The leader of Germany's Pirates, whose shock success in four
state elections thrust it onto the political stage, has
apologised for the fierce infighting that has contributed to
a plunge in popularity and called for unity.
The Pirates have seen support drop from 13 percent six months
ago to under 5 percent now, the threshold needed for it to
enter parliament at next year's federal election.
A strong showing at the election could split the leftist vote
and help secure victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel's
But pollsters say voters initially attracted by the party's
anti-establishment sheen - it began as a campaign group for
Internet freedom - have been put off by its sketchy stance on
policy issues as well as the quarrelling among board members
that led two to resign last month.
"It is time for us to realise we want to do politics
together, without insulting, disrespecting or ignoring one
another," Pirate leader Bernd Schloemer told the nearly 2000
party members on Saturday (local time) at a two-day
conference in the western, industrial German city of Bochum.
"I too have made errors and I would like to apologise for
them to you," Schloemer told members bedecked in orange, its
trademark colour, and hunched over their laptops.
One board member had resigned in October, saying it was
impossible to work with one of the other members. Another
resigned after fierce criticism of her publishers' decision
to take action against illegal copies of her book.
Schloemer sat with other board members on Friday sharing a
bottle of whiskey on stage at an informal open-door meeting
after talks behind closed doors to put aside their
differences. Beer bottles chinked among the audience as
Pirates gathered from across the country.
The Pirates took their name after being accused of
downloading copyrighted information and material from the
Internet. They believe all the world's knowledge should be
available to everyone.
But what started out as a campaign group caught other parties
by surprise in September last year by gaining nearly 9
percent of the vote for Berlin's city assembly.
Since then, it has also won more than 5 percent of the vote
and seats in the state assemblies of Saarland,
Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia.
The Pirates' surging popularity threatens to change the
national political landscape. Given that they draw more
voters from the left than the right, their strength raises
the chances of Merkel's conservatives winning the 2013
Pollsters say the Pirates are above all attracting voters fed
up with traditional politics, many who might previously have
voted for the Greens, a party of one-time rebels who have
become part of the establishment.
"I've always been interested in politics but there were
moments when I felt like giving it up because I was
frustrated," said Lisa Collins, a 26-year-old party member,
sporting a silver ring in her lip and green streaks in her
hair. "But the Pirates gave me the opportunity to help shape
With this weekend's conference, the Pirates aim to fill in
some of the holes in their programme. Members will debate and
vote on some of the roughly 700 motions on everything from
the economy and energy provision to foreign policy.
Thorsten Frankel, treasurer for the Pirates in Bavaria, said
he was not convinced by the apologies, but the party was on a
steep learning curve and he hoped it would focus now on
"At the end of the day, what is most important for us is to
develop our programme, and these quarrels, that have been
dealt with slightly awkwardly, simply disturb our work," he