Phoenix night: Conchita Wurst holds her trophy aloft after winning Eurovision 2014: Photo: © Andres Putting (EBU)
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Eurovision: A continent divided in sexual attitudes – or perhaps not?

Anti-gay petitions ahead of the contest suggested eastern countries would give winner Conchita Wurst nul points. But while their juries’ votes reflected this, public votes were encouragingly pro-Wurst. 

In a blog post originally published on Reading Politics, Dr Alan Renwick of the University of Reading looks at what voting patterns tell us about attitudes towards sexual minorities across Europe today

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest has been won by a bearded drag artist from Austria.  There was much talk beforehand about whether the votes cast for Conchita Wurst would reveal a divide across Europe in attitudes towards alternative sexual identities.  Attitudes in the north-west, many supposed, would be more progressive, while attitudes in the south and, particularly, the east were expected be more conservative.

Is that borne out by the results?  The map below colours in the countries participating this year according to the points they gave to Austria: blue countries gave Austria 12 points, red countries gave it no points, and the intermediate colours show the scale of points in between.  Certainly, things look bluer in the west (south as well as north) than in the east, though there are exceptions, notably the 10 points that went Austria’s way from Georgia.

 

Points given to Austria

 

If we look at averages, we can see that Conchita won, on average, 4.4 points in the countries of the former Soviet Union excluding the Baltics, 6.0 points in the remaining former communist countries, and 10.5 points in the remaining countries (Scandinavia, the west of Europe, Greece, and Israel) – so there does seem to be quite a difference from east to west.

But we need to dig a bit deeper.  The points that are awarded are, in almost all countries, calculated on the basis of a combination of a jury vote and a popular vote.  (This year, San Marino and Albania had only a jury, while Georgia had only a popular vote.)  If social attitudes differ across the content, we should expect that to be reflected in the popular vote.

As the next map shows, however, differences in popular attitudes seem to be much less marked than the overall points suggest.  Only one country – Estonia – put Austria lower than fifth in the popular vote.  Conchita ranked within the top three not just in most of western Europe, but also in Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.  The average points she would have won had only the popular votes counted would have been 8.0 in the former Soviet Union excluding the Baltics, 7.3 in the other former communist countries, and 10.0 in the rest.  So the differences are really quite small.

 

Points for Austria based on popular votes only

 

The final map shows what the results would have been had only the jury votes counted.  Conchita would have done much less well by this measure.  Whereas she ranked lower than fifth in only one country in the popular vote, she failed to make the top five of the jury vote in sixteen countries.  And here there does seem to be more of an east–west split: seven of the nine countries giving Austria no votes on this measure are in the former communist world (San Marino and, surprisingly, Germany are the exceptions).  The juries in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus all put Conchita among the lowest placed acts.  On the jury vote alone, she would have averaged just 2.5 points in the former Soviet Union except the Baltics, 4 in the remaining former communist countries, and 8.4 in the rest.

 

Points for Austria based on jury alone

 

The results suggest, then, that we do live in a divided continent.  But the divisions might penetrate much less deeply into society than we often suppose.  The differences revealed in the popular voting are slight, whereas those in the elite juries are very marked.

Of course, this is only one source of evidence.  There is much, much more than this to be said about attitudes towards sexual minorities around Europe and across the world.  Nevertheless, there might be reason to hope that, even in those countries where the ruling elites are often highly intolerant, the wider population might be readier to accept that different people might be different.

Dr Alan Renwick is acting head of the department of politics at the University of Reading

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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”