Usually limited to 300,000 people, but some are larger (i.e. Malta)
Most microstates are small states because of their
The European Microstates: The Smallest Powers
The European microstates may seem rather unimportant
at first, but deeper examination reveals that these
states are incredibly important. The fact that they
have survived so long considering their vulnerability due
to size shows that they have strong foundations, which
other nations may want to imitate. When examining
the microstates, it is best to first look at their common
traits and then examine their unique histories that
make them different.
Definition: a small, independent state usually limited to
Places: European microstates and a variety of islands.
less than 200 sq. mi.
smallest being the Vatican City at 0.2 sq. mi
largest being Palau at 191 sq. mi.
Due to their small size and the fact that they are frequently
isolated, the microstates are extremely vulnerable to global
economic and social changes.
Their natural environment also causes problems since most are
islands suffering from the natural disasters caused by ocean
climates including hurricanes and other weather-related
issues. The rest tend to be landlocked and suffer from no
major water access.
They tend to lag behind the larger nations technologically and
To maintain independence and to keep themselves
economically afloat, most microstates either form coalitions
together or connect themselves to a larger nation such as
France, Japan, and the UK.
European Microstates v.
The European microstates are significant because they vary from
the traditional form of a microstate.
Unlike the Pacific and Caribbean islands, all but one of the
European microstates are landlocked.
Not as technologically advanced as nations like England and
Germany, but less behind in this area than most other microstates.
Have a high literacy rate, a fairly well advanced system of
government, some of the lowest levels of unemployment in the
world, and a fairly solid economy.
All of the microstates claim long average life spans. In
2005, Andorra possessed the world’s highest life-expectancy rate at
85 years and San Marino had the second highest.
The European microstates are more advanced
technologically, politically, economically, and scientifically than
They are the smallest nations in Europe by quite a bit of
acreage, and thus have the smallest populations. They are
geographically close together and share a time zone.
Despite the closeness, none of the microstates actually
share a border. Natural resources are hard to find in these
states, which might have contributed to the fact that the
larger nations tend to leave the microstates alone despite
the ease with which they could conquer the vulnerable
states. However, the states have made the best of what
little resources they possess. The climate in each state is
mild, although it varies slightly between the mountains and
islands. The borders are fairly stable compared to the
larger European countries, because the states avoid wars
due to their vulnerable nature. Traditionally, they have
either a small army or none at all; however, their growing
international influence may eventually change this. The
consistent geographical nature of the microstates means
that they are also similar in other areas.
Economically, the microstates are urbanized and rely
heavily on exporting and tourism. Although originally the
microstates had poor agricultural economies, they now
have “mature service economies, and most have very little
heavy industry or agriculture.” They import most food
products and struggle with this dependency on other
nations for the necessities. The small population of the
microstates pushes them to look toward exporting. When
the world hit the era of modernization, the microstates
each found one industry to specialize in, which transformed
them into modern countries. They are currently
attempting to diversify their exports so that they are less
dependent on one export. Tourism naturally became a
strong industry for the states; however, most people only
visit the microstates for a day and leave in the evening so
it is a different type of tourism than in the rest of Europe.
To encourage emigrating companies, the microstates offer
tax breaks and low.
The microstates have a strong conservative tradition in part
because the population is mainly natives from several generations.
The inflow of tourists and international business draws foreigners
into the microstates; however, the states do not allow citizenship
to non-natives and it is sometimes difficult to obtain permission to
live in one of them so there is no emigration. On the other hand, a
work permit is typically allowed, and the majority of the labor
force in the microstates are people who commute into the state
from another country for work each day. Because the emigration
rate is so low, most new blood in the microstates comes from the
refugees they have always freely accepted. Because foreigners do
not have much of an impact on the culture, the microstates have
developed very traditional and conservative ways. The laws for
men and women are still very unequal as seen in both their strict
laws regarding emigrating women and the late success of the
women’s suffrage movement. Despite the conservative nature of
the culture, they are very modern in other areas as in
clothing, sports, and a love of the vices (i.e.
alcohol, gambling, etc.)
The six microstates are very similar in some ways, but
each individual state has a different history. The
development of each state contributes to both the
similarities and differences between them. Individual
quirks or unique aspects of each microstate are equally
important factors to consider when examining the
states. The unique touch separates the states from one
another and develops a different importance and nature
for the individual countries. Because they are
different, it is important to study them individually on
top of studying them as a group.
The Principality of the Valleys of Andorra is the first microstate in
the list, and is part of the landlocked, mountainous, and hilly
geographical group. The country is situated between France and
Spain, as part of the Iberian peninsula, and the national languages
are naturally Catalan, Spanish, and French. The people are mostly
of Spanish, French, Andorran, and Portuguese decent. The terrain
is mountainous with narrow valleys, and the mountains give it
colder winters and dryer summers than some of the other
microstates. Avalanche’s are a serious threat here.
Unfortunately, the nation has no water access, and only 2.13% of
the land is farmable. Because of this, 89% of the nation is
urbanized. According to the CIA World Factbook, 2009, Andorra is
the largest of the microstates at 190 sq. miles and has a population
of 83,888 as of July 2009. The population has grown significantly
since 1979 when Eric Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn claimed the populations
was approximately 20,000 people in his book “The Intelligent
American’s Guide to Europe.” This is surprising considering their
strict emigration laws and incredibly low population growth and
Andorra has a long history, and some settlements date back
to the 3rd
century B.C. In 819 A.D., the mountain people
fought with Charlemagne against the Moors, and he gave
the six valleys to the Spanish Bishop of Seo de Urgel. By
1278, the two dominant leaders, the bishop and a French
count, accepted each other as co-princes of Andorra.
Except for one small period during the French
Revolution, Andorra has always been allied to both France
and the Bishop of Seo de Urgel. During this period, Andorra
was not a state because of the tribute it paid to France and
Spain and its foundation as the result of a federal grant.
Instead, it was a type of fiefdom, but this would change in
1993 with the signing of Andorra’s first constitution. By
voting for the constitution, the Andorran people chose
sovereignty and obtained the right to erect their own
judicial system and foreign policy. They are now a
principality and the capital is Andorra la Vella.
The political system of Andorra is similar to most other westernized
European nations and became a parliamentary democracy with
political parties, elections by proportional representation and
popular vote, etc. The difference is seen in the limited voting
rights and the co-prince rulers. The only people allowed to vote
are Andorrans whose family has held citizenship for three
generations or more. This means only 15% of the people are
allowed to vote. The Women’s Suffrage Movement never held
much sway in Andorra, and women only received the right to vote
in 1070. One glaring difference between Andorra and most other
countries is that foreigners are the official heads of state. The
official rulers are the President of France and the Bishop of Seo de
Urgel who still rule as co-princes. Despite this, the real power lies
in the Prime Minister, who is and Andorran. Because Andorra is so
small, it does not have a military. However, all men between 16
and 60 are required to fight with the People’s Militia if called upon.
Instead, they rely on France and Spain for protection. France and
Spain also share the responsibility of providing police assistance to
Andorra does not play a large part in the international
world. They are a member of UNESCO, but until
1993, France dominated their actions there. In
1993, Andorra “joined the UN as a full member, entered
the Council of Europe in 1994, and tightened its ties
with the EU.” Andorra never involved itself in
international warfare and has frequently opened their
borders to refugees fleeing European wars. Originally a
poor nation, Andorra gained popularity as a tourist spot
after WWII, and has since become a fairly
prosperous, industrial nation.
Andorra is facing a few major issues today and most of it
relates to their size as it is affected by their open-door
policy towards refugees and the move towards
industrialization. The low interest rates and taxes attract
legal and illegal immigrants, and it is raising the population
number. There is only so much space available, and
Andorra is becoming more and more crowded. The move
towards industrialization was good for the Andorran
economy, but, once again, the size of Andorra is a problem.
The valleys are becoming cluttered and packed and they
are slowing running out of room. There has also been a
significant lack of snowfall recently, which is affecting their
tourism economy and they are struggling to support a
larger population on less income. Whether or not they can
overcome this situation will depend on how quickly they
can begin to develop new investment possibilities.
The Republic of Malta is the second largest
microstate, is different geographically from
Andorra, and has an incredibly unique history. Malta is
a set of three islands of 122 sq. km. with a solid
Mediterranean climate. The terrain is mostly a blend of
plains and rocky flats with cliffs along the coasts. Malta
has more arable land than Andorra at 31%, but 94% of
the population is urbanized. They have the largest
population with 405,000 as of July according the CIA
World Factbook. The population is mostly all of Maltese
decent (a combination of Phoenician and Carthaginian
bloodlines), and the main languages are Maltese and
English. The Maltese language is the only official
Semitic language in the EU and sounds very similar to
Arabic. The culture is a blend of Arabic and Italian
Humans lived on Malta as far back as 3800 B.C. and the
islands were probably the center of come Mediterranean
civilization. Malta was invaded and settled by peoples of
each dominant Mediterranean civilization and eventually
fell to Rome. Rome collapsed and Constantinople ruled for
a while. The Arabs ruled from 870 A.D. to 1000 A.D. and
strongly influenced the Maltese culture. Finally, the
Normans reigned until the 16th century. In 1520, the Order
of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the
Maltese Knights, came to power. The order was a Roman
Catholic religious order founded in Jerusalem before the
crusades to protect the Christian pilgrims. Their mission
was to defeat the Turks and Malta went to war. Finally, the
Turkish sultan sent a navy of 40,000 men and 200 ships
against the islands and one of the bloodiest sieges in
history took place. The Order’s Grand Master forced the
Turks out and stopping, for good, the Turks attempt to
enter the western Mediterranean.
The knight’s built the capital, Valleta, and
established hundreds of costly and beautiful
palaces, churches, and public and governmental
buildings. These buildings are now draw
thousands of tourists per year to the islands. In
1798, Napoleon seized the islands without a
fight due to sympathetic knights, but gave them
to Great Britain when he realized he could not
defend them. Malta’s economy became highly
dependent on proceeds from British military
factories and they have never been able to
recover. During WWII, Malta had a significant
role in the Allied efforts in North Africa, Sicily
and southern Europe. In 1947, Malta received
The constitution made Malta an independent parliamentary
monarchy within the British Commonwealth, but, in 1974, the
constitution was changed and Malta became a republican
parliamentary democracy. The nation is still very religious as seen
in the fact that they have the second highest number of priests in
the world. Only the Vatican has more. Divorce and Abortion are
still illegal here. The Maltese economy suffered as the nation tried
to impose its own foreign policy. In 1979, when Britain took its
contracts for the military factories elsewhere, and Libya has since
become their main support, although currently the ties are not as
strong as they used to be. Malta joined the E.U. in 2004.
Malta also faces a problem with immigrants, most of which come
illegally from Africa. Most of the immigrants were headed for
Italy, but the boats were blown off course. Some came to Malta
because it was the closest member of the EU to them. Malta
cannot afford to pay for returning the immigrant home, but many
of them are becoming restless because of their confinement to
small barracks. This is slowly becoming a great problem and is
badly affecting Malta’s already weak economy.
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a small Alpine nation
a little smaller with 35,000 people. It is bordered by
Switzerland and Autsria, and the official language is
German. Most people are of Alemannic German
decent, but 1/3 of the population consists of foreigners.
The terrain is 2/3 mountains and 1/3 Rhine Valley. 25%
of the land is arable, but only 14% of the nation is
urbanized. The climate is cool, and the country is one
of only two doubly-landlocked nations (the nations it
borders are also landlocked).
Liechtenstein saw settled by Germanic tribes, and ruled by various
noble houses until an Austrian nobleman, Prince Hans Adam, bought
up the titles. He pushed Kaiser Karl VI to make the land the
Imperial Principality of Liechtenstein in 1719. Occupied by both
French and Russian troops during the Napoleanic
wars, Liechtenstein became a sovereign state in 1806 and is the
only part of Napoleon’s territorial system to survive unaltered. For
economic purposes, the country made several economic and
customs unions including one with the German Confederation and
one with the Austro-Hungarian empire. When the Austro-Hungarian
empire collapsed, Liechtenstein lost most of its money. In response
to this issue, Liechtenstein announced the creation of a democratic
constitution in 1912. During the 1930’s, Lichtenstein suffered from
a deep depression and it was conquered by Germany although it
never lost its status of neutrality. Since World War II, the nations's
low taxes have encouraged economic growth. The nation is highly
focused on industry and has brought in numerous guest workers.
The people tend to be conservative in nature and
politics and are happy with the nation’s status as a
hereditary constitutional monarchy. The people truly
love their prince who has ruled since 1699. The
“Princely House of Liechtenstein” is one of the oldest
royal families in the world and can be traced back to
1136. Currently His Serene Highness Prince Hans Adam
II is ruler; however the crown prince is in charge of
daily affairs since 2004. The royal family is Austrian and
has amassed a lot wealth throughout history. Until
1945, this wealth meant Liechtenstein did not have an
income tax, and it is still low today.
Liechtenstein does not seem to be struggling with any
major issues right night beyond supporting their
economy. However, there is the possibility that there
will be trouble in the future. In 2003, the prince
received massive constitutional powers through a
referendum. He is currently the most powerful monarch
in Europe, and the Council of Europe and leading
Liechtenstein politicians are worried that he is moving
the country backwards and destroying the efforts to
move the nation towards democracy. Despite the
worries of the politicians, the people are not worried
and he still has massive support.
The fourth nation is the Republic of San Marino, a small
landlocked nation found within the NE Apennines of
Italy. The terrain is mountainous, but the climate is
very Mediterranean. 16% of the land is arable, and 94%
of the 30,324 citizens are urbanized. The natives are a
mix of Italians and Sammarinese, and Italian is the
official language. The capital is also San Marino. The
country is very difficult to access because there is one
way in and that requires a car or bus ride from the
Adriatic, and collectors of the nation’s beautiful stamps
are the only foreigners familiar with the country.
In 301 A. D., St. Marinus and a small cluster of Christians
fled to this location to escape persecution. They named
the area San Marino and changed their calendars to
count from 301 A.D. instead of Christ’s birth in honor of
their leader. This tradition of dating is still in place in
San Marino today, ad their date for the year 2009 is
1708. The territory became self-ruling by the 12th
century partly of its isolated and hard to access
location, its fortresses, and its ability to play the
nations surrounding them against one another. By the
15th century, San Marino was a republic. In the 19th
century, San Marino offered refuge to Italian
revolutionaries during the Italian unification struggles.
This allowed it to gain independence from Italy in 1862.
The nation was occupied by the Germans and bombed by
the British during WWII, so it followed a tradition of
neutrality. San Marino’s constitution is a 1939 revision of
some statutes written in 1600. Instead of a prime
minister, San Marino chose to make the Secretary of State
for Foreign and Political Affairs and the Secretary of State
for Budget, Financial and Internal Affairs the highest
authorities. Italy has always provided defense for San
Marino, so it has no army. It does have a military corps
that works during parades and celebrations and a
gendarmerie that enforces public order.
Internationally, San Marino is a member of the Council of
Europe and the U.N., and it has a reputation of having low
taxes, which does draw some tourism in investment. San
Marino agreed to diplomatic relations with the E.U. giving
its goods free access to the E.U. Their only severe problem
is a shortage of electricity, which will impact their ability
to grow as a financial center as they dream of becoming.
Monaco is another beautiful microstate and is one big
city. The terrain is hilly and rocky, the climate mild or
hot, and the nation has no natural resources or water
sources. There is no agriculture and 100% urbanization.
The population is 33,000 people of predominantly
French, Monegasque, and Italian decent. About one-
fifth are foreigners. The languages reflect the ethnicity
with the addition of English. The city is built on three
different settlements: Monaco City, La Condamine, and
Monaco has been settled since the stone age, and the
city was founded by the Phoenicians. The country was
incredibly prosperous during the Roman domination, but
this wealth was lost to invading barbarians. It passed
from hands to hands until the Grimaldi family took over
in 1297. Monaco is too small to protect itself so it allied
itself to various nations looking for protection.
First, they looked to France, then Spain and then
France again. In 1793, France overthrew the Grimaldi
rulers and annexed Monaco. In 1814, Monaco was given
o the Kingdom of Sardinia as a protectorate. France
took it back in 1848 while reducing its territory.
Finally, in 1861, the nation was given independence.
France is still responsible for protecting Monaco, and Monaco
signed a 1918 treaty promising that their policies would conform to
French political, military, naval, and economic interests. In
1919, Monaco agreed that if the king died without an heir, the
nation would return to France’s possession. To prevent this, Monaco
allows females to take the throne. Monaco and France have agreed
to several customs and economic union and work together on
postal issues, banking, and phone communication. France controls
Monaco’s foreign relations, and Monaco is part of the E.U. through
its customs union with France. It is also a member of the UN.
Monaco refuses to tax its citizens because on 20% of the residents
are citizens. They recently transformed their economy through the
creation of its famous casino. Monaco is known for being a place
where “a customer’s chances of winning at roulette are somewhat
better here than in the state of Nevada," and it is considered to
have the most honest casino in the world. The economy is doing
well, and the standards of living are higher there than in France.
The last microstate is the Vatican City, another
microstate that is completely a landlocked city.
Located in the middle of Rome, the Vatican terrain is
urban and slightly hilly, and the climate is moderate.
The population is only about 826 people and most of
those are Italians and Swiss. Numerous languages are
spoken here, although the official language is Latin.
The Vatican City as an actual state has a very short
history. It traditionally was the ruling power over the
Papal States and was one of the most powerful powers
in the world. In 1870, the Italian government annexed
the Papal States and the church leaders withdrew to the
Vatican City. In 1929, the pope signed the Lateran
Treaty giving the State of Vatican City sovereignty and
The Vatican bank has suffered other problems. Italy
and the Vatican have frequently argued about authority
and respect on one another’s laws, and it is likely that
they will continue to argue. The church establishes its
own government with the pope at the head. Order is
maintained by an army of Swiss guards. Residents of
the Vatican are all employees or family of employees of
the Vatican. The Vatican has established its own
telephone system, post office, radio
station, pharmacy, and banking system, and there is a
railway station there. For all purposes, the Vatican has
become a small city that caters to employees while
working to impact the world.
These European microstates have all had a long and
drawn out history, though it may be a fairly new state.
In most places, their independence comes from their
determination to hold onto their values. One author
said that the microstates were more regions than
nation, and to an extent this is true. They are all close-
knit societies, with similar values and ideas of how to
live. The people love one another and are confident in
their country’s ability to succeed. This stubborn spirit
and determination is something all nations can
appreciate, big or small.
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