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Interview with Sebastian Nerz – Leader of the German Piratenpartei


by Massimo Preziuso – Innovatori Europei

Sebastian Nerz (photo made by Fany Fazii) is a 28 years old bioinformatics from Berlin and Deutsche Pirate Party leader. The Piratenpartei Deutschland are a striking example of how the speed of the Internet and the creativity of people, put together may achieve real and extraordinary change in modern societies. With a mission primarily oriented to issues like the ‘”free Internet”, the “privacy” and the “open government” the Piraten are emerging as primary political actors in Germany, with their 9% in September 2011 regional elections in Berlin, obtained after the success of their older cousins ​​- PiratPartiet – in Sweden (with their 7% in 2009 European elections).

Let’s figure out with Sebastian how this success came and if this wave of positive change is also coming to us and in which form.

Dear Sebastian. First of all thanks for your time.

As you know, Innovatori Europei is both a (light) movement of political ideas – trying to support change in Italy and Europe – and an observatory on new and interesting happenings around the world. For this reason, we have followed with great interest the important result of the Piraten in the regional elections in Germany held this month.


1)    An unexpected success for many, but I guess long planned. How have you grown up and what are the characteristics of your success that can be transmitted to other bottom – up political initiatives born aroud the Internet?

The pirate movement originates from Sweden, where it was founded in 2006. In the same year the German Pirate Party was founded in Berlin. In 2009 the government of Germany proposed the introduction of a censorship system, designated to fight child pornography. While the goal was a good one, the means were not. Building a system that allows to restrict access to websites can only lead to misuse. This proposition led to a very intense discussion in Germany. The pirate party was among the leaders of the opposing parties.

In those days the pirate party Germany grew from roughly 800 to roughly 10.000 members. The discussions have not been nice. Pirates have been named rapists, child molesters, and whatever else because some politicians (and media agencies) did not understand that fighting a mean is not the same as fighting the problem. We kept up fighting against the “Zugangserschwerungsgesetz” law. In the end we won. The law was passed, but it was never actually enforced and has now been canceled.

I believe that this shows: Be true to yourself. Whatever you do, people will attack you for it. People will misunderstand your intentions. Well, then explain it again. And again and again and again.

Afterward the pirate party rebuilt its structures. We needed to adopt to the new situation. Discussions structures working with 800 members are not necessarily working with 10.000 members. This is a very difficult and sometimes frustrating process.

And what we had to learn is how to leave the internet. The net is a wonderful tool to lead discussions with others, to meet and talk, to publish your ideas. But you will never reach all of the people if you stay there. Develop your ideas – and then get out and on a marketplace and discuss your ideas and propositions with the people out there! They have a lot of important things to say. So listen to them. Explain your ideas. Try to work as transparent as possible. If you do it right you have nothing to loose from transparency.

But the most important point is: be honest. Politicians are making errors. This is quite normal. If you try to hide your errors, they are going to come to the light in the worst possible way. So just be honest to your voters and to yourself. And don’t shy away from things only because others are using (or not using) them. You have to find YOUR way of doing stuff and then stick to it.

 In short: Use the tools provided in the net to form a group. Meet online and offline. Discuss your ideas. Open your group for external feedback. Work transparent. Be honest. Don’t hide your errors. Don’t hide your success. EXPLAIN your ideas. Many politicians just say „do this“ – but they don’t explain it. This is not going to work for you! 


2)    Your activity as Piraten is strongly connected with the Internet, as you work for concepts like Open Governance, Privacy and Free Internet. What is your view on the Renewable energy policies, seen they are very strongly connected with the idea of “distributed political and economic power”? And which is your view on the creation of a real (renewable) energy common market at EU level ? 

The pirate party Germany is a strong supporter of renewable energy policies. Politics and economy have to stop being short-sighted. We neither have unlimited supplies of coal nor of oil and we have no idea how to handle the risque of nuclear fission plants (quite apart from the fact that there is no unlimited supply of Uranium either).

And the only way to really build a strong renewable energy market is to build a super-national market. We have lots of sun in southern Europe, there are lots of possibilities for pumped-storage power stations in middle and northern Europe, etc In addition by building a super-national energy market some of the problems (e.g. daily fluctuations of the amount of energy needed) can be solved (or at least reduced).


3)    What are your goals in Germany? You also want to look out, in countries like Italy? Are you thinking about developing a sort of federation of the Pirate Party in Europe? 

We want to change the way politics are working. Politics in Germany are traditionally held behind closed doors. Only the results of discussions are being published, how, who and why decisions have been made is seldom known.

In addition politicians are not honest to their voters. They are promising lots of things if an election is upcoming, but after the election has been held, everything is forgotten.

This destroyed the trust between politics and society. In recent polls politicians have been elected the 2nd least favored job. People expect politicians to lie. Thus we have an ever decreasing percentage of people actually voting (usually around 50-60%). This leads to very frightening democratic problems – if the majority of people is not participating in an election, does it really have a democratic legitimacy?

So we want to change the way politics are working. We want to achieve transparent and open politics. And our experience shows us that people are accepting errors. Politicians are human and human tend to make errors. That is okay! Hiding an error is not.

Apart from that we want to establish more participation processes. People should be able to participate in democratic processes. Politicians need their feedback in order to build working laws – so there should be a strong participation process established in our democracy. At the moment people are not able to participate apart from the regular elections. So we want to change this too.

Another important point are human and civil rights. The last years have seen quite a number of security laws being passed (data retention policies as a recent example). The balance between freedom and security has been tipped towards security. We have to re-balance this scale! Security laws have to be checked for their efficiency and whether they are really needed.

I could continue writing a long essay – about education, why its needed for a stable and democratic society and why the current educational systems in Germany are not sufficient. About a former welfare-state that has reduced its social systems to something that is not worthy of this name – but this would take too long.

In short: We want to change politics. We want to rebuild a social-liberal, democratic, free society with educated citizens, a strong social system, a transparent state that leaves the citizens to themselves and open politics allowing intense participation.


4)    Europe is undergoing a complicated time, mainly as a natural result of global phenomena: there is a huge part of the world that rapidly grows and leave western countries poorer. What can we expect in the coming months and years? Shall Europe return to be protagonist, or shall we risk it leaving the main scene?

This will depend strongly on our own decisions. Are we re-enforcing the European bonds or are we trying to hide between national interests? Are we capable of building a strong super-national, democratic society or do we continue using the EU for unpopular decisions?

Europe has a strong economy, many talented engineers and well-educated citizens. We have all the resources we need to stay strong and wealthy in a globalized world. But we have to re-invent the European idea to achieve this goal.

And we have to accept that other parts of the world have a right to live good as well! We cannot continue to live on the cost of others. Following that path could only lead to problems.


5)    What is your advice to citizens who want to commit in a beautiful country in a deep and unique crisis period (like Italy)?

Get some information about the root of the problems. Talk about them. Unite with other citizens. Don’t let yourself be frustrated, because whatever you want to achieve, it will take time and it won’t be easy. And don’t let yourself be stopped by minor problems or differences.

It is quite often that we see unification of diverse civil rights organizations working for an important common target. And then they split about some minor differences. This is plain stupid. As long as the main goal is more important then the differences one should continue working together to achieve it! This does not mean that you will continue to do so for all eternity. And perhaps you will have divergent goals in different issues.

That’s okay. Combine for your main goal, diverge for your secondary goals. That way you can achieve much more!

Another important topic is spreading information. The modern net provides lots of new and interesting opportunities to spread information! Start a blog, link with others, use Twitter, Facebook or Google+ to build networks. Yesterday I have listened to a presentation made by a German civil rights activist. She told us „Even if your blog is only read by two people, it is well worth writing it! Two people are two more then zero“. She is right. Perhaps those two are talking to their friends. And they continue to do so – and suddenly everyone is talking about your ideas!

And don’t let yourself be deflected. Perhaps you are reaching some minor goals – but this does not mean that you can stop working! Being a civil rights activist is an ongoing job. And it is one that you can never stop. Because what was won in several years can be lost in days.


6)    To end this interview with a proposal: in Italy various innovative inter – parties political initiatives are starting (i.e. The Outsiders, whose I am a founding member) and I imagine the same is happening in your country. Would you like to see Germany and Italy closer via their innovative political movements? What do you think about the creation of a Deutsche – Italian (and later European) network? I am certain it would be a great way for our countries to learn each other from different but strong experiences.

Super-national networks are very, very important. As I have already stated the pirate movement was intentionally founded as a super-national network of parties. Many of our current problems are in fact not national but super-national – so the only way to handle them is on this level!

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