The Eurovision Song Contest has a rich history beginning with the inaugural edition, held in Lugano, Switzerland on 24 May 1956.
Fifty-two countries have competed at least once. However, there have been several more countries that have made attempts. For various reasons, these haven’t resulted in debuts on the Eurovision stage.
The EBU and the EBA
As is well known, Eurovision participation is not limited to those countries geographically located in Europe (take Australia or Israel as examples). Each Active Member of the European Broadcasting Union (“EBU”) is eligible to participate in the contest on behalf of their country. The EBU is an alliance of public service media organisations, established in 1950. Currently, the EBU has 69 members representing 115 organisations in 56 countries. Founding members in 1950 included the BBC in the UK, RTP in Portugal, RTL in Luxembourg and national broadcasters in Turkey and Tunisia.
Active membership of the EBU is for broadcasting organisations whose countries are within the European Broadcasting Area (“EBA”), as defined by the International Telecommunication Union (“ITU”), or are members of the Council of Europe (an international organisation founded in the aftermath of World War 2 to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe).
The EBA is legally defined by the ITU (a special agency of the UN) which, like the EBU, is based in Geneva, Switzerland. The ITU is responsible for international co-operation relating to information and communication technologies and has its origins in the International Telegraph Union established in 1865.
The EBA is defined in the ITU’s Radio Regulations. These regulations regulate the law of international radio-communication services and radio frequencies. The 2020 Radio Regulations define the EBA as:
The European Broadcasting Area is bounded on the west by the western boundary of Region 1, on the east by the meridian 40° East of Greenwich and on the south by the parallel 30° North so as to include the northern part of Saudi Arabia and that part of those countries bordering the Mediterranean within these limits. In addition, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and those parts of the territories of Iraq, Jordan, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey and Ukraine lying outside the above limits are included in the European Broadcasting Area.
This definition of the EBA has developed over the years. The 2004 edition of the regulations did not include Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan as within the EBA’s limits. The amendment to the definition to expressly include those countries allowed the Armenian, Georgian and Azerbaijani broadcasters to join the EBU as active members and to ultimately participate in Eurovision.
The EBU also has several associate members: 31 in 20 countries who pay an annual subscription. Associate members are broadcasting organisations from countries outside the European Broadcasting Area. SBS Australia is an example of an associate member and participates in Eurovision by special arrangement with the EBU.
Failed Eurovision Attempts
With these parameters set, we can now consider those national broadcasters who, over the course of the contest’s history, have made attempts to reach Eurovision but, for various reasons, haven’t made it to the big stage.
🇱🇧 – Lebanon
Lebanon’s Télé Liban is the first public television network of Lebanon and the Lebanese member of the EBU. The territory of Lebanon falls entirely within the EBA.
In 2005, Lebanon was due to make its debut at Eurovision in Kyiv and had gone so far as to select a song and singer: Aline Lahoud with the French language ballad Quand Tout S’enfuit.
Ultimately, Lebanon was forced to withdraw from the contest after Télé Liban could not confirm to the EBU that it would broadcast the entire contest, including the Israeli song. The BBC reported at the time that legislation in Lebanon prohibited the broadcast of Israel’s song (HaSheket SheNish’ar by Shiri Maimon). Télé Liban therefore withdrew from the contest. Due to the lateness of the withdrawal, the broadcaster was forced to pay the participation fee and a fine for withdrawal.
Since 2004, Lebanon has made no formal attempts to enter the contest and the continued participation of Israel is likely to impede this. Aline Lahoud appeared on The Voice in France in 2014 and made it to the battle rounds:
🇹🇳 – Tunisia
Television Tunisienne is the current Tunisian member of the EBU, alongside Radio tunisienne. The predecessor organisation Établissement de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Tunisienne (ERTT) was a founding member of the EBU. It is understood that ERTT sought to participate in Eurovision in 1977, held in London. The country was due to participate and was drawn to sing in 4th place, but later withdrew.
Ahead of the 2019 contest held in Tel Aviv, Israel, it was reported that the Israeli Minister of Communications would invite Tunisia and several other Arab nations to participate in the contest.
In the end, no Arab nations joined the contest in 2019. The only North African nation to ever compete in Eurovision remains Morocco who participated one time, in The Hague in 1980. On that occasion, Israel was not present in the contest and Morocco finished 18th of 19th participants with the song Bitaqat Hub performed by Samira Bensaïd:
🇽🇰 – Kosovo
In 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. It is recognised by 93 UN member states. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence and Kosovo is not a UN member.
Soon after the declaration in 2008, Kosovo expressed interest in joining the EBU and participating in Eurovision. However, Radio Television Kosovo (“RTK”), the Kosovan broadcaster, is not a member of the EBU. EBU membership is open only to countries belonging to the ITU which Kosovo has not been admitted. Neither is Kosovo a member of the Council of Europe (despite being under the de facto jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights).
In 2012, the EBU reported on a meeting between deputy Kosovo Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi and EBU Director General Ingrid Deltenre. Mr Selimi said:
The EBU is quintessentially important for us. And nothing is more important than the Song Contest in nation-building.”
In 2019 a vote was held, instigated by five EBU member broadcasters, which would have removed the ITU requirement for EBU membership. This would have enabled Kosovo to proceed with its EBU application. The vote to change the rules failed. According to RTK Director-General Ngadhnjim Kastrati, Russian influence was a key factor in this failure.
Kosovo continues to show interest in the contest, which RTK broadcast in 2019. In the past, Kosovo has participated in other Eurovision events. For example, in 2011, RTK selected Tringa Hsya to participate in the Eurovision Young Dancers contest.
🇱🇮 – Liechtenstein
Liechtenstein and the Vatican City are the only European micro-states yet to make an appearance at Eurovision. In 2008, the tiny Alpine nation of Liechtenstein became the last in Europe to gain a TV station: 1FLTV.
However, to date, the costs of EBU membership have been prohibitive for the broadcaster despite expressions of interest in participation in Eurovision. Most recently, it was confirmed that 1FLTV would not participate in Rotterdam in 2021.
Way back in 1976, it is understood that a pre-selection took place in the country which was won by the 16-year-old singer Biggi Bachmann with the song Little Cowboy.
An extensive report for Eurovision.de by Daniel Kähler and Marcel Stober revealed in 2020 that talks for a Liechtenstein entry in the contest actually commenced in 1973 but didn’t come to fruition.
Whilst little is known about the Liechtenstein attempt in 1976, it is known that Biggi Bachmann was registered for the contest in The Hague. After the song was selected it became clear that, at the time, Liechtenstein was ineligible for the contest as it lacked a national broadcaster. In 1976, Liechtenstein still received its media from neighboring Switzerland. Accordingly, the dream of Eurovision participation for Liechtenstein ended there.
No recording of Liechtenstein’s proposed entry is known to exist. However, Biggi Bachmann later appeared in the Swiss selection for Eurovision in 1979 and finished in 6th place with the song Musik Musik:
The BBC is a founding member of the EBU and the UK has always been represented as one nation in the Eurovision Song Contest. The BBC has always maintained that a UK entry is to be preferred to entries from each of the constituent nations.
Members of the Scottish National Party (“SNP”) have previously called for a separate Scottish entry to boost Scottish music on the world stage. Ahead of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum (which resulted in Scotland remaining in the UK), the Scottish Government published a White Paper “Scotland’s Future” which promised that a new Scottish Broadcasting Service would join the EBU:
The SBS would seek membership of the EBU and would
be an active and constructive partner in the organisation. As
part of this participation, we would envisage the SBS engaging
with some of the EBU competitions, including Scottish entries
in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Of course, Scottish artists have previously participated as the UK entrant to Eurovision. Most notably, Lulu claimed victory for the UK in 1969 (in a four-way tie) with Boom Bang-A-Bang:
Nevertheless, Scotland has been able to participate in one Eurovision contest when the BBC itself was not present. The Scottish Gaelic branch of the organisation, BBC ALBA, participated in Eurovision Choir of the Year 2019 in Gothenburg:
Similarly, Wales, via EBU member S4C a Welsh language broadcaster, have previously participated in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest.
There is little doubt then that Eurovision reaches well beyond the geographical limits which its name suggests. Given the development of the contest in its 65-year history, it seems reasonable to assume that we can expect more interesting developments and possible debuts in the future.
Image Source: NPO/NOS/AVROTROS Nathan Reinds