As it’s going to be the unavoidable hot topic in the British coverage this year – the nail upon which everything hangs – let’s address Brexit head on. Is the triggering of Article 50 actually going to gum up our chances at Eurovision this year? Or are we just making our excuses in advance like always?
For many years now, the UK has attributed its lack of success at Eurovision to politics. “Europe hates us,” we’re always told. “They hate us. It’s all political these days. We’ll never win as long as they’re ganging up on us, and now they hate us more than ever.”
Rather than quietly endure this conversation for the 20th year running, let’s just settle the matter, shall we?
Leaving aside for the moment the measurable fact that we have, for years, been sending songs that bear little or no resemblance to the sorts of songs that win the modern Eurovision (they’re so misguided that there’s actually a pretty solid case to be made that we have been deliberately tailoring our entries to lose) – is there any truth to this?
Not to the question of whether or not Europe hates us; to the question of whether or not it matters if Europe hates us.
Let’s consider the evidence.
If we’ve learned one thing from the EU referendum it’s that we have a very elastic sense of what the word ‘Europe’ actually means.
At different times, to different people, ‘Europe’ can refer to:
– The geographical continent
– The 28-state European Union
– The Schengen Area
– The Eurozone
– The Customs Union
– The Single Market
– The EEA
It can involve (or exclude) Switzerland, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway or the United Kingdom as the speaker sees fit.
So what does ‘Europe’ mean when we use it in relation to Eurovision? Given that the competition has historically taken in countries from Africa, Asia and Australasia – very, very little.
All in, 52 different countries have performed at the Eurovision over its 60-odd years. Two of those no longer exist in the form that they once competed (Yugoslavia and the united Serbia & Montenegro) and one of those countries is the one under discussion: the UK.
That leaves 49 countries. 27 of them are EU member states, 22 of them aren’t.
Of the EU27 member states who are eligible to enter, only 25 are in this year’s competition (Luxembourg and Slovakia have taken a pass this year).
Of the 22 non-EU members, 17 of them have put forward entries for 2017 (Andorra, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Monaco, Morocco and Turkey are all sitting this one out) and Russia have since been disqualified – leaving 16.
The EU clearly has an upper hand then in terms of numbers, but they have by no means got the whole thing stitched up.
This year, the show is being hosted in Kyiv – so lack of membership was clearly no problem for Ukraine. If you look back over the last ten years you see that the show has also been won by Serbia, Russia, Norway and Azerbaijan, creating a fifty/fifty split between EU member states and non-EU member states succeeding at the competition.
Clearly then, EU membership is no prerequisite for winning.
However, it shouldn’t be ignored that all of these wins have taken place in a context of (broadly) cordial relations. What’s different now is that Britain has arguably antagonised a huge, 27-strong bloc of nations. It would be disingenuous of us to pretend that voting blocs do not exist within Eurovision, or that those voting blocs can’t have a significant effect on the outcome of the final scores.
So if we are going toe-to-toe with our old buddies from Brussels, how do the blocs match up?
New Kids Off The Bloc
Under the new scoring system introduced last year, each country can now offer a maximum of 24 points to each country: 12 points from the jury; 12 from the public.
Therefore, if the 25 EU countries competing were planning to get behind one of their own – and were doing so specifically to spite the UK – then the most they could offer up between them to any one country is 576 points1.
(This would take the cooperation of an estimated 508,000,000 people to organise, so as to keep the public televote in line with the juries’ votes – but seeing as we’re already in cloud cuckoo land, let’s stick with it.)
If they did the same thing with second place, choosing another specific country to get behind and consolidating their 10 jury points and 10 televote points for them, they could offer up a maximum of 480 points.
For third place (eight jury points; eight televote) they could offer 384 points; for fourth, 336; for fifth, 288.
Pretty daunting scores to beat, but if non-EU members chose to retaliate with the same sort of force then they have surprising muscle in this regard. Their powers combined are not necessarily enough to win such a targeted flame-war, but they’re not insignificant.
In the case of a tie, EBU officials count up how manycountries have supported the tied countries. Whoever has taken points from more countries will win. That means 24 EU countries offering 16 points is intrinsically more valuable than 16 non-EU countries offering 24 points.
However, if the non-EU participants of Eurovision ever did decide to band together, then the fourth place is theirs for the taking and there is absolutely nothing the EU can do to stop them.
But this sort of hypothetical calculation is pointless because the politics are much more nuanced than that.
In order to get a better handle on things, we need to look at the UK’s history specifically to see exactly what sort of effect any potential abandonment of EU support would have…
The obvious way for Brexit to materially affect our chances in the competition is if our recent nationalist posturing has maligned the 27 countries of the EU to such an extent that they decide to withhold points from us this year – points that we could once have relied on as being a total lock.
So how generous have the EU states been in dishing out the points over the last ten years?
A grand total of 295 points in ten years…
To put that number into context, Conchita got 290 points for Austria in one year – and that is what we managed to rustle up in ten. An average of 1.1 points per EU country per year.
What about non-EU members? Have they been any more generous?
No, is the short answer. Obviously there are fewer countries there, so naturally the total figure is smaller – but, even so, non-EU members offer up an average of just 0.7 points per country per year.
The grim truth of it is that we haven’t been getting very many points from anyone these last ten years. What’s interesting to note though is that non-EU countries have outscored EU countries in two very specific years: 2015 and 2010, the years of Electro Velvet and Josh Dubovie (both widely considered to be our most embarrassing, out-of-touch entries).
But let’s look at the people who have been giving us the most points. Our most loyal friends.
The top two are EU members – but they’re Ireland and Malta, and we’ve been engaged in point-swapping with them for so long that the dependancy on that front is mutual. If they desert us now in favour of the EU27, they’ll be cutting themselves adrift too. And as countries which have been struggling to qualify from the semis in recent years, they are unlikely to turn on us.
The third is San Marino, a country that appears to relish in extremely shit songs and so will seemingly provide a safety net no matter how bad things get.
Fourth is Albania, another non-EU member – giving us twice as many points as the average EU member.
Australia hasn’t been in the competition long enough to really get the measure of their voting habits, but they’ve given us eight points into two years – which is more than Bulgaria, Portugal and Sweden have given us combined in a decade.
So we don’t actually stand to lose out on very much at all.
The Other Side Of The Coin
What are the benefits of Europe liking you then? What’s the big boon of being a political powerhouse, leading the way in Europe?
Germany have come dead last for the past two years.
Before Germany, it was France.
Before them, Ireland.
In the last 10 years, EU countries have finished in last place eight times. Moreover, almost every single song that has finished in the bottom five since 2007 (with a few Norway, Switzerland and San Marino exceptions) has been an EU country.
The idea that EU countries somehow have each other’s backs to any meaningful degree is pure fantasy. They win as regularly as anyone else and they actually lose a little bit worse. So perhaps we’re better off out?
After all, it’s not like we’ve been blacklisted – and before their disqualification, being an out-of-favour political outcast was working pretty well for Russia. Bear in mind, Russia invaded a participating country in 2014. Their finishing position that year? 7th. The next year? 2nd.
So if Lucie doesn’t come Top Ten this year – despite us having a technically excellent entry – it’s clear what we have to do. May 14th: boots on the ground.
1Though 25 of the EU27 countries competing, countries can’t vote for themselves. As one country has to be the recipient, that means only 24 countries can offer up their 24 points to them.