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raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo

Eurovision, European Union: what’s the difference?

Another year, another painful Eurovision humiliation, and yet another gradual realisation that... it’s not about the music

raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo
16 May 2017, 7:30am
Half of me was actually relieved that Malta failed to qualify
Half of me was actually relieved that Malta failed to qualify
There seems to be a flutter of excitement among the pro-EU observers of Malta’s ongoing election/corruption scandal brouhaha. I was alerted to it after (uncharacteristically) posting an ironic comment about Malta’s precipitous exit from the Eurovision Song Contest last Thursday.

‘Where is Azerbaijan when you need them?’ I mused. [note: Grammar Nazis, go to hell. Poetic licence, and all that].

‘Why don’t you write about Article 7’, came one of the replies.

At first I thought it was a reference to the Eurovision rules and regulations. Is there an Article 7 that could have made a difference to the result, I wondered?

Now: it’s not something I would normally get breathlessly excited about. Half of me was actually relieved that Malta failed to qualify. Our entry was pleasant enough. The lyrics were a cut above the usual meaningless fluff. It was well sung, too. But musically, to my ears, the composition just kept going round in circles. It was a chord progression starting in C sharp minor (unless I am much mistaken), and pretty much staying there throughout.

But then, consider the acts that actually went through. I’ll make no secret that I was rooting (as a second preference, naturally) for Macedonia. Those boots! I mean, come on. Even if the song were crap – which it wasn’t – those boots alone should have stomped all the way to the final. But like many other worthy entries, Macedonia was bypassed in favour of:

• A Yodelling duo from Romania, that almost inspired me to abandon a lifelong political conviction and start campaigning for the return of the death penalty

• A Bulgarian wedding-cake impersonation, whose contribution to the Rock ’N Roll hall of fame went something like: ‘Hey! Hey! Hey! Aye-aye-aye, Oh!’ (repeat for three minutes) 

• A song from Australia, which... well... was from Australia. (Someone evidently needs to invest in a World Atlas at the ‘Euro’-vision HQ. ’Nuff said.)

• A sickly sweet folksy song called ‘Hey, Mamma!’ by the Moldovan version of the Blues Brother (only without any Blues)

God, what I’d give to hear their Moldovan mothers’ reply: ‘Oy! Stop making all the noise! People are trying to sleep. And what the heck are you wearing, anyway? Straighten that tie. Make sure you don’t slouch on stage. And be home by nine sharp! You’ll be the death of me yet. Ah, that’s when you’ll care, when I’m dead and gone...’

Hmm. There are some usable lyrics in there. OK, I’ll get cracking on my winning Eurovision entry for 2018 right after this article. (working title: ‘My Mamma from Moldova’ - tune ripped off from ‘My Woman from Tokyo’ by Deep Purple]

But in any case. Another year, another painful Eurovision humiliation, and yet another gradual realisation that... it’s not about the music. It can’t be: otherwise the good songs would have gone through, and not all the crap ones. Q.E.D.

Obviously I already knew that, but what I didn’t know was where ‘Article 7’ fits in. Well, turns out that it wasn’t about Eurovision at all, but about that other pan-European institution that also rules all our lives. The European Union.

Article 7 actually pertains to The Lisbon Treaty – Remember? The one that was rejected twice, but was eventually adopted after countries were made to hold repeated referendums until they got the result the EU wanted. Well, interestingly, it turns out that the EU reserves the right to take disciplinary action against member states which fail to uphold the ‘values’ on which the EU was supposedly built. 

The European Council may, in such cases, “decide to suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to the Member State in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State in the Council.”

The argument, I then realised, was that Article 7 could be invoked against Malta on account of the Panama papers, the IIP kickbacks, etc.

Now: it just happens that I have a habit of making connections between unrelated issues – even, I’ll admit, to the point of forcing a connection where it doesn’t really exist. Earlier, I said Article 7 was not about the Eurovision. But then... in a roundabout way... maybe it is.

Let’s substitute ‘values’ for ‘music’, and see what happens. The Eurovision is supposed to be built on respect for the fundamental aesthetic principles of music theory. Music theory is sufficiently vague to allow for all sorts of variations to arise from the same seven-note scale. On top of that, ‘aesthetics’ is a prisoner to that most subjective of human considerations: taste.

Already you can see that the ‘Constitution’ of the Eurovision can be interpreted in as many ways as there are musical permutations. That is to say, an infinity of ways.

We also know from our long history of Eurovision disillusionment that a host of other considerations invariably get caught up in the mix. There is corruption and bribery (hence my original question: funny how we never do well when there are no ‘friendly countries’ we are doing dirty deals with, huh?); there is also the issue of neighbour countries voting for each other; and so on.

Ultimately, as already said: it’s not about ‘music’: it’s about politics, in both lower and upper case ‘P’ senses of the word.

Now for the European Union’s core values, which are helpfully enshrined in Article 2. This article is considerably shorter than Article 7. In fact, there is just one paragraph: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.’

At a glance it is hard to see how that can be made to apply to Malta’s corruption issues. Whatever you make of those, they are just not ‘fundamental human rights’ concerns. But for argument’s sake, let us extend the definition to also include maladministration. It can be done: ‘democracy’ is one of the values, and we can all see it being eroded before our eyes by corruption.

But then: which one of the 28 member states is entirely free of maladministration? Why, in a word, should Malta be singled out for censure according to Article 7... but not Luxembourg, a notorious tax evasion haven in the heart of the EU? Or Italy, for that matter? Or (while it’s still a member) the UK... which Roberto Saviano, author of ‘Gomorrah’, recently described in an interview as the ‘most corrupt country on earth’?

It’s not as though we invented money-laundering, you know. And from the outset, I argued (with a friend) that it would be highly ironic if Malta’s PM had to resign over money-laundering allegations (which, with respect to Muscat, remain at this stage unproven)... while the President of the European Union is Jean Claude Juncker: a man with a long history of exploiting his position – both as Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, and as EC President – to facilitate the tax evasion/laundering of hundreds of millions of euros.

Yet the same European Parliament which approved Juncker as Commission President, even after the Luxleaks scandal – while also trying to block Leo Brincat for the Court of Auditors, merely because he voted for an embattled Cabinet colleague in a vote of confidence – is as I write actively seeking to derail Malta’s election campaign, and turn into a European Court verdict on Muscat (who – whatever you think of him politically, is Malta’s PM and therefore represents Malta in the eyes of the world). 

Sorry, but I don’t recognise the moral authority of the European Parliament – or any comparable European institution at the moment – to be an arbiter in this, or any other corruption case. Clean up your own countries’ corruption first... then maybe we’ll talk about Malta.

But that is a small consideration, when you take on board the full implications of Article 2. Let us now look at REAL fundamental human rights concerns. Europe’s treatment of migrants, for instance. 

In recent years, we have seen boatloads of hundreds of men, women and children left to drown at sea, because individual EU member states couldn’t decide whose responsibility it was to rescue them. We have seen refugee camps – in prosperous European countries, mind – that are reminiscent of Soviet style Gulags in Siberia. 

Judge Europe’s treatment of migrants according to the Lisbon Treaty, and all 28 member states would have to be suspended from the Council. Europe’s entire, concerted response to the migration crisis was military in nature. It was all about patrolling borders, bombing boats at sea (!), and building larger and more secure prison compounds to keep a ‘minority’ of unlucky people from contaminating or infecting some ‘European dream’ or other.

Not once did I see the European Union exerting its considerable influence and resources to uphold its own mission statement: “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”

Nor did I ever hear anyone mention Article Seven before now. Why only now, anyway? And why mention it only in connection with a purely political issue, and not with a much more grave and serious issue – engulfing the whole of Europe – which literally translates into a graveyard of corpses each year?

‘Values’, it seems, are just as flexible as musical tastes. So if you’ll excuse me, in future I’m going to take the laughably contrived Eurovision Song Contest just slightly more seriously, than a ‘European Union’ that has made hypocrisy its middle name.

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