With a Eurovision Song Contest that was getting more and more popular year on year, the one semi-final introduced in 2004 had already become unsustainable by 2007. In Helsinki, 28 countries battled it out for just ten places in the final. On the other hand, ten countries were granted automatic qualification no matter how popular their entry was in 2007.
The introduction of two semi-finals in 2008 meant that every entry, barring the Big Four and the host nation would start on a level playing field. Yet, the EBU decided to make that playing field even leveller. Step forward, the draw allocation pots…
That 28 country semi-final…
With two semi-finals, the EBU had to conduct a draw in order to allocate countries to each semi-final. Prior to the allocation draw, the countries were separated into six pots which grouped together countries who had a tendency to award points more often to each other than to other participants.
By doing this, it would ensure that so-called “voting blocs” would be split evenly between the two semi-finals, thus reducing their voting power. The idea was deemed a success. Indeed, the pot system remains in place for Monday’s 2018 allocation draw. This makes Lisbon the eleventh consecutive contest to have used pots in its semi-final allocation draw.
From Belgrade to Lisbon
In eight of the eleven years so far, semi-finalists were allocated to six pots. In 2010, 2013 and 2015, five pots were used. Nevertheless, ever since 2008, four of those pots have consistently tended to include countries from four distinct regions:
- Balkans: Nations from the Balkan region consisting primarily of former Yugoslav states.
- Nordics: Nations from the Nordic region, sometimes featuring Baltic nations.
- Soviets: Nations from Eastern Europe, consisting primarily of former Soviet Union states.
- Southeastern Europe: Nations south-east of former Yugoslavia, with Greece and Cyprus at its centre.
The other one or two pots usually include countries that tend to have a varied voting history with no more than one significant voting partner. Therefore, to look into this deeper, let’s take it pot-by-pot, region-by-region and bloc-by-bloc…
Since the introduction of the pot system, eight Eurovision nations have spent more time in the “Balkan” pot than in any other. The former Yugoslav states of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have all appeared in the same Balkan pot together on every occasion they’ve participated without exception. Albania has also appeared in the Balkan pot on every occasion.
However, Slovenia has twice been separated from their former Yugoslav neighbours. This would suggest Slovenia is the most distant former Yugoslav nation, with Albania being deemed as more indispensable to the Balkan bloc. Switzerland is the final nation to spend most of its time in the Balkan bloc, no doubt due to its significant Balkan diaspora resulting in above average televoting scores to nations in this region.
When the Balkan pot is full to the brim, particularly in 2009, 2012 and 2016 where all of the Balkan nations took part, either Slovenia or Switzerland were cast aside into one of the miscellaneous “other” pots. This suggests neither have stronger ties anywhere else. No other country has even found itself in the Balkan pot except for Malta. This was in 2015 when two Balkan absences from Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia but only five allocation pots meant there was a space that had to be filled.
The Nordic pot is arguably the most solid and inflexible of them all. On all possible occasions, the core group of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have always been assigned to the Nordic pot. Interestingly, for the first time ever Estonia have left the Nordic pot this year. Prior to tomorrow’s draw, Estonia had always appeared in a pot alongside their Nordic neighbours.
Over the years, three other nations have appeared in this pot. Latvia has been present on five occasions, Lithuania three times and Ireland twice. The only time all three appeared in the Nordic pot together was in 2013. On this occasion, only five pots existing meant six places had to be filled. Nevertheless, Denmark and Norway were already pre-allocated to semi-finals and Sweden was an automatic qualifier. Therefore, all three were shifted from the “other” pot they shared in 2012 to the Nordics in 2013.
Four nations have always appeared in the Soviet pot each time they’ve been in the semi-final allocation draw. These are Belarus, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine. Azerbaijan‘s perfect record is ruined due to the fact they were assigned to one of the “other” pots for their debut year in 2008. Of course, there was no Azerbaijani voting history for the EBU to analyse so it could not be presumed they would exchange points with other former Soviet states more often than not despite their geographical location.
In 2013 and 2014, Israel was pre-assigned to a semi-final in order for it not to clash with national holidays in the country. Nevertheless, on only two occasions has Israel not been present in the Soviet pot. Both of these occasions were when there was a full Soviet contingent participating in the semi-finals, in both 2016 and 2018.
Interestingly, between 2010 and 2012, Israel was deemed to have closer voting histories to the Soviet nations than Armenia. Instead, Armenia found themselves as part of the southeastern European pot. Furthermore, Moldova was also a consistent part of the Soviet pot up until 2012 – unlike Armenia. Yet, since 2013, Moldova has been shifted into either the “other” pots or the southeastern European pot, presumably as their voting ties with the former Soviet nations weaken.
Looking at Lisbon’s “pot 4”, it may seem that this was just one of three “Other” pots. However, going back to 2008 indicates that there was a clear voting bloc that this pot is designed to separate. There is the obvious regional bloc of Cyprus, Greece and Turkey here. However, the only obvious points exchanges appear between Cyprus and Greece. Indeed, Turkey and Cyprus had never exchanged points until 2004 presumably as a result of the dispute between the nations.
Greece, Cyprus and Turkey all feature highly in Bulgaria‘s voting history tables. Indeed, Bulgaria has given more points to Greece in Eurovision finals than to any other nation. There is geographical proximity in play here too, with Bulgaria bordering Greece. Bulgaria also tends to favour entries from Macedonia, however that link alone is not enough to suggest Bulgaria should be in the Balkan pot instead.
So why are Belgium and The Netherlands nearly always in the “southeastern Europe” pot, despite being located in the total opposite area of the continent? Well, prior to Turkey’s withdrawal, Belgium, in particular, awarded an above average amount of points to Turkey. Furthermore, Armenia was everpresent in this pot between 2010 and 2012, another nation with a significant diaspora community in Belgium. There is also the obvious connection between neighbouring Belgium and The Netherlands too.
This isn’t the strongest of pots, especially with the withdrawal of Turkey, the movement of Armenia to the Soviet pot and the eventual knock-on effect of this that removed the link between this area of Europe and Belgium and The Netherlands. Indeed, only Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus are now consistent members of this pot. In recent years, Romania, Hungary, Australia, San Marino, Malta, Moldova and Ireland have all spent an odd year or two here to make up the numbers.
So this leaves us with the “others”. These nations are present in no notable voting blocs, particularly those that have never been part of one of the four main pots: Andorra, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal and Slovakia.
Lithuania and Latvia are two nations that have been present in an “other” pot on fewer occasions than the rest of this list. Indeed, these two have found themselves filling in in the Nordic pot when members of the core Nordic group have either pre-qualified or been pre-allocated. Interestingly, this year the three Baltic nations have been reunited for the first time since 2014. However, this time it is in an “other” pot instead of inside the Nordic pot.
There are so many interesting patterns to be found here, it will be impossible to cover them all. What patterns do you find interesting? Do you disagree with any country’s location for tomorrow semi-final allocation draw in Lisbon? Let us know in the comments below!