Lost in translation — an Interview with Gregory Engels

Lost in translation — an Interview with Gregory Engels

The online GA for PPI is coming up and this allows members to submit motions to be voted upon. The German Pirate Party proposed “MO-1, Access to medicine” which ruffled a few feathers when it was proposed. Ed Geraghty (responding in a personal capacity), interpreted it as “to be asking [Pirate Parties International’s members] to hold quackery such as homeopathy and witch doctors in the same esteem as medicine.”

The original motion text declared that “state funding needs to be made available to test the effectiveness of non-allopathic remedies” and that “Pirates favour the recognition and the establishment of a legal status for complementary medicines and practices, and recognize their legitimacy in preventing and alleviating pains and illnesses, as well as therapies that work alongside allopathic treatments.” As Geraghty correctly pointed out, “non-allopathic” and “complementary” medicines include homeopathy and similar “alternative medicine” practices.

The motion is in the form of a declaration to be made by the General Assembly of Pirate Parties International (PPI) and calls upon “the Members of PPI to ratify [the] declaration timely by a suitable vehicle.” The original motion was presented on 6 March 2015 and, following discussions indicating errors in translation, a replacement motion was presented that instead makes reference to “substances, currently illegal for therapeutic purposes” and states that “well trained, responsible physicians and informed patients must have the full responsibility for choosing the substances used for treatment.”

As a result of this confusion, Pirate Times asked the German Pirate Party’s International Coordinator Gregory Engels a few questions to clarify the situation. Engels sent both the original and revised versions of MO-1 to the Board for placement on the PPI wiki in advance of the online General Assembly planned for 29 March 2015. Engels provided the motion and responses to Pirate Times’ questions in his capacity as International Coordinator, not in his capacity as a PPI Board Member.


Pirate Times: There were some errors of intention in the original motion that surprised a number of people. Could you clarify who wrote the motion, and how it was approved for presentation by PPDE at the online GA?

Gregory Engels:  This motion was put forward by the International Coordinators of PPDE. It was approved at the meeting of the International Coordinators Team. The intention of the motion was never to advocate the research of homeopathic substances, but rather of cannabis and other currently illegal substances that are not used in allopathic medicine. The motion is derived from the PPDE programme, so it is fully backed up by the decisions of the General Assemblies of the Pirate Party of Germany.

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[Editors note: Engels cites the sections of the German Pirate Party’s programme on Research and Medicine, and Patents.

While attempting to find minutes at which the motion was decided, it was found that Engel’s statement that the motion text was approved “at the meeting of the International Coordinators Team” could not be verified, as it does not  appear in meeting minutes of the International Coordinators Team from November 2014 to February 2015.

The International Coordinators Team (which, among others, includes Engels’ fellow PPI Board Members Thomas Gaul and Bastian Krone) was contacted for clarification. Thomas Gaul responded that the motion was discussed in an offline meeting in Prague in January 2015 which Gaul himself chaired. He informed Pirate Times that the first draft was finalised at a working meeting on 5 March 2015.

According to Gaul, minutes of that working meeting will not be published as it was not a formal meeting. Gaul added that he and Engels have full authority to unilaterally make decisions on international matters, but involve a team for the sake of transparency and oversight.]

Pirate Times: As was pointed out by a member of Pirate Party UK on the mailing lists, this would seem to support homeopathy. In response to this, you suggested there had been a “mistranslation.” The German word for allopathic is “allopathischen”, which presumably has the same meaning as it does in English. Could you explain whether you still believe this was mistranslated, and how it could have occurred?

Gregory: We fell into the trap of misinterpreting English words. While ‘allopathic’ exists in German (I looked it up just now), it is not in common use. Feel free to read http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allopathie — the poor quality of this article speaks for itself. We were actually trapped by attempting to avoid the word ‘illegal,’ but we failed on this.

[Editors note: Engels is referring to the fact that in many places cannabis is illegal even for medical use.]

Pirate Times: The motion does not cite any sources, which some people have suggested makes it difficult to analyse and evaluate. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Gregory: While we value the principle of evidence-based policy, the proposed statement is just that — a statement, and not a piece of legislative policy. As such, the text itself should be analysed and evaluated. If the delegates think that it can be adopted as is, they can do it. If they want to propose amendments or counter-motions, this could be done as well. In the end, they are also free to dismiss as as a whole. No justification is needed for this.

Pirate Times: It has also been suggested that not including a written rationale obstructs the democratic process and undermines the online GA. What is the reason for not supplying a written rationale, especially as this motion seems controversial?

Gregory: The rationale will be given at the online GA, as the General Assembly has to decide upon the motion itself and not on the rationale. The motion (if accepted) will stand and the rationale will be forgotten afterwards. Considering that others might have other ideas, a fruitful discussion can arise at the online GA and so, in the process, the motion might be amended on the fly. A rationale is not a part of the motion. The text that is passed has to speak as-is, without further explanation or rationale.

Pirate Times: This motion would set a precedent for the Pirate Movement by calling upon members of PPI to ratify the declaration ‘by a suitable vehicle.’ Although non-binding, would this declaration expect PPI members to implement it into their domestic policies? Some Pirates have drawn comparisons between this and trade agreements that are negotiated by diplomats and then ‘forced’ upon countries, bypassing domestic political and legal systems. What would you say to this?

Gregory: No, we do not ask the members of PPI to implement this into their domestic policies — such a request would be completly out of scope. We believe in the principle of the Westphalian sovereignty — the non-interferrence with domestic policies.

What we ask by ‘a suitable vehicle’ is the approval of the statement by the national Pirate Parties. We learned from the negotiations surrounding the foundation of the European Pirate Party and the efforts to pass the Common European Election Programme (CEEP), that any agreement on policy by the group of diplomat-like delegates can only be treated as such — an agreement of the group of people.

These people do represent their respective parties, but this declaration is not identical to the existing policies of PPI’s members. It needs a ratification by a suitable vehicle which is different from party to party. While in some parties a board, or supervisory body, or even an officer of the party is sufficient to ratify such a non-binding statement, in other cases a decision by the party’s General Assembly, a Liquid Feedback initiative, or a grassroot vote is needed (as is the case with PPDE).

In the past, PPI General Assemblies have issued other declarations: one was calling for establishment of a directly-elected parliamentary assembly as an additional consultative body to the UN General Assembly. As a result, PPI has been contacted by the UNPA campaign NGO and from the cooperation they were introduced to the idea of liquid democracy.

Despite the comparison with international trade agreements not holding ground, the problem with them is not the fact that countries agree on some regulations, but that this happens in a totally secluded environment, behind closed doors, with the public only being informed about the end result, where it is not to be changed at all, where it is ‘all or nothing.’ This is where the legal systems get bypassed — it’s the elimination of the public debate and the exposure of particular interests.

We Pirates are setting a different standard in international negotiation, with maximised transparency and involvement, and still producing results. The CEEP was negotiated over the course of a whole year between two dozen parties, and was still passed as an unprecedented example of international political cooperation in a movement that is ready to take on truly transnational problems.”

Pirate Times: Would this declaration need to be approved by a unanimous vote, or would a majority vote suffice?

Gregory: According to the current rules of procedures and the Statutes, a simple majority is needed. Personally, I would be eager to have an accepted motion carried by unanimous vote.

Pirate Times: What is the reasoning behind suggesting this particular declaration? Were there any other suggestions? From the possible issues that PPDE could have put forward, why was this one chosen?

Gregory: While some people have voiced their criticism towards the incoherent state of PPI’s Statutes, this point is not of that great importance to PPDE. We have missed the oportunities for impact in international politics. Since PPI does not have a manifesto, but rather a small number of abstract goals written in the statutes and an equally small number of declarations, we feel the need to broaden the base of political statements that can be used by other international organisations when they evaluate the political foundation of the PPI and examine possible cooperation and joint projects. The statements should also be used by the PPI officials in their managing of the organisation.

This will not be the last motion put forward by PPDE. One motion has to be the first. It was this one, because it is quite an easy one. We hope that it is a priority and not controversial in itself, because this topic is not included in the other texts that are agreed among Pirate Parties internationally like the Uppsala Declaration, the PPEU Manifesto or the CEEP. We also recommend other parties follow our example and prepare motions for the online GA.


Pirate Times thanks Gregory for his prompt replies.

Featured image: Modified from CC-BY-SA, MarihuanayMedicina

Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

About Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

I've been a member of Pirate Party Australia since 2011. I am the current Press and Inquiries Officer, and was previously on the board of Pirate Party Australia, as well as overseeing policy development. I was also once a member of the Pirate Parties International Court of Arbitration. I have a degree in music, and am nearly finished a degree in law. I live near Sydney.

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