Eurovision is my dirty secret: I know I shouldn't like it but I just can't help myself. It's the TV equivalent of a fast-food binge. You realise you're unlikely to feel satisfied afterwards -- politicised voting skews the result -- but sometimes it's exactly what you fancy.

So I settled down in giddy anticipation to tune into semi-final heats, and the drinks and snacks have been laid in for Saturday's final. This week I'm embracing Eurovision overload, despite (or perhaps because of) its excess of indecently tight white jeans and guitar solos. If Eurovision had a human face, it would be Starsky. Or Hutch.

Ridiculed as a cultural Chernobyl, some argue that the Eurovision Song Contest is a compelling argument against further European integration. I say it's a show that never fails to make me laugh. And reasons to do that are thin on the ground these days. Some countries take it more seriously than others, of course, but deep down everyone wants to bring home the trophy. And winning isn't possible without neighbourly cooperation.

Doing the splits inside a giant hamster wheel

It's probably overstating the case to call the competition an arena for conflict resolution, but the odd point traded between states where territories are in dispute is a nod in the right direction. Better to slug it out on the scoreboard than the battlefield, even if nationalist rivalries can erupt into hostilities. That's what happened with Armenia and Azerbaijan last year, in a row over a symbolic monument which was removed from the Armenian video after Azerbaijan protested. Armenia retaliated by showing the image along with its jury results.

And who can forget the year when Israel won, but Jordan refused to acknowledge the decision and announced runner-up Belgium as the winner instead? Much of this in-fighting bypasses the rest of Europe, as we focus instead on the kitsch and the skirt lengths. Poland's entry has provided us the mandatory flasher this year. So far we've had no women doing the splits inside a giant hamster wheel, 2009’s highlight, but there's still time.

Aside from the entertainment value from such a treasure trove of cheesy, tacky and camp performances, the show acts as a giant periscope trained on Europe; an opportunity to check out the countries with which we have links. It may not be a true representation of Europe culturally, but it does jog our memory about the numerous states now appearing on the continent's changing map. Europe is more diverse than our mental image of it.

Contest shows the hairy chest of our allies

The Greek crisis, in particular, is a reminder of Europe's inter-dependence. When a eurozone country lands itself in trouble, the rest of us feel the tremors. So the contest shows us the face -- and sometimes the hairy chest -- of our allies. By the way, Greece took the trouble to send a catchy number to Oslo, perhaps in atonement for all the difficulties it's been causing.

While each country has its own distinct voice, you wouldn't necessarily grasp that by tuning in to Eurovision. Musically, one country often bleeds into another. Eurovision seems to foster homogeneity, a standardised view of what constitutes pop. Take Bosnia & Herzegovina or Moldova, for example -- not much sign of their cultural heritage in the rock numbers they submitted.

Detractors call the competition a bland-on-bland exercise in mediocrity, but a value judgment on its musical contribution misses the point. Faults and all, Eurovision manages to unite Europe more effectively than an avalanche of EU directives and harmonisation policies.