Jelle de Graaf: A Local Perspective On The International Party [Pirate Visions]

Jelle de Graaf: A Local Perspective On The International Party [Pirate Visions]
A look at how the international movement should be structured. Jelle de Graaf is a political scientist and city councilor in Amsterdam.
These articles are part of the weekly series ‘Pirate Visions’ from different prominent international pirates. We asked them to write as individuals and not in their official capacities in their party or organisation. We hope you would like to join us in discussing the future direction for pirates internationally by commenting on this article, sharing it and reflecting upon what the author is saying.


A little over a year ago, I was elected to one of the seven district councils of Amsterdam – a fitting place for the first Dutch representative of a bottom-up political movement to be elected; there are no representative bodies in the Netherlands at a lower level.

From my point of view as both a local representative in a Pirate Party that’s just getting started and as an outsider to the PPI, I’ll present my personal vision on the form international organization could take in a bottom-up political movement.

What are “subsidiarity in decision making ” and a “bottom-up approach”?

Subsidiarity in decision making is the idea that the best decisions are made on the lowest possible level. That way we can ensure maximum involvement by the people who’ll be affected by a decision; that their expertise will be best used, their considerations will carry the most weight, and a decision will therefore have the most support possible, even amongst those who weren’t directly involved in making it.

Bottom-up is the value underlying this theory, that everyone in a group should have the chance to participate in decisions regarding this group.

Why is subsidiarity in decision making crucial for the Pirate Party?

One of the core strengths of the Pirate Party is that it’s a party of ideas. Unlike traditional parties, where a strict ideology dictates the stances party members take on every issue, the Pirate Party has only a handful of core beliefs and, instead, leaves it up to its members to work from these beliefs on the issues they find important, relevant to their region, or just interesting to work on.

Pirates aren’t a homogeneous group fighting for a fixed set of ideas. What binds us together is that we’re a hodgepodge of people – rebels, activists, thinkers – fighting together for different status quo, for changing ideas.

Because Pirates aren’t restricted in what or how to think, in the Pirate movement ideas get room to grow. That’s what sets us apart from traditional parties, and that’s what makes us stronger. Our ideas are as liquid as the fast-changing world we live in, and are therefore more relevant to it. The organizational structure of our movement, which is only a means to an end, should reflect this and subsidiarity in decision making is a way to ensure this.

What does this mean for international organization within the Pirate Party?

At first sight, any form of international organization in a movement built on the bottom-up ideal might seem out of place, and there’s some truth in this.

When you ask yourself what the implications of subsidiarity in decision making are for an international Pirate organization, the question you have to answer first isn’t what it should do, but what it shouldn’t. What responsibilities should be left to the local Pirate Parties and their members?

First off, and this is a bit of an obvious one, everything to do with local organization; the organizational structure, the activities local Pirate Parties have, decisions regarding what elections they participate in and how they organize their campaigns.

Secondly, and far more importantly, everything policy-related; from the stances local Pirate Parties and their members take on local issues to the ones they take on border-crossing ones, the issues they decide to focus on and the ones they deem irrelevant to their situation. You don’t need an international organization, for example, to guard our core beliefs and make sure they stay relevant in a changing world. This could all be achieved by having temporary treaties between local Pirate Parties, agreed upon by their members. This way, you avoid the risk of a small group of people deciding the policy of the movement as a whole.

If we want to make sure subsidiarity on an international level truly works, an international Pirate organization should restrict itself to facilitating the local Pirate Parties and their members and, if necessary, mediating between them.

What could this look like in practice?

One area where an international organization could complement the local Pirate Parties is by facilitating the meeting of minds, ideas and experiences.

Another area where I believe an international organization could complement the local Pirate Parties is research into cross-border issues. Since this could take all kind of forms that aren’t necessarily better than one another, I’ll restrict myself here to just presenting a couple of ideas.

By starting an international group of Pirate brokers – people who have a large network in the Pirate Party and know which Pirates are working on what issues – an international Pirate organization could play a role in getting together like-minded people. Right now, a lot of the experiences Pirates have had with starting and running political parties is shattered all over the web. By actively gathering this information and putting it together in a digital library, an international Pirate organization can make sure the available information will be best-used and experiences don’t get lost in the long-term.

Policy research is one of the base conditions of informed debate, which in turn is crucial for an idea-driven movement such as ours. But research requires money, expertise and time – resources local Pirate Parties don’t always have (or, at least, not as much as they would like). Such research, even when available within local Pirate Parties, if put together with the research from other parties will become much greater than the sum of its parts.

By starting a pool of researchers, helping raise funds and taking stock of the issues Pirates worldwide would like to have researched, an international Pirate organization could play an important role in the professionalization of policy research for the Pirate Parties.

What would the structure of this decentralized organization look like?

The structure of the organization I’ve described could be kept as simple as possible. Because it operates between local Pirate Parties and their members, it doesn’t need member states, or even members. Because it only executes what local Pirate Parties and their members decide and doesn’t make any policies itself, it doesn’t need a large board.

All it would need is a small executive board to manage the day-to-day business of the organization and a mechanism in place to decide both who is on this board and what it should execute. I would prefer this to be an online platform where all members of Pirate Parties worldwide have an equal voice.

There should also be a mechanism in place to help solve disputes between local Pirate Parties. Because the international Pirate organization I’ve described is based on subsidiarity, I don’t believe there should be a Court of Arbitration (like the one PPI has now) that can force member states to accept their ruling. Rather, I believe there should be a pool of independent mediators that can get called into action when required.


Like I said in the opening, I’m an outsider to PPI. I have little knowledge about the struggles it faced recently, or the reasons several Pirate Parties left the PPI or are contemplating doing so. But I do believe in a global, broad, open Pirate movement with room for idea-driven debate and I also believe we’re in this together.

I hope my vision of an international Pirate organization based on subsidiarity in decision making, and the ideas and tools I’ve presented here, can help move the debate out of the trenches and back to the reason we’re here: all those different, innovative, status quo changing ideas that make us all proud to say: I’m a Pirate!


ppnl holland pirate vision from jelleJelle de Graaf is a twenty six year-old born and raised Amsterdammer. After graduating high school, he attended film school for two years before deciding he didn’t wanna do something that only helped himself for the rest of his life. He started studying Political Science and in the end of 2013 became active for the Pirate Party. In march of 2014 he was elected on the district council of Amsterdam West, becoming the first elected representative of the Dutch Pirate Party. In the district council he focuses on participatory democracy. Jelle got the coalition parties in Amsterdam West to start implementing liquid democracy and civic forums this administration period. The first pilots will start later this year.