blame.
Firstly I must put forward that I have no issues with individual pirates necessarily. I am an active networker. I have strong connections with members of the Pirate Parties of Canada (in particular Travis McCrea, a newly elected member of the PPI board), Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand (who I was also a remote delegate for), the United Kingdom and the United States (particularly New York, who I helped found even though not a member). Members of other parties I have come across have also been very helpful. My problem is not with them.
However, myself and others have noticed the ongoing Eurocentricity of PPI as an organisation. I admit that there have been successes in Europe that make it the centre of attention for the Pirate Party Movement. This is not unwarranted. But, as Rick Falkvinge himself acknowledges, 5% of the vote in many European countries results in 5% of the parliamentary seats. It is markedly easier to enter parliament in most of Europe (including the EU Parliament) than it is in the rest of the world.
There are reasons why Sweden, Tunisia and Germany are cited as “great” successes of the Movement. Sweden had success because they had the Pirate Bay – fact. Had the Pirate Bay not garnered so much attention for the Party, I have doubts they would have any seats in the EU Parliament. Tunisia had essentially a blogger revolution – it made sense to add a member of the Pirate Party to government, who represents the new generation.
Germany is the biggest success of any Pirate Party. Why? Because Berlin has a high concentration of IT workers. IT workers are typically clued in on anything involving the Internet, personal data, intellectual property, et cetera. They understand the new technologies emerging, and how that will change government. Berlin is also a city and state of Germany. So, a high concentration of IT workers who are likely to vote for you, and who live in a relatively small area, makes advertising and campaigning considerably easier than most other places.
Once you take seats in Berlin, you get national media coverage, causing a domino effect – the country knows about you, so are more likely to vote for you. And now the Piratenpartei Deutschland are the third most popular political party at the national level.
So, of course it makes sense for Europe to get attention. But what the Europeans fail to recognise is that the rest of the world exists. PPI was designed to give all members an equal voice. Remote delegates last weekend were treated very poorly, merely because the cost of attending was either too expensive, or the travel time too long. It would cost PPAU close to $2000 just to send one delegate, who would also have to spend nearly 24 hours in transit. Considering Pirate Parties are predominantly volunteer organisations, this is unfeasible for those in full time employment or students.
Regardless of this, there are other problems with focusing such great attention on Europe.
Europe has it easy. As I have stated; it is much easier to get elected there, and it is much easier to communicate or travel. Outside Europe, there are many parties who need more attention than they are getting.
It is more important to have one seat in a national parliament or congress not in continental Europe, than it is to have a seat in any other region of the world.
Countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States have electoral systems that make it considerably harder to be elected than almost all of continental Europe. They use similar voting procedures – first past the post or single transferable voting – that generally favour a two-party system.
These countries are often the places where the type of legislation or treaties that need to be fought hardest originate. ACTA, SOPA, PIPA, OPEN, C-30, TPPA. How many in Europe have heard about these? Only the ones that affect them!
Canada’s C-30 bill and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) are shocking proposals. The TPPA has been called “ACTA’s big brother”. It’s that bad. But it doesn’t affect Europe, so it clearly doesn’t matter. The Pirate Party Movement will have success in Europe, but will ultimately lose the war if change is not brought to the rest of the world.
South America is another area that needs attention. For now, intellectual property is not such a big deal there. But they need strong Pirate Party activity in areas like Brazil, otherwise they will have foreign (i.e. US) laws imposed upon them. Colombia and Argentina also need help to protect themselves against an influx of laws and treaties that would negatively impact their economies and access to medicine.
Moving onto the actual General Assembly this year. The remote participants included:
- The official delegation for the Pirate Party of Canada;
- The official delegation for the Pirate Party of New Zealand;
- The official delegation for Pirate Party Australia;
- One candidate for the co-chair of PPI;
- Two candidates for the board of PPI;
- Two candidates for alternative board members of PPI;
- One candidate for the PPI Court of Arbitration;
- One remote observer from Pirate Party UK;
- One remote observer from Pirate Party Belarus;
- One remote observer from Pirate Party Bosnia-Herzegovina;
- One remote observer from Pirate Party Portugal; and
- One remote observer from Pirate Party Switzerland.
Several of these were doubled-up (for instance, I was both a delegate for Australia and New Zealand, as well as the candidate for the Court of Arbitration), but what it shows is the significance of who participated remotely: three member parties; six candidates; and five observers.
The intention of the technical moderators of the conference was that remote participants would change their status in the software to “request,” and then they would be put on the main screen, and be allowed to speak. However, those running the conference were moving far too quickly for the remote delegates, who had difficulty in gaining the attention of the technical moderators, as well as technical issues. At one point someone was heard through a microphone that was accidentally left on saying “I don’t care about the remote delegations”.
Priority was given to those attendees fortunate enough to attend in person. While the physical delegates were allowed to debate for the wording of one sentence twenty minutes, and a significant portion of Saturday was devoted to discussions on forming PPEU, remote participants were ignored to keep to the strict schedule. There were delays on both days that interrupted the schedule, and none of this was the fault of the remote delegates nor the technical moderators who did an amazing job facilitating their participation.
Instead, it was the inefficiencies of the physical delegates in promptly registering, returning from breaks and the ludicrous formalities that should have been decided or taken care of prior to the conference resulted in significant statute amendments being postponed for at least six months until the next General Assembly.
The main purpose of the General Assembly (as it is understood) is to elect PPI officials (five seperate elections), vote on admission of new members (about ten applicants), and to amend the statutes (about twelve this year). These are the important issues and should not take more than one day to complete. Instead, the majority of the statute amendments have been postponed until the next GA. The schedule should have been maintained; but instead those chairing the conference permitted presentations outside the agenda. This caused the important matters to be put by the wayside.
I believe it was Nuno Cardoso, the delegate from Portugal and candidate for the board, noted: what is the point of attending the conference in person, if all that happens is voting upon how to vote on motions. I’m sure it’s fine for most European PPI parties to send delegates to General Assemblies regularly, but it is very hard for those outside Europe to do the same. Even a European delegate had complaints!
But he made a strong point: if he found no time to socialise, what was the point of going if he could have participated remotely? It was clearly not fun for the physical delegates – and we are the Movement that should be having as much fun as possible! It was incredibly straining on the remote delegates too: Australia is eight hours ahead of the Czech Republic, meaning that we were starting the conference at the same time as they would have been ending it if they were here. In Eastern Canada/USA, the General Assembly started at 3AM!
In short; the PPI General Assembly did not break with the tradition of PPI focusing almost exclusively on Europe. The remote delegates were treated poorly, and major decisions that should have been made were not. I am informed that the conference room was very close to the bar, which increased noise and disturbance, and that great priority was placed on performing for the media and guest speakers, in lieu of actually giving attention to the serious business at hand.
For a Movement that is meant to be highly tech literate, the audio-visual set up was unimpressive, the handling of the remote participants abysmal, and the fact that there was no vote counting software, or electronic voting method is shocking when compared to Pirate Party Australia’s National Congress. PPAU’s 2011 congress featured many more participants than PPI’s GA this year, the majority of which were participating remotely. And yet, even with a 30 second video stream delay, and the use of the archaic internet relay chat system, more progress was made.
Legitimacy, my friends, does not come through old blood and conservative methods. The Pirate Parties International General Assembly 2012 saw a movement strongly based in modern technology carry out business in the same way as every other political movement in the world. If we are to champion technology as a way of achieving a greater level of democracy, we must embrace it far more effectively on an international scale than we currently are.
If nothing changes, it might be time for the non-European parties to form their own international organisation that addresses the needs of those parties not fortunate enough to have the political, social or geographic advantages that the European parties do. The Tunisian Pirate Party has already publicly denounced PPI, preferring the Coalition of African Pirate Parties. Maybe the rest of the world should take note.
[I will add, however, that I was elected to the Court of Arbitration, and I pass my congratulations onto those elected to other positions – I am optimistic that they may improve the situation.]