Interview with Marcel Kolaja, Member of the European Parliament: “The challenge that lies ahead of us is that this 5-party government is able to pursue policies that will improve people’s lives in the country”.

, by Jules Bigot

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Interview with Marcel Kolaja, Member of the European Parliament: “The challenge that lies ahead of us is that this 5-party government is able to pursue policies that will improve people's lives in the country”.
Marcel Kolaja. Credit:, licensed under Creative Commons

In October earlier this year, elections were held in the Czech Republic leading to the fall of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. The centre right coalition SPOLU composed of ODS, KDU-ČSL and TOP 09 finished first in these elections, closely followed by ANO, Babiš’s party. The Piratí-STAN coalition formed by the Mayor and Independents Party and the Pirates Party completed the podium. SPOLU and Piratí-STAN reached an agreement to form a government coalition which would grant them a comfortable majority of 108 seats out of 200 in the lower house of the Czech parliament, the House of Deputies. Petr Fiala, leader of ODS, was named Prime Minister by President Miloš Zeman, and made responsible for forming the new government.

It is in this context that MEP Marcel Kolaja agreed to answer my questions concerning the recent elections in the Czech Republic, the Pirates Party, and the future political orientations of the newly formed government.

Mr Kolaja, you are a member of the Czech Pirate Party, which has been elected in the European Parliament since 2019. You were also co-president of the International Pirates Party in 2011. To start off this interview, could you walk us through the Pirates Party ideology, both on an international level and on a local level?

Marcel Kolaja: I do not think there are any differences. We are a very international movement that did not start in the Czech Republic, but in Sweden in 2006. Our core principles are the same and our goal is the same regardless of the Pirates Party’s country of origin. Our main goal is to reach a free information society. This is what we want to achieve. What does that mean? That means that we want a society that is informed, that is digitally connected, but also, in order to be free, a society that is educated, where fundamental rights are respected and which is free from lock-ins. Digital connection should not be something that locks society into particular technologies or services, which are a proprietary lock-in into a monopoly or into an oligopoly of some corporations. We want a society that is really free. And from there, we employ all our policies to reach that goal. It might be through the reform of copyright, consumer and environmental protection, a stress on democratic principles, digitalization or the digital transformation of society, for example, but also through transparency in policy making, foreign policy, and so on.

The Czech Pirates Party is very young but has grown rapidly over the last couple of years. Created in 2009, the Pirates only got 0.8% of votes in the legislative elections of 2010. They later won 22 seats in the 2017 mandate of the House of Deputies and are now part of a coalition government. This success was however not matched in other European Union countries with only the German Pirates Party represented alongside the Czech Party in the European Parliament.

How can you explain this sudden success of the Pirates Party in the Czech Republic in recent years but not elsewhere in Europe? Was there something special about the Czech context?

M.K: Well, we had 2 MEPs from the Swedish Pirates Party, the German Pirates has been represented in the European Parliament for 2 terms now, the Islandic Pirates are present on the national level, Luxembourg has 2 Pirates in the National parliament and there are few other Pirates elected on local level in Finland or France. The road to become a mainstream political party widely accepted in the society is not easy. It is difficult and in every country there is a different set of problems that you need to face. The Czech Pirates apparently found a way to overcome these challenges and for some other political parties it is still something that they will need to figure out. But I’m sure that one day they will and that we will be stronger as a movement.

In the recent Czech legislative elections, the Pirates Party was running in the Piráti-STAN coalition, which finished in third position. As an individual party the Pirates won 4 seats in the parliament. How do you analyze this particular result?

M.K: I’ll tell you really openly that we expected a better result and more seats. In the previous term we had 22 seats in Parliament. There are many reasons as to why this happened, but none of these reasons are that our support dropped drastically. The reason is that we ran for seats in the national parliament, with this coalition that you mentioned with the Mayors and Independents (STAN). First of all, Prime minister Andrej Babis, who was our major opponent, led a very large disinformation campaign against the Pirates. This campaign was combined with the preferential voting system in the Czech Republic, with which he (Andrej Babiš) managed to scare a lot of people, which did not help us. I also need to admit that we had a number of issues during the election campaign which led to this disproportionate representation with the coalition, with whom we got 4 seats in the end. Nevertheless, we were one of the 5 political parties that ran in 2 coalition parties that are going to form the next government. These 5 parties were basically the democratic opposition in the previous term, and the democratic element of these elections. These 5 parties agreed to form a government. We, as a coalition government, have a majority of 108 out of 200 seats in the Parliament, which is a fairly comfortable majority and we, as a party (the Pirates Party) were able to secure seats for 3 ministers in that new government.

Despite this fairly deceiving result of the Pirates, who campaigned against the corruption of Babiš’ government, would you say that the anti-corruption front succeeded in these elections by bringing down Andrej Babiš?

M.K: For sure. Andrej Babiš was heavily criticized, not only in the Czech Republic but also internationally, especially in the European Union, for having enormous conflicts of interest. Indeed, he had financial interest in companies that are eligible for European subsidies, and at the same time was Prime minister and therefore the person in charge of how these subsidies were distributed. Bringing him down was a huge victory and success, for sure. The challenge that lies ahead of us is that this 5-party government is able to pursue policies that will improve the people’s lives in the country which Andrej Babiš, to a huge extent, destroyed through his policies. I’m not only speaking about the economic aspect and the huge debt that he left behind him, but also about the lack of political ethic during his mandate. He had no problem with all sorts of disinformation campaigns, for example, which certainly contributed to the plummeting of political culture in the Czech Republic. This is why we need to unite within the government and change this political landscape into something better.

In the newly appointed government, the Pirates inherited 3 ministries, namely the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Regional Development and Digitalization and the Ministry for the Legislative Council. Can you tell us more about these 3 ministries and why they were important for the Pirates?

M.K: It is a mix of their importance as a topic and also of the people that we have that focus on these areas and that are real experts of these. The Ministry of regional development and digitalization will be taken by the President of the Party (Ivan Bartoš) who has been focusing on regional development for the past 4 years in the Parliament. This topic is extremely important for the Czech Republic because it is an area where we could improve a lot with digitalization for example. Not only is it an area where we have expertise but it is also something that is very important for the (Pirates). It made complete sense that we fought to get this Ministry. When it comes to foreign affairs, we would like to change the way the Czech Republic conducts its foreign policy and to get back to something that we call Vaclav Havel’s legacy. When it comes to the Ministry for the legislative council, we see this place as a place where we could use our expertise in lawmaking, and ensure that legislation is coherent and up to what the government promised in its principles.

What do you mean when you talk about a Vaclav Havel legacy in foreign affairs (“havlovské“ zahraniční politiky)?

M.K: Over the past years with Miloš Zeman being President of the Czech Republic and Andrej Babiš as Prime Minister, we have seen our country drifting away from what we see as our natural partners, European and transatlantic oriented countries, towards the East with Russia and China. When I talk about getting back in line with Vaclav Havel’s legacy, it is exactly this. To make a turn from a policy oriented towards Russia and China to a policy oriented more on the West. In that regard, we also need to revise our relations with governments in the V4. Which is a bit of a paradox because the V4 was a project that was, to a huge extent, initiated by Vaclav Havel. One of his first trips back in January 1990, very soon after the Velvet revolution (the pacifist revolution, which took place between the 16th of November and 29th of December in Czechoslovakia and brought down the Communist Regime), was to Warsaw. There, he spoke about how Eastern European countries need to cooperate in order to get up to speed with the European Unión, which to some extent, succeeded. We managed to get into the European Union, to get into NATO but somewhere on our path we got lost. Getting back to Vaclav Havel’s legacy, paradoxically, today means revising our relations with V4 governments which really got lost on the way, concerning both their relations towards Russia and their policies when it comes to fundamental rights. Because in recent years, both Poland and Hungary - or to be more precise the Polish government and the Hungarian government - have been pursuing policies that do not have respect for fundamental rights at their centre, but quite the opposite.

Taiwan also seems to be right at the center of the Pirates agenda in terms of foreign affairs in the Vaclav Havel legacy that the Pirates seek to restore. A couple of weeks ago Pirates MEP Markéta Gregorová was part of a European Parliament visit to Taiwan, and, Zdeněk Hřib, the Pirate mayor of Prague also visited Taiwan twice over the last couple of years to show his support to the island.

There are questions concerning the European orientation of the new government. It is in fact composed of parties with different visions of Europe, ranging from the somewhat Eurosceptic ODS, which will lead the government to the pro-European Pirates. Are you confident that this diverse government will be able to conduct an understandable and ambitious European policy, especially in the wake of the upcoming Czech presidency of the European Union?

M.K: First of all, I would like to say a couple of words concerning Taiwan. On this topic there doesn’t seem to be any kind of disagreement between ODS and the Pirates when it comes to relations to Taiwan because the President of the Senate, the Higher Chamber of the Czech Parliament, Miloš Vystrčil, who is an ODS member, is very much in line with what we do. Just like Markéta Gregorová, that you mentioned, and Zdeněk Hřib he has been in Taiwan, so he is very much in favour of improving relations with Taiwan.

Regarding the European orientation of the government, I need to say that it is not the Pirates but it is ODS who is an outlier in this coalition when it comes to the European Union and the vision of Europe. Because the other 3 political parties of the coalition are part of the European People’s Party, which is very much pro-European. So of course, it will be our task to make sure that the government really is united on this topic and that we make it clear that we are in the centre of Europe and that we are in favour of European cooperation.

Why is your party a member of the Green/European Free Alliance political group in the European Parliament? To be a bit provocative, is it because of a true ecologic commitment of yours or because the spot in Renew Europe was already taken by ANO?

M.K: One cannot simplify the Greens/European Free Alliance group just to ecological policy, or the ecology related policy it promotes. There is a lot more that we have in common, be it the respect for fundamental rights, our pro-European direction, all these sorts of things. The reason why we chose to be part of the Greens/European Free Alliance political group is very simple. At the beginning of the term, we faced a decision concerning the European political group we wanted to choose. Our main goal was to choose the political group that would allow us to effectively pursue our policies. The policies of the Greens/European Free Alliance were very similar to the Pirates’, and at the same time they offered us guarantees when it came to membership to various committees, high profile positions in Parliament, (you may know that I am vice-president of the European Parliament for instance, or positions as coordinators of committees), so we chose to join them. All that combined was the best package deal that we could get and that’s why we entered this political group.

To wrap off this interview, I wanted to come back to the tragic events that are unfolding before our eyes at the Belarus-EU border, where thousands of migrants are stuck between borders, trying to survive in freezing conditions. Could you comment on this situation and on the recent calls for the construction of a wall at the Polish border?

M.K: I think that it is extremely hypocritical and I am really disappointed that these calls also come from the Christian Democrats, for instance, where I would have expected solidarity as part of their ideology. I think it is a really bad thing to say that this is Lukashenko’s problem because he brought these people to the borders. This is not how it works. We have, as a civilized democratic space, some obligations towards these people that come from international law. Therefore, we must look at the situation much more constructively than just building a wall or a fence or anything like that. And now seeing that these people are freezing or dying there, it is even more important that we consider solutions that are constructive. So first of all, the Member states really need to show solidarity. They need to ensure the basic treatment and care for asylum seekers. They need to make sure that what happens at the border is transparent. This means that journalists need to be able to enter, so that we have proper media coverage so that we don’t open space for disinformation. We need to make sure that non-profit organisations have access to the area as well. And for sure, it also means that we need to consider the possible relocation of applicants for asylum. All of this is on the table, and we need to look at these people as people. Lukashenko uses them as a threat, a hybrid threat. But we cannot look at these people as if they were weapons, even if Lukashenko uses them like that, because they are first and foremost people.

Thank you very much, Mr. Kolaja.

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