Principality of Andorra

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Principality of Andorra

Type of Government

Despite its formal name as the Principality of Andorra, this European microstate is actually a parliamentary democracy. Andorra is wedged in the Pyrenees between Spain and France and is one of history’s rare examples of a successful duumvirate (a state with two leaders). In this case the French president and the Spanish bishop of Urgell are Andorra’s heads of state.


Andorra is the last surviving state of the Marca Hispanica (Spanish March), a line of small buffer states set up by the Frankish king Charlemagne (742–814) to thwart Spain’s aggressive tendencies. Charlemagne placed nobles in charge of these small states, and in Andorra’s case he named the count of La Seu d’Urgell to serve as overlord in 798. In the eleventh century a dispute arose between the reigning count and his counterpart in France, and its resolution was finally settled in 1278. France and Spain declared that henceforth the bishop of La Seu d’Urgell and the count of Foix would serve as “coprinces” of Andorra. Over time, the French count’s duties were assumed by the French sovereign and, later, the French president.

This somewhat unorthodox arrangement endured until the final decade of the twentieth century. Urged by European Union officials, Andorra established a constitutional commission, and its first constitution was approved by referendum in 1993. The document formally established Andorra’s 181 square miles as a sovereign parliamentary democracy, and even though the two coprinces remained heads of state, the constitution specified that the head of government would be the cap de govern (prime minister).

Government Structure

Before 1993 Andorra had no real executive branch of government, though there was an elected parliament after 1419. Under the 1993 constitution, the cap de govern wields all executive power, legislative power is held by the government and parliament, and the judiciary is independent of both.

All citizens over the age of eighteen can vote for the twenty-eight legislators who sit in the General Council of the Valleys, Andorra’s unicameral (one legislative body) parliament. Each of Andorra’s seven comuns (administrative districts) sends four representatives to it. Fourteen are elected directly by voters in each comú, and the other half are chosen to serve at large from a national list. The sindic (president of the General Council) and subsindic are elected by parliament to serve a three-year term; they carry out legislative decisions.

The twenty-eight General Council members, in turn, select the cap de govern to serve as president of the Executive Council. Technically, the coprinces have approval over this choice. Likewise, the Executive Council president chooses the seven members who serve on the Executive Council, which functions as an executive-branch cabinet.

Andorran law is a mixture of local custom with some elements law from the Roman era and from the Spanish territory of Catalonia. Its judiciary is overseen by the five-member Superior Council of Justice. Each of the coprinces, the cap de govern, the General Council sindic, and the members of the lower courts are allowed to seat a Superior Council panel member to a six-year term. Civil cases in Andorra are heard by a tribunal of four judges and may advance to the Court of Appeals. Final appeals are heard either in Perpignan, France, at the Supreme Court of Andorra, or at the Ecclesiastical Court of the bishop of La Seu d’Urgell in Spain. Criminal cases pass first through the Tribunal des Cortes in Andorra la Vella. There is one jail in the country, and it is used only for defendants awaiting criminal trials; those sentenced to prison terms may choose a French or Spanish facility.

Neither of Andorra’s coprinces live in the country. In 2007 they were French president Nicolas Sarkozy (1955–) and Joan Enric Vives i Sicília (1949–), the bishop of La Seu d’Urgell. Their role is considered largely ceremonial, and they have no veto power over government acts. Regardless, Spain and France have a long-standing agreement to provide for the defense of Andorra.

Political Parties and Factions

There were no political parties in Andorra until 1976. In the years since the 1993 constitution, several groups have arisen to supplant the old Andorran families who dominated the political scene for seven centuries. Foremost among them is the Liberal Party of Andorra, a center-right group that emerged as the winner in the 2005 elections with fourteen seats in the General Council. Other leading political parties are the Social Democratic Party, Andorran Democratic Centre, Century 21, Democratic Renewal, and the Greens of Andorra.

Voter turnout is relatively high, with 80 percent casting ballots in the 2005 election. Only Andorran citizens, however, are allowed to vote. Of the country’s 71,800 residents, only a third are actual citizens; the rest are French, Spanish, or Portuguese nationals. Some come to Andorra to find work, whereas their wealthier counterparts are lured by Andorra’s lack of income tax. Since the 1970s there has been a movement to grant foreigners more rights and open the door to citizenship, and the 1993 constitution provides for this.

Major Events

In 1607 King Henry IV (1553–1610) of France issued the edict specifying that Andorra’s coprinces would be the head of the French state and the bishop of La Seu d’Urgell in Spain. Over the next three and a half centuries life in Andorra remained relatively unchanged, save for a brief period in the 1930s, when it was occupied by France because of social unrest, and then the site of a bizarre coup attempt by a Russian con artist and raconteur who declared himself Boris I, the sole prince of Andorra. By the mid-1970s both Spain and France had begun to encourage Andorra to enact some political, economic, and social reforms, which led to the establishment of the Executive Council in 1981. The microstate remained isolated from the rest of Europe, however, and finally the Council of Europe urged Andorrans to begin the process of drafting a constitution in 1990. A separate body from the European Union, the Council of Europe was created to safeguard the principles of democracy and respect for human rights among its member nations. Andorra’s first constitution went into effect in 1993, the same year it became a member of the United Nations.

Andorra has tight banking secrecy laws that are fostering its emergence as a new European financial services center. Tourism also continues to drive the economy, as it has since the 1950s.

Duursma, Jorri. Self-determination, Statehood, and International Relations of Micro-states: The Cases of Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, Andorra, and the Vatican City. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Eccardt, Thomas M. Secrets of the Seven Smallest States of Europe: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2005.

Leary, Lewis Gaston. Andorra: The Hidden Republic. New York, McBride, Nast, 1912.

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Principality of Andorra

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Principality of Andorra