Family business country

Heheh… well we are not referring to the little red dot in case you think it… The third in our little series on micro and small states in Europe, we train our focus on the tiny little nation that sits between Switzerland and Austria.

Yep, Liechtenstein.

This little nation is 160km², but like the little red dot, this landlocked country is also a financial powerhouse. While it WAS under (and still in a way) the private ownership of a family who literally bought the place, it is now a constitutional monarchy. It is one of the countries in the world that does not have a military, since its size and population probably inhibits it.

But it is not part of the EU and that is the interesting situation. Because it still participates in the European economic area and is a party to the Schengen treaty effectively making its borders open. But then it uses the Swiss Franc in a monetary union. Our little red dot has an interchangeability agreement with Brunei, which effectively means both countries’ currencies are equal and can circulate in each others country. Different strokes for different folks!

It was just a restroom stop, but we crafted a little story out of it with help from many sources on the web. Add a dash of our own seasoning, this little essay here tells how a medieval noble family’s fortune ebbed and flowed with the times. Have you been to Liechtenstein?

Encircled! But independent

If you read our story here, you will know that it is the local favourite of the Italians living around the city to get into the little country and come out with daily necessities… well as far as our guide told us. Not sure if that still works today.

All of San Marino is just 61km². Founded in the year 301 as an independent monastic community, it claims to be the world’s oldest republic. Actually it is very unique. And being in Italy; history had a lot to do with it. The tiny republic began on Mount Titano and only expanded in the mid 1400s. It came under the protection of the Papal states too and that flowed on through to 1861 when Italy was reunited – ie the new nation recognized San Marino’s independence!

Well, again it is a little challenging to explain the politics behind why this tiny state was not simply incorporated into Italy, but literature suggests that it was because the unifier of Italy had sought refuge in San Marino during his earlier days of revolutionary war to unify Italy. And there are sources citing the republic’s links with France, a powerful neighbour to the newly formed Italian nation. Whatever the case, that independence was affirmed and today aside from defence, the most serene republic of San Marino conducts all local government and foreign relations on its own.

Anyway.

The unique thing about the country is that it has two heads of state – like the two consuls of the Roman republic. Every 6 months two are appointed from opposing parties to ensure a balance of power. The council which is democratically elected every 5 years performs this act and is essentially like the Roman senate! Wow.

Does this make you want to visit San Marino too?

World’s tiniest country

Yep. It is officially the world’s smallest country. At 0.44km², it beats all the other recognized states in the world. With the nearest competitor Monaco trailing at 2km²… This is the first of our series on micro and small European states as we Segway from the US for a while. We will continue with 4 others that we have touched in the weeks to come.

This is about survival. Its an interesting thing even to this day that international politics still pit small nations at the mercy of large ones. The sovereign equality of all states as equal partners despite size. Hmm… will that work? Our little red dot is perhaps an example of how that can be. But there are also different operating principles elsewhere that works too. Such as in Europe. Perhaps some of the examples that we cite in the coming posts like this one might prompt you to think about it.

For the Vatican was not always this tiny. In fact it was the centre of the Papal states in medieval times. A political power as well back in the day. Today it does not exert hegemony over territory, but instead hold leadership of the world’s Catholic faithful. And by agreement with the Italian government it has remained independent and conducts its own foreign relations (as the Holy See). Obviously this relationship is more complex to be described here but it works!

Yes it is encapsulated within Rome. And it should have been part of the Italian handprint story series. But that will have to wait. We want to show all the micro states of Europe that we’ve touched first! Read all about our little story on the Vatican here.

Yes we know that there are actually quite a few other micro states in Europe and we will also skipped Monaco, but that’s because we’ve not touched it yet. Someday we will.