Inside Andorra: The world’s sixth smallest country

I visited Andorra in 2013 on a trip from France to Morocco, it was in March and there was snow on the mountains. It is the sixth smallest country in Europe.

Andorra is the only co-principality in the world which means it has two princes. Does that mean that one has diamonds in his pockets and the other wants to buy you rockets? Personally I would go for the rockets if that were true and not a song lyric.

Funnily enough neither of these princes is actually from Andorra. One is the president of France and the other is the Bishop of Urgull. As the president is democratically elected by the French and the other appointed by the pope who resides in Italy so they are not appointed by Andorra either.


Sant Esteve Church in Andorra la Vella

The last time Andorra went to war was 1,000 years ago and while it did declare war with Germany in WW1 but didn’t actually do anything. This lack of military action meant they didn’t get a mention in the Treaty of Versailles and decided to officially declare peace sometime around 1957.

Catalan is the official language of Andorra, it is of course spoken in Spain but despite its popularity and cultural importance it is not yet official. As well as Andorra it is spoken is by 9 million people in Catalonia, Valencia , the Balearics and Alghero in Sardinia.

Although sometimes described as a dialect, Catalan developed from rudimentary Latin spoken by Roman colonists in the Tarragona region.

Sant Esteve Church in Andorra la Vella
Sant Esteve Church in Andorra la Vella

Catalonia was of course autonomous until Barcelona was taken over by Spain in the 1700s and the centralised government put restrictions on the use of the Catalan language, making Spanish official in order to impose their rule. This oppression of the language is what has made it so key to regional identity.

Andorra la Vella
‘Andorra la Vella is the capital of the Co-principality of Andorra, and is located high in the east Pyrenees between France and Spain. It is also the name of the parish that surrounds it. The town of Santa Coloma is located in the province.’

As with many small European countries, Andorra is a tax evasion paradise. After pressure from the EU it did introduce personal income tax in 2013. There is no national bank in Andorra so they have to incur debt with private banks.

One of their main banks, Banca Privada d’Andorra fought back against claims by the US that it laundered money for China, Russia and Venezuela. Banking accounts for 20% of GDP in Andorra and it hit them when other banks cut ties with them as a result. Their lawyers argued that the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (a branch of the US Treasury) were targeting them in lieu of worse violations in larger banking organisations and ignored their legitimate business.


Sacrificing the small potatoes to draw the spotlight from the bigger baddies? Classic banker logic. However, whether big or small you would hope that ethical conduct is adhered to. Needless to say, the sanctions were lifted by the US after a year. Parliament has agreed to end the secrecy of bank accounts for EU residents so we will see what comes to light if accounts aren’t moved elsewhere. Despite being hen-pecked by the EU they are not actually a part of it or the Eurozone or the European Free Trade Association.

Let’s hope that Andorra’s position between two big countries means that it can contribute to Europe and continue to be a part of the conversation whilst retaining its independence up in the mountains. Not to mention that it is quite the destination for skiing and shopping which keeps people visiting and seeing what this place is all about.

Follow Land of Size:

Leave a Reply

Follow by Email
%d bloggers like this: