Euro debt crisis hits Eurovision


A study out of Switzerland suggests the hardline fiscal policies across the continent are affecting the Eurovision Song Contest.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey and Portugal are just some of the countries to withdraw from this year's Eurovision Song Contest, citing economic reasons.

Their absence from one of the world's biggest music events is another byproduct of an enduring debt crisis that's seeing a growing number of European countries ravaged by austerity.

Now, a study out of Switzerland suggests the hardline fiscal policies being implemented are affecting the Eurovision Song Contest in other ways, too.

Bright lights, sequins and smoke machines -- the annual festival that taps into the musical pulse of Europe comes to Malmo, Sweden, in 2013.

Since 1957, the Eurovision Song Contest has brought to the stage artists from states within the European Broadcasting Union, competing for the coveted honour of hosting the now week-long music extravaganza.

As Europe experienced geopolitical transformation, so too the Eurovision Song Contest changed -- becoming bigger, brighter and more showy -- according to some critics, more spectacle than substance.

Still, for many countries, especially those outside of the European Union, it's seen as a serious competition, and an opportunity to promote their tourism and artists abroad.

And for the fans, it nothing else, the contest provides a few fleeting moments of escapism from Europe's depressing financial reality.

This year, though, that financial reality looks to have caught up even with the Eurovision Song Contest.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland, Slovakia, Portugal and Turkey have all pulled out.

Host-nation Sweden says it's slashed spending on the event to almost half of what Azerbaijan spent on organising last year's contest.

And more noticeably than before, national delegations appear to be abandoning traditionally over-the-top special effects in favour of more modest on-stage productions, such as The Netherlands' song entry 'Birds', sung by Anouk.

WATCH: Julia Zermiro reports from Sweden on Eurovision:

Two researchers in Switzerland are suggesting the Eurovision Song Contest has more to tell about the impact of austerity.

In a recent study, David Garcia and Dorian Tanase from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, looked at the voting tendencies of 51 participating countries between 1975 and 2011.

Using 1998 data as a starting point, they then focused on 15 EU countries that use the euro single currency and participate in the song contest.

Through complex mathematical equations, they quantified the studied countries' voting patterns and grouped them into clusters based on which countries they would give points to, and those they would avoid on the scoreboard.

Doctor David Garcia says their findings confirm earlier claims of both positive and negative voting biases among countries in the Eurovision Song Contest.

He acknowledges previous research has attributed these biases to factors including shared language, history and cultural similarities, and on the opposite side of the spectrum: conflict and geopgraphical distance.

Dr Garcia says the Zurich research doesn't try to explain why voting biases occur, but does statistically confirm their existence in the competition.

"We started naively before having the question of the crisis, trying to get this intuition of when a country is avoiding or being encouraged to vote for another country. There's always these typical examples of Cyprus and Greece who always vote for each other or Andorra always votes for Spain. The idea was to turn this intuition into a measure and when we applied this measure we noticed that it was very highly correlated with cultural distances between countries, which were previously known from research. So, our idea was to use this matrix as a macroscope for the state of European society or how countries relate to each other."

David Garcia says by looking at who the EU countries voted for, and against, in the Eurovision Song Contest, they found that during 2010-2011, the positive and negative voting biases became significantly greater.

Dr Garcia says this coincided with the time of loans and austerity measures in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain.

He says in this period, some countries moved away from their old voting clusters.

According to the study, this separation saw indebted countries -- such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece -- voting similarly on one side, and countries not yet in crisis on the other -- for example, The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Finland.

It identified Ireland as an exception, describing it as a bridge between the two clusters.

Dr Garcia says in 2010-11, voting in the Eurovision Song Contest became markedly more polarised.

"We started looking to what is the cultural relation between countries and how would these influence their voting biases: how they avoid voting for some countries and how they are internally encouraged to vote for another one.So, we summarised this with an empirical measure that we can quantify from the result of the contest and what we did was aggregate these measures into the collective measure in the whole EU-15 countries. So, the way this measure works is that it's basically quantifying how much they disagree or how they avoid voting for each other and what we found is that usually it has some stable values of around 0.2 and precisely in the years in which there were the most (austerity) measures for the European Union crisis, there was a sharp increase to 0.3."

Dr David Garcia says another part of the study has established a strong correlation between Eurovision Song Contest results and the mean interest rate of sovereign bonds in December of each year, for countries using the euro currency.

He says analysing Eurovision Song Contest voting patterns can provide valuable insight into the mood among Europeans in response to E-U fiscal policies.

"Here with this Eurovision metric, we are measuring how society reacts to the crisis and how may be our culture in Europe is changing because of this collective state or disagreement that is the crisis, so I would not say Eurovision is predicting the interest rate, but I would say that it is an indicator of the same phenomenon that is larger and is not just the economy, it's something else among Europeans."

Source: SBS