He is young. He is handsome. He can sing in tune. He put on a great show with special effects and good dance moves. And to top it all off... yes, he wore leather pants. The Viennese crowd loved him. Europe loved him. He is the new European idol.
The Swedish artist Måns Zelmerlöw was crowned last Saturday night as the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest. Every year, in the Spring, Europe comes together for what can only be described as one of the world's biggest kitsch fests.
For the last 60 years, the Eurovision Song Contest helped kick-start many a career, including its most famous winners ABBA and Céline Dion (who represented Switzerland back in 1988).
Originally, it was designed as an unprecedented broadcast event which would bring a bit of cheer and sense of community to a shaken post-World War II Europe.
Nowadays, it is widely mocked by the elite as cheesy, cliché and passé. But an estimate of 200 million people continue to watch the contest's Grand final every year. It has become, for many, a feature of European popular culture, of its identity.
But is there such a thing as a European identity? I watched the merry sing-along with a few French friends. We were enthralled by France's Lisa Angell's vocal performance, worried by the Swedish or Italian competition, but quite confident that our new nation's darling stood a good chance of winning. Alas, the rest of Europe did not share our enthusiasm. With a voting system where 40 countries are asked to award their 10 favorite contestants points between one and 12, Lisa came third to last.
As the results unfolded -- and Lisa's misfortune became evident -- we started to complain about political voting (between neighboring countries, mainly). And in the same breath -- not worried about how consistent our reasoning was -- we slammed Belgium for not giving its French neighbor a single point.
Let's be honest, it is part of the Eurovision fun. But watching us behave in such a way, I could not help wonder what it is, today in 2015, that brings us together as Europeans. Can we boast a common identity, common values, a common culture which bind us together? Have we developed a sense of belonging?
Year after year, national considerations weigh heavily on an event which is meant to symbolize European unity. Yes, the dashing Swede did win with most countries awarding him points and uniting around his song. But the next day, everyone was talking about the so-called political voting. Disappointed, Lisa Angell reacted stating "I think music and politics do not work together."
Last year's competition was widely commented as Conchita Wurst, the Austrian, bearded drag queen, claimed the title. She preached a message of respect and non-discrimination, which took her to the European Parliament and the UN during her year-long reign. But Europe was not unanimous in hailing Conchita as "Queen of Europe." Her mere presence at the contest sparked division in Europe, with petitions even arising in some countries to have her removed from broadcasts.
Has the Eurovision Song Contest become a symbol of the fiction that there is a strong European bond? The truth is our ties are becoming weaker. Europeans are finding it difficult to unite over the defense of common values. The European construction seems to be at a halt, if not going backwards. The federalist myth is withering. Very few politicians dare to use that "F-word" nowadays. And whereas, even a few years ago, the dream of the United States of Europe was still alive, it seems like saving what can be saved of European unity has become a more realistic ambition.
With Greece's economic problems and the looming British in/out referendum, Europe is facing an unprecedented risk of countries leaving the Union. In this context, a European consensus is difficult to find, even on basic values. Solidarity, one of the European Union's founding principles, has become mere wishful thinking. The most recent example of this is the way in which the Mediterranean migrant crisis has been handled.
Part of the problem is that the various European nations are finding it difficult to unite over common values and common goals within their own countries. Needless to say, that the European identity has currently little -- if any -- space to thrive.
A sense of belonging to the European Union does not come naturally. It requires commitment. Europe is not America. The European Union has only been around for a few decades. Established Nations with different languages, deep-rooted cultures and histories united progressively to live the European dream of peace and prosperity. But it seems that in the face of adversity, this dream has been sidelined by an urge to protect differing national interests.
Europe is today at a crossroads: Reaffirming the need for European unity, and fostering a stronger identity. And this does not mean giving up on specific national identities. It is not an either-or situation. Until it realizes this, to paraphrase Måns Zelmerlöw's winning song, Europe will continue to dance with the demons in its mind.