Interview with Dirk Poot, first candidate of the Dutch Pirate Party

Interview with Dirk Poot, first candidate of the Dutch Pirate Party
Dirk Poot, first candidate of the Dutch Pirate Party

CC-BY Gregoire Verweijen

Dirk Poot was the first candidate of the Dutch Pirate Party for the past parliamentary elections on 12 September 2012. He is the press spokesperson and a member of the Board of PPNL. 

Even though the Pirates did not make it into the parliament the results improved significantly from the elections in 2010. Overall they tripled their number of voters from 10,471 in the last election (2010) to about 30,000 votes this election. Many regions saw a significant increase of voters and the best results were 0.7% in Delft and 0.6% in Eindhoven, Groningen and Zandvoort. The future success of the Pirates seems inevitable. Only in the past six months their membership has grown from 372 to 1192 members.
Pirate Times: Hello Dirk, I met you the first time at a benefit event for the Maastricht Pirate Party where you spoke about copyright and medical patents:

This event was held about ten days before the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands and it had the purpose of informing citizens about the Pirate Party and its programme. Tell us a bit about yourself – your age, your profession, your role in the PPNL and other facts you want to share.

Dirk Poot: I am 44 years old, currently I am living close to Breda in the south of the Netherlands. I am self-employed, working as a programmer. Mainly applications in the medical field, but in the recent year I have been shifting my focus to educational apps.
I have been active in the Pirate Party since late 2009; in the 2010 elections I was #4 on the list and ever since that I have been active in the press team and the blogging team. In 2011 I was elected to the board and since December 2011 I have been functioning as the press spokesperson for the board.

Pirate Times: Were you involved in other political or non-governmental organizations, groups or teams before joining the PPNL?

Dirk Poot: When I was much younger I have been a member of the JOVD (Jongerenorganisatie Vrijheid en Democratie), which was the liberal youth organization of the, then liberal, VVD (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie: the main Dutch conservative party). Since 2005 I have been blogging actively, and when I read back on that blog, my focus has been very much on democracy, privacy and medical issues. But the PPNL was my first real political activity.

Pirate Times: When was your first contact with a Pirate Party and how?

Dirk Poot: It was at the end of 2009 through IRC, when I stumbled upon the Dutch pirate party while blogging about ACTA and the loss of the doctor-patient confidentially that would arise from the Dutch government’s proposal for an Electronic Patient File framework.

Dirk Poot, first candidate of the Dutch Pirate Party

CC-BY Gregoire Verweijen

Pirate Times: What are the core issues that motivate you to be a Pirate?

Dirk Poot: I have been using the internet in some form or other since the early 90’s; the recent efforts to turn the entire internet into a sort of Compu$erve-like moderated forum and the inherent loss of freedom is detrimental to our democratic and civilian rights.

My main motivation is that I want my kids to grow up with the same freedoms that I had the luxury of growing up with. Without censorship, with free access to all information they require and without fear for being criminalized for sharing their culture and music with their friends.

Pirate Times: If you were to be elected, what is the first thing you would like to do or change at a political level?

Dirk Poot: I would have liked to kickstart, from within parliament, a broad discussion in the Dutch society, bringing the need for copyright and patent reform to the attention of other politicians and the general public and to foster those discussions in the other European countries as well. The aim would be to formulate a vision supported by a broad majority of citizens to counter the one-sided policies that are being pushed by copyright maximalists. As a more symbolic gesture, I would have liked to request the new government to undo the recent name change of the Justice Department, which is now officially called Department for Security and Justice.

Pirate Times: What is your opinion on the state of civil rights in the Netherlands?

Dirk Poot: Civil rights are eroding in the Netherlands, probably faster than in Germany for example. The Dutch citizens have very little regard for privacy and very little people realize that the constitutional right to private correspondence has been wilfully eroded in the transition from paper letters to email. The Netherlands has the highest incidence of phone-taps in the world, with 1/1000 phones being tapped. The government actively monitors Facebook and Twitter for ‘suspicious activity’ but refuses to give any details.
The ultra conservative right wing government, that has ruled Holland in recent years, is trying to kill the very successful drug-policies we have had for over 30 years in favour of a faith-based war on drugs. The wietpas, requiring citizens to register themselves if they want to patronize a coffee shop, is another erosion of privacy as well as a threat to the prevention of drug-abuse.
The recent push to create a central fingerprint database is also an example of a government that seems to view each citizen as a potential suspect first. It goes beyond the EU-requirement for 2 prints, and ignores the EU-directive that those prints should not be centrally stored.
By ignoring the fact that the Dutch copyright law is outdated, and by allowing private lobby-clubs to build a legal framework of jurisprudence upon those outdated laws, the Dutch internet is quickly becoming one of the most censored parts of the internet, with detrimental effects to freedom of speech and freedom of information. Parliament has lost the initiative and the citizens are paying the price. It seems the Dutch government is only in favour of civil rights when they can be used as a propaganda-tool against foreign governments, but has very little regard for protecting these rights at home. The extremely tightly worded ‘coalition-agreements’ that the Netherlands have gravitated to, have basically eroded the natural balance of power that should exist between government and parliament, and has virtually ended parliament’s ability to control the government. And since Holland has no concept of a ‘Constitutional Court’ the citizens have very little recourse against the erosion of democratic and civil rights.

Pirate Times: What has been the reaction of the public to the Pirate Party?

Dirk Poot: In 2010 we were hardly taken seriously. Our fight with BREIN ( in April and May this year has given us a lot of credibility. The international success of the Pirate Parties has also helped a lot to be taken more seriously in the political debate. As a result we had much more opportunities to be heard during the last election campaign, and we are seeing our points already being copy-pasted by other political parties.

Dutch media however have turned the recent elections into a three way battle between the largest parties, more resembling a game-show like “Idols” than a serious election campaign, so in the last weeks of the campaign the focus has been almost exclusively on the old style political parties.

Pirate Times: Tell me a little bit about the Dutch pre-elections. What were your best impressions and which problems did you have to confront?

Dirk Poot: We were able to capitalize on the fact that the largest parties waited a long time with their campaign. So in the summer we were able to get quite a bit of media-attention. Since a new party has to jump a lot of procedural hoops, our campaign has been much longer than most of the existing parties. In July we were working hard to gain enough signatures in order to enter the elections; this drive proved a nice way to gain extra publicity.

The main problem we had to confront is that Holland has no real impartial public broadcasting system. What is called public media in the Netherlands is formed by broadcast-associations, which are very closely aligned with existing political parties. These ties go back to the days of radio, when Dutch society was divided into different groups, based on faith or political colour, in which each part of society had its own political party and broadcast association. These old ties still form the basis and reason of existence for the broadcasting associations, and during election campaigns those ties are virtually impossible to break through.

Pirate Times: Was there support from other Pirate Parties? Are you connected to other Pirate Parties worldwide?

Dirk Poot: Especially in the border regions we had a lot of help from German pirates. We also had international support within the creative team, and were able to copy-paste other Pirate Parties election campaign materials. However our international connection is currently contingent on one international coordinator, and we are trying to find more volunteers to work on international coordination. Now that the election race is over we must use the time to strengthen the party by tapping into the huge member influx we experienced over the last months, and also focus more on the international aspect, I think.

Pirate Times: The election results, 0.3 %, were sadly below the expectations. What do you feel about the results in hindsight, and how will this affect the party?

Dirk Poot: It is disappointing that we did not manage to gain a seat, but on the other hand we have tripled our electoral support over the last 2 years; we went from 10K votes in 2010 to 30K votes this year. 60K votes would have given us a parliamentary seat.
We have managed to quadruple our membership and hopefully will be able to translate that into a more robust party structure and a better equipped volunteer network. If we manage to keep on developing the way we have, we should be able to finally gain that seat during the next elections.
It is also good to see that patent-reform has been an election-issue this year and that other parties seem to becoming aware of the risks and costs of patents in general and medical patents in particular. Other parties have also voiced concern about the power that the Dutch copyright law has given to private organizations, enabling them to censor the internet.

We have succeeded in making our issues more relevant and should use that as a basis to keep on pushing these issues into the forefront of the debate the coming years. It seems that other parties are also starting to experiment with ways to implement Liquid Feedback into the political process, which may help to bring some democratic reform to the Netherlands.

Pirate Times: When are the local elections in the Netherlands?

Dirk Poot: In 2014.

Pirate Times: Will the PPNL take part in the European elections in 2014?

Dirk Poot: Definitely.

Pirate Times: Where do you think PPNL will be in 5 years?

Dirk Poot: In five years time we should have at least 6000 members. Dutch elections are supposed to be held every 4 years, but the last 10 years we have had 5 elections, so around that time we will have managed to gain that seat, maybe two, in the Dutch parliament. Chances are that there will be Pirates in many other national parliaments as well, giving us the chance to push our agenda on a national level as well as on a European level.

Pirate Times: 5 elections in 10 years? That’s a lot. Probably the current Dutch politicians are doing something wrong. In your opinion, what are the causes for those frequently held elections?

Dirk Poot: Dutch politics seems to have become less about the greater good for the country and all about the greater good of the party. The best analogy I can think of would be a national soccer-team where the players are so aware of the clubs that other players play for that they’d rather loose the match than pass the ball to a player that normally plays for a different team.

As a result of that, Dutch politics have become extremely short term and is mainly guided by the opinion polls. Dutch media are willing partners in the hype-of-the-day way of doing things, so it has become of a self-amplifying system, from which it’s very hard to break free.

Pirate Times: Thanks a lot for answering our questions, Dirk!