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EU ELECTION PROFILE

EUPARL

Christofer Fjellner: A friend of free trade

“I believe I am the fair voice for free trade in EU Parliament, and that’s more important now than ever,” says Christofer Fjellner, whose main focus in campaigning for the EU Parliament elections has been the free trade debate.

Christofer Fjellner: A friend of free trade

“We need trade and open borders,” says the Moderate Party politician. “We should try to take down some of the barriers we have in place instead of trying to create new ones.”

Fjellner says Sweden has gained prosperity from trading in the past, and the importance of EU member countries to work together on this issue – and all others – is of paramount importance.

“I think it’s a feeling of belonging together, the fact that we share so much of the same destinies,” Fjellner says, with regard to being an EU member. “History shows that what happens in one part of Europe sooner or later has consequences for the rest of Europe. So we must work together and realize that we belong together.”

He says his interest in politics began when he was in high school and the Swedish government was first contemplating joining the union. He started participating in campaigns to support the union, and felt “ashamed” by the country’s large disinterest in joining.

“I’ve always been one of those people that likes to debate and argue,” Fjellner says. He pursued political science and public finance at the university level (he studied at universities in Uppsala and Lund) and was president of both the Moderate party’s youth wing (Moderata Ungdomsförbundet) and the Nordic Young Conservatives (Nordisk Ungkonservativ Union) from 2002 to 2004. Fjellner was also an executive board member of the Moderate Party from 2000 to 2004.

Currently Sweden’s youngest member of the European Parliament, Fjellner says if re-elected he hopes to open borders to new forms of trade across Europe.

“I’m worried about the financial crisis in that more and more countries are trying to close their borders,” Fjellner explains. “The Czech Republic and Slovakia want to close factories. Seventeen of the G-20 countries have put in place 47 new barriers on trade, which I am deeply concerned about.”

But he has also included the environment in his platform, and says new policies are necessary in this area so business can be approached an eco-friendly manner.

“The reason I think the EU Parliament is important is what I’ve discovered by being there,” he says. “We have all the ideas in Europe put together under one roof, from the best to the worst. The EU parliament effects everyday life in Sweden. It’s important to protect that.”

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PIRATE PARTY

Sweden’s political pirates signal internet’s election power

If tech-savvy campaigning helped power Barack Obama to the White House, the election of Sweden's Pirate Party in Europe signals that Internet and related privacy issues are political drivers for young voters.

Sweden's political pirates signal internet's election power

The party, which wants an internet filesharing free-for-all while beefing up internet privacy, won 7.1 percent of Sunday’s votes, taking one of Sweden’s 18 seats in the EU Parliament.

“It’s fabulous political recognition,” 37-year-old founder Rick Falkvinge, an information technology entrepreneur, told AFP. “And it hasn’t come from the ‘establishment,’ the mainstream voters. It has come from the ground, the citizens, and it feels great.”

Founded in January 2006, the Pirate Party has attracted largely young, tech-literate males angered by controversial laws adopted in the country that criminalised filesharing and authorised monitoring of emails.

Its membership trebled within a week after a Stockholm court in April sentenced four Swedes to a year in jail for running one of the world’s biggest filesharing sites, The Pirate Bay.

With 23.6 percent of votes among under 30s, and 70 percent of them male, according to pollsters, the party has leapt from nowhere to the top of the table among a generation broadly characterised by political apathy.

“The old politicians don’t understand…,” added Falkvinge. “They see these issues as an isolated problem — they function far from the keyboard, and are not (digitally) connected.”

He claimed that state surveillance rights “threaten a way of life for a generation who have gone to the ballot boxes to defend” the technological freedoms they have grown up with.

Seen at its formation as a joke, the Pirate Party largely bodyswerved traditional issues dividing left and right, a political scientist at Gothenburg University, Ulf Bjereld, told AFP.

“They are seen as a protest party because they refused to be drawn on great areas of debate such as equal opportunities, taxation or pollution,” Bjereld said.

“They have concentrated on themes close to their heart and left the other parties to slug it out on other questions.”

Many members say they joined because they fear a “Big Brother” society.

The party also wants to do away with the lucrative system that grants major drug companies’ exclusive patents.

However, Bjereld was at pains to stress these developed world ‘pirates’ should not be classed among extremists, arguing such voters represent a new class of liberal.

He predicted that their elected member, Christian Engström, will sit in the parliament’s dual Brussels and Strasbourg chambers alongside mainstream liberals and greens.

It has picked up protest votes from left and right, but mainly mobilised those who normally bypass the ballot box, said the head of Sifo polling institute, Toivo Sjoren.

“If this party hadn’t been on the ballot paper, I simply wouldn’t have voted,” said Daniel Wijk, a 29-year-old website developer.

“These questions of protection of privacy and Internet freedom are what motivate me,” he added, articulating his anger at “policing” via modern communications technologies.

“We are not all criminals,” he said.

Looking to Sweden’s next general election in September 2010, political analyst Mats Knutson called the result a “formidable cold shower” for Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

“The Pirate Party has taken advantage of a new cleavage in Swedish politics, about civil liberties, about who should have the right to decide over knowledge,” Bjereld told AFP on Sunday.

The Pirate Party, which has sister parties in 20 countries, also fielded candidates in Poland and Germany.

More than half of US adults used the internet to engage in the race for the White House, according to a study released in April.

Obama’s use of the medium to raise money and volunteers was a major factor behind his November 4th victory, numerous political analysts have said.

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