The spectacular rise of the Czech Pirate Party is probably one of the most interesting political phenomena in the European Union today.
Today, the party is the third strongest in the national parliament. And just a few months ago, it won 17% of the votes in Prague’s municipal election, naming Pirate Zdeněk Hřib the new mayor of the Czech capital.
According to the recent polls, the party could also emerge as the second biggest party in the upcoming European elections.
By putting transparency and the fight against corruption high on its agenda, the party has kept alive the cases of EU funds fraud related to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.
European Interest discussed the party’s rise and its aims ahead of the European elections with Lukáš Lev Červinka, a Pirate Party candidate in the European Parliament elections.
Červinka, a constitutional lawyer specialising in the comparative constitutional law and parliamentarism, is currently working as a legal political advisor for MP Jan Lipavský, in the field of international security. He is also a Research Fellow at the AMO (Association for International Affairs) Research Centre.
A member of the party since 2018, he says he was attracted by the cooperation the party has with the civic society.
The EU needs to move forward, explains Červinka. The Pirates seek an upgrade of the European Union as regards civil liberties, prosperity, fair taxation, sustainability and equity.
In what concerns the deal reached by the European Parliament and the Council aiming to ensure rights and obligations of copyright laws also apply to the internet, this Pirate’s candidate believes a modern directive on copyright is needed but that there is a risk the directive may potentially harm the media industry.
European Interest: The rise of the Pirate Party in the Czech Republic was spectacular. It is the third largest party in the parliament and the last year obtained 17% in the Prague’s municipal elections. How do you explain this success?
Lukáš Lev Červinka: I am not a political scientist, so I can’t give you any analysis of what happened in the Czech society and if there are any structural changes that caused rise of the Pirate movement. What I can tell you is only my personal experience and my personal story – why I have decided to support Pirate Party and why I have joined the Party.
I have had always difficulties to imagine I would join any political party because I have not only been tired of them, but also have never trusted them in the first place. And I am saying this as a constitutional lawyer who strongly believes the political parties are essential to any parliamentary democracy as we know it.
Most of the political parties come up with the cake already baked and you are supposed to eat it without a question. The Pirate Party let you see how the cake is being prepared, let you participate… explains to you from how the cake was baked, what’s in it and give you the choice to taste it or not
I heard about the Pirates for the first time just before the last EU Elections and I have taken interest in them as they have been one of the few pro-European Parties in the Czech Republic. In the beginning, I was cautious, but after some time I discovered that the Pirate Party are different from other parties. Their openness to the public is incredible and I am not talking only about transparency of financing, lobbying etc., but especially about the cooperation with a civic society, involvement of non-members in the Party, public discussions of the Party politics… there has been a truly different approach inside of our current political discourse.
Most of the political parties come up with the cake already baked and you are supposed to eat it without a question. The Pirate Party let you see how the cake is being prepared, let you participate and when the cake is done, Pirates explain to you from how the cake was baked, what’s in it and give you the choice to taste it or not. And that’s why I have decided to not only support Pirates but to be part of the movement.
And I think many people feel the same way as I do and have very similar experience with the Pirates as I had before joining the party.
According to the polls, your party will finish third or even second in the next European elections sending (for the first time in its history) representatives to the EU parliament. What is the main programme for the EU elections? What do you hope to bring to the EU parliament debate?
We believe Europe needs to move forward. This doesn’t mean that nothing is going on in Brussels or that everything is bad and wrong. But we, as Europeans, have to go back to the essential values and policies of the whole European Integration Project – liberties (freedom of movement, free internet, defending democracy), prosperity (fair taxation, transparency of EU funds expenditures, reform of the CAP, technological innovation), sustainability (growing food not fuel, fighting the climate change and drought crisis, less waste production and better recyclation) and equity (equal opportunities for men and women, fair work conditions not depending on the form of the contract, access to digital services all across the EU) – and to build on these. That’s what we mean when we are saying the EU needs an upgrade.
I strongly believe the EU is the way forward for Europe, but I also believe we should abandon the intergovernmental instruments we are still using and replace them by the democratic ones
Every candidate brings also some personal topics, depending on his interests and expertise. Mine are the topics of the institutional reforms, military cooperation and promotion of the human rights. I strongly believe the EU is the way forward for Europe, but I also believe we should abandon the intergovernmental instruments we are still using and replace them by the democratic ones. Considering the situation in the international community and current security challenges we are facing, we need stronger cooperation of EU member states armies. Last but not least, we need to be much tougher in defending human rights. Inside of the EU, against the authoritarians and extremists, and outside the EU, against the gross human rights violators, e.g. by adopting the European Magnitsky Act (currently we are working on the Czech version of it).
The Pirate Party made a core topic of its policies the case of the EU funds fraud in Czech Republic by the prime minister’s company Agrofert. A few days ago, your party urged the European Commission to make public its findings as soon as possible. Since ANO seems to keep its leading position ahead of the EU elections, could the publication of EC’s findings influence the vote of Czech citizens?
Prime Minister Babiš likes to say it is all “a campaign against him”. But it is not. This is not about votes. It is not a clash of ideas. It is a question about whether he has violated the law or not. The law is above us all and we have to comply with it. No matter how rich, powerful or influential we are. At least that’s what I and our party are fighting for. An idealistic value, maybe, but a value I strongly adhere to.
People tend to wish for a saviour who brings them happiness and prosperity and PM Babiš might at the first glance look like one… But the truth is that no one, not him nor even the EU, can bring the Czech people prosperity and happiness. Only Czechs themselves can do this
It is hard to say whether the people would care about the EU findings or not. PM Babiš has very good marketing, I must give him credit for this. He is skilful in creating the narrative of a hard-working man of the people who is a target of some plot against him. But I do believe in people. I think they only need some time to see through him, to see the true nature of him and his policies. I understand why people vote for him. I truly do. People tend to wish for a saviour who brings them happiness and prosperity and PM Babiš might at the first glance look like one – a billionaire and businessman who wants to save the country. But the truth is that no one, not him nor even the EU, can bring the Czech people prosperity and happiness. Only Czechs themselves can do this. And when you watch PM Babiš for some time and listen to his speeches you discover he is no saviour at the end. At least not for the Czech people.
The European Parliament and the European Commission have warned of the danger of Russia’s interference in the next EU elections. Commissioner Vera Jourová has called on the national political parties to implement appropriate measures to be able to tackle cyberattacks. How vulnerable to disinformation is the Czech Republic?
I don’t think we would be more vulnerable than other countries nor would we face the real danger of rigged elections. Of course, there are many pro-Russian politicians in the Czech Republic, but on the other hand, the vast majority of the nation is very sensitive on any Russian interference in the country. What is really the key in that this is the free access to information and independent and skilful journalists. They are the defenders of liberties and democracy and if we, not only in the Czech Republic, but all around the Europe, manage to support and defend such journalists, than we have a solid chance to face the disinformation, if not… no law nor governmental decision can protect us.
The European Parliament has also warned about the dangers China represents for European security. Czech Republic’s government seems to be favourable to closer the country’s ties with China. The mayor of Prague welcomed in the beginning of March the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile. Was this a clear political message of Pirates concerning government’s relations with China?
Human beings are more important than money. This is pretty much our message to the government. We are not going to stand aside on human rights anywhere in the world. We are supporting the human rights activists and the oppressed ones who are defending their rights both symbolically and actively. Currently, we are, for example, working on the adoption of the Czech version of the Global Magnitsky Act which would target the human rights violators anywhere in the world.
Your party proposes the legalisation of prostitution. Do you think this will protect sex workers and fight organised crime? Is this a topic the party plans to propose on a European level as well?
First of all, allow me to set something straight. It is not legalisation that we are talking about, but regulation. Prostitution itself is legal in the Czech Republic and no sex worker may be prosecuted for offering such a service. It is legal, but unregulated, which means the sex workers and clients are unprotected. We believe the prohibition itself is only creating the opportunity for organised crime. It is actually very similar for the prohibition of alcohol in the first half of the Twentieth Century. The clear, fair, but strict rules must be implemented to secure the safety of the sex workers, to reduce the health risks and to crack down the organised crime and human trafficking.
The regulation of prostitution has to be based on basic principles – respecting the choice of the sex workers to work in this industry and at the same time help those who are doing it only because of poverty or lack of other opportunities. We are currently in the middle of negotiating about how and in what way this should be implemented in the Czech Republic and therefore it is too soon to anticipate future steps on this matter.
In February, the European Parliament and the Council reached a deal aiming to ensure that the rights and obligations of copyright laws also apply to the internet. YouTube, Facebook and Google News will be most directly affected by this legislation. What is the position of the Pirates on this?
We definitely need a modern directive on copyright. That’s for sure. The idea that big tech companies should compensate the owners of the content (e.g. online newspapers publishers) when profiting on it, is basically a good one. And there are tools how to do it even with current state of legislation. The problem is that the copyright directive may potentially harm the news industry as it happened in Spain or Germany when legislation prohibited displaying snippets on Google News without a licence agreement led to dramatic decrease of the online newspapers web traffic.
Potentially very repressive and dangerous is also the intention to force the providers of information society services to not to display any copyright protected content without consent of copyright holders and to prevent such a display. This can’t be accomplished without automatic filters. The problem is these filters can’t recognise the meaning or context of the content and therefore could potentially filter parodical or satirical content, memes and other widely spread content even though it would not breach any copyright protection.
Therefore, the Czech Pirate Party is trying in cooperation with other pirate parties to block this directive to protect the free internet and rights of its users.