EUROPE is breaking up. Where once the continent was connected by a web of tight relationships, it is now fragmenting into peripheral alliances. The core countries are becoming more isolated; collusion among voting blocs is on the rise.
These are the conclusions of a paper, published last year by three researchers at the University of Central Florida, about the Eurovision Song Contest, the 63rd of which began in Lisbon on May 8th. The competition is as notorious for its politics as its cheesy ballads. Last year Russia withdrew after the host, Ukraine, denied entry to its contestant, who had performed in Crimea after Russia had invaded and annexed the region in 2014. Ukraine had previously won the competition with a cheery song about Joseph Stalin’s deportation of Crimean Tatars during the 1940s. In 2015 Armenia’s lyrics marked 100 years since the massacre of 1.5m people, which its neighbours Turkey and Azerbaijan refuse to recognise as genocide. Turkey has boycotted the event since 2013, in protest against the automatic qualification to the final round enjoyed by the “Big Five”: Germany, Britain, France, Spain and Italy.
Yet the data show that neighbourly tensions tend to be outweighed by collusive voting, defined as a consistently greater exchange of points between two countries than would be expected by random allocation. The fraternising has increased sharply since 1997, when votes by the general public were introduced to supplement those cast by juries of so-called experts. The trend has been most marked among adjacent countries at the continent’s edges. In the past 20 years the Nordic bloc has won seven times; former Soviet states, six times. The “Big Five”, meanwhile, have rarely co-operated and often been shunned by everybody else. Their contestants have won only once (Lena, a German singer, triumphed in 2010 with “Satellite”). They have finished last in the final nine times, with nul points in 2003 and 2015.