PPI — Painful, Problematic Incompetence

When I joined Pirate Party Australia, I heard about Pirate Parties International (PPI), the umbrella organisation that many Pirate Parties are members of. I was highly interested in its goal of promoting co-operation between Pirate Parties, and initially fully supportive of the organisation.

Over the past twelve months, my view of PPI has gone from being one of enthusiastic support, to one of weariness, and now it has reached total opposition. In this article I will be explaining why I now hold that view. Many Pirates I am in regular contact with know of my disappointment with PPI, and some of the reasons. I felt it was time to compile those reasons into a statement which can be used to support movements within Pirate Party Australia to withdraw from PPI.

My first direct interaction with Pirate Parties International was in April of 2012: the Prague, Czech Republic conference. In the months leading up to this conference I began hearing more and more rumblings of disapproval towards the state of affairs at that time. Brendan Molloy, the Secretary of Pirate Party Australia, announced his intention to run for a position on the Board of PPI with the intention to solve many of the issues. He withdrew his candidacy when he (with reason) came under the impression that a certain member of the incumbent Board who was physically attending the conference had been badmouthing him to delegates there, leading to him to fail to pass the approval vote. Denis Simonet, of Pirate Party Switzerland, was elected with less than 50% also, as it became apparent that, after a revote, no remaining candidates would reach the threshold.

Before the conference, however, I figured that, as I was at that time merely Press Officer at Pirate Party Australia, I would put forward my candidacy for a position on the Court of Arbitration which was supported by the Australian and New Zealand Pirate Parties.

I published a full roundup of the conference briefly after it occurred, and am including the necessary parts below.

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 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.

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. 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.

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 Thomas Gaul, a Board member, 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 the wording of one sentence for 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.

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 an emergency conference to be held later this year (2012). 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.

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, more progress was made.

Legitimacy does not come through old blood and conservative methods. The Pirate Parties International General Assembly conference of 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.

It has been approximately nine months since that conference. As I mentioned, Brendan Molloy did not get elected to the Board. I was however elected to the Court of Arbitration. Returning to the Board were the two co-chairmen Gregory Engels (who was elected at the founding of PPI in Brussels as a co-chairman in 2010) and Lola Voronina (who was the incumbent Chief Administrative Officer).

For those unaware, the Court of Arbitration is, as the name suggests, the dispute settlement body of PPI. It doesn’t handle disputes within member parties, but makes rulings and clarifications where necessary to solve disputes between members and PPI. For example, if I were to claim that Pirate Party Italy is not operating democratically, I could refer the matter to the Court of Arbitration, who would see if that was the case, and may then rule that the membership is valid or invalid, based on the relevant clause of the PPI statutes.

Following the Pirate Parties International General Assembly conference of April 2012, the PPI Court of Arbitration was requested to handle two significant cases:

  1. The admission of Pirates of Catalonia as an ordinary member of the General Assembly, and
  2. The validity of decisions made at the April 2012 conference (including elections).

Both of these cases tested the Court of Arbitration, and we stumbled. We ruled poorly on reflection. We ruled both the admission of Pirates of Catalonia and the decisions made at the conference valid. I stand by the rulings, even though they were poor — I feel they were the best possible outcome for the movement. We could have been sticklers about it and ruled pedantically, as some would have liked, but we didn’t. We did what we thought was fair considering as a political movement we’re still so young, and PPI is still learning to walk.

Pirate Party Switzerland (as represented by its president, Thomas Bruderer), finding the rulings displeasing, threatened PPI with legal action. Depending on several factors — including jurisdiction, I believe — it is unclear whether this would be legal action against the Court of Arbitration as a sub-body, or PPI as a whole.

The PPI Board (as represented by the co-chairman, Gregory Engels) asked Pirate Party Switzerland whether the resignation of the Court of Arbitration would be sufficient to create a peace and prevent legal action. Mr Bruderer informed the Board this would be sufficient.

Beginning in early September, members of the Court of Arbitration resigned until there were no members left. Arturo Martinez resigned first, followed by myself on September 5, with the remaining three submitting a joint statement of resignation with the blessing of Arturo and myself. The Board has failed to acknowledge this resignation, and by the next conference (in March/April 2013), PPI will have gone without a Court of Arbitration for approximately seven months.

This allows the Board, intentionally or otherwise, to operate PPI with little to no dispute settlement process between the General Assembly and the Board for more than half the Board’s term. The refusal to acknowledge the resignation properly (through an email to the General Assembly, for example) is a conscious decision, as the Court of Arbitration has requested the Board do so numerous times.

Putting that to one side for the moment, I would like to discuss the conference locations.

The first three locations for major international meetings were:

  1. Vienna, Austria — June 2007.
  2. Berlin, Germany — January 2008.
  3. Uppsala, Sweden — June 2008.

These three locations were decided in 2007.

Andrew Norton was appointed coordinator of PPI prior to its official founding. The fourth location (December 2008/January 2009) was intended to be St Petersberg, Russia, however the disappearance of the Russian Pirate Party made this infeasible. Norton selected Helsinki, Finland, and held the conference there with assistance from the Finnish Pirate Party.

After Norton handed the role over to Patrick Mächler and Samir Allioui in August 2009, the “core team” chose Brussels, Belgium as the next location, and organised the conference themselves. The Board elected at Brussels (which was also the founding conference of PPI) began the process of asking for bids for conference locations. The following three locations — Friedrichshafen (Germany), Prague (Czech Republic) and Kazan (Russia) — were decided through the bidding process.

This situation — and perhaps it is not coincidental that Gregory Engels has been co-chairman for both situations — allows the Board to place the vast majority of responsibility and accountability onto the hosting Party. As Andrew Norton has pointed out “the bid ‘system’…is designed to minimise the work the board has to do (giving them plenty of chances to ‘schmooze’ the media and build up their wikipedia pages, while again insulating them from consequences for a crap conference.”

Norton summarises both of my above concerns with the following:

Meanwhile, the last two boards (which have featured both current co-chairs as senior members) have *PROMISED* [the next conference] will be outside Europe, and yet it never comes, because that would require two things — work, and being held accountable for the event. That’s two things the PPI board does NOT want. The same reason the Court of Arbitration, the body that has oversight on the Board, has not been ‘refilled’ despite being empty for the last 4 months.

Pirate Parties International brings nothing of value to the movement. It is a redundant ego trip for those involved.

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