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17 Sep, 2013 10:11

German ‘Pirates’ stage mini-drone stunt at Merkel rally

German ‘Pirates’ stage mini-drone stunt at Merkel rally

A petite drone that crash-landed right in front of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her latest campaign rally has turned out to be a stunt protest staged by the Pirate Party, which campaigns for transparency in politics and internet freedom.

"The goal of the effort was to make Chancellor Merkel and Defense Minister de Maizière realize what it's like to be subjected to drone observation," deputy head of the left-liberal Pirate Party, Markus Barenhoff, said in a statement.

"For us, the use of drones within the EU's security framework is the expression of a disastrous trend," he added.

According to the statement posted on the party's website, it was also a protest against a scrapped spy drone deal which had cost Germany over 500 million euro before being cut off earlier in the year.

In June, there were calls for Thomas de Maizière’s resignation after the scandal involving his ministry’s Euro Hawk surveillance drone project gathered momentum, amid reports that the multi-million surveillance aircraft proved too dangerous to be flown in European airspace.

Nine years ago a German drone nearly collided with a passenger plane over Afghanistan. The classified drone camera footage drew public attention after the German Defense Ministry scrapped the drone program.  

"The intention was two-fold: firstly, to draw attention to the government surveillance scandal, and secondly to put de Maizière's Euro Hawk failings back on the agenda," Barenhoff told Spiegel online.

Quadcopter (drone) (AFP Photo / Odd Anderson)

The 40cm-wide device, fitted with a camera, dropped down meters away from the Chancellor during the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) event on Sunday in the eastern city of Dresden.

The Pirate Party said it was glad the drone managed to capture everybody’s attention, with photos of Merkel and her team as a historic souvenir.

"Though the crash landing wasn't part of the plan, we did achieve what we wanted," Barenhoff noted. 

An unnamed 23-year-old Pirate Party member, who was operating the drone from a nearby hideout, was tracked down by the police soon after the incident and temporarily taken into custody.

Following the incident, government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters that the Chancellor "has confidence, as she always does, that what's necessary for her security is done." An Interior Ministry spokesman added that the federal police in charge of Merkel's personal security had "taken note of the incident and will draw its conclusions from it."

Merkel has just under a week left of rallies before parliamentary elections on September 22. The conservative defense minister has been tipped to be one of her possible successors.

It’s believed that the drone stunt could help the Pirate Party, which currently has around 31,000 members nationwide, regain popularity. Support for the pirates is currently just around 3 percent, although about a year ago, one in three Germans could imagine voting for the Pirate Party, according to polls. The challenge is to overcome the five percent threshold needed to win seats in the Bundestag. The Pirates were set up in 2006; since then they have been voted into parliament in four German states.