We can probably all agree that Australia is not in Europe, and that its involvement in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest is no more than a frivolous cultural exercise (not to mention a profitable one for SBS, the Australian broadcaster of the annual musical extravaganza). But that’s not to say that it’s easy to draw the line on exactly where Europe begins and ends. Only too recently, Ukraine found itself torn in half over whether or not it is European country – and it’s not the only one to find itself in such a situation.
With the exception of this year (due to financial constraints), Ukraine is, regardless, a Eurovision participant, as are such neighbours as Russia, Belarus and Moldova. Further south, countries including Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan – all of whom share a border with Iran – have not only participated in the competition, but have been varyingly successful in it. Other anomalies includes the regular presence of Israel, as well as Morocco’s single appearance in 1980:
Many North African countries meanwhile, including Egypt, Jordan and Algeria, are in fact members of The European Broadcasting Union (producers of Eurovision) and would quite possibly take part in the competition, were it not for the continued involvement of Israel.
The argument, therefore, is that Eurovision and Europe are considerably separate entities. Nevertheless, the continued branding of the contest as ‘Euro’-vision brings a geographical association which results in the annual questioning of how large the continent has become.
POLITICAL: THE EUROPEAN UNION
Certainly in Britain, ‘Europe’ has become synonymous with the European Union, or ‘the EU’. The world’s largest trading bloc now boasts twenty-eight members, with the latest, Croatia, joining in July 2013.
When we think of European expansion, the evolution of the EU is top of the pile. It launched in 1951 with just six members – Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – as the ‘European Coal and Steel Community’, which later became the catchy ‘European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community’. After subsequent decades of adding new members in west and north Europe – including the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and most of Scandinavia – and formally becoming the ‘European Union’ following the Maastricht Treaty in the early 1990s, the most substantial expansion came in 2004, when ten eastern European countries – including several formerly Soviet countries – joined the EU.
Arguably it is the patchiness of the EU which prevents it being used as the complete guide as to what Europe is. Missing from the list include the members of the separate European Free Trade Association (Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein), while Turkey remains a potential future member. As probably the most politically volatile of all European definitions, the future of the EU has become an unpredictable forecast.
If Eurovision members appeared to stretch strangely far east, then UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations, manages to go even further. As well as Azerbaijan and Israel, UEFA also includes Kazakhstan, whose capital, Astana, lies a full 3,900km (2,400 miles) east of Berlin. On the other hand, UEFA also includes territories such as the Faroe Islands and, now, Gibraltar who entered UEFA for the first time in 2013.
There are also the strange cases of overseas territories such as the French territories in the Caribbean – French Guiana, Guadeloupe, and Martinique – all of whom are ineligible for membership of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the sport’s global governing body, and therefore cannot play in the World Cup. Players born in these territories are eligible to play for the French national team in both UEFA and FIFA competitions, however they are also members of CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football), making these football players both European and Caribbean at the same time.
FINANCIAL: THE EURO
If EU membership came across as patchy, then the countries using the continental currency the Euro (known as the ‘Eurozone’) has gaping holes in it. While many Western European nations including France, Spain, Italy and Germany have used the Euro for over a decade, with other countries, including the Baltic states, joining in subsequent years, the absence of countries such as the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Poland – not to mention all those who have opted out of EU membership itself – leaves the idea of a Europe-wide currency a long way from being realised.
When the EEU, the Eurasian Economic Union, came into existence on 1 January 2015, it immediately drew a line in the sand along the borders where the EU stopped and the EEU began. Comprised of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Krygyzstan, this line captures what has been an historic sense of division, dating back to the days of the Cold War. NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, initially comprised predominantly Western European countries, and met the opposing Warsaw Pact countries along the border between West and East Germany (as well as the USA and Canada).
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO expanded eastwards, adding several former members of the Warsaw Pact including Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and the newly-formed Baltic states. Alongside EU membership, NATO membership has come to symbolise a country’s intimate association with Western Europe and North America. It is yet another barometer to indicate which countries are fully part of Europe, and which are merely on the fringes.
Perhaps the simplest answer is to return to Europe’s physical landscape. With the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Mediterranean to the south, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Ural mountains and Anatolian plateau to the east, Europe find itself roughly enclosed within a geographical nest. The borders are not clearly defined, instead the continent relies on an understanding regarding under which circumstances a certain country needs to decide whether it is European or not.
Crucially though, Australia is absolutely nowhere in sight.