Background Notes: Andorra

Contributed By RealAdventures

Andorrans live in seven urbanized valleys that form Andorra's political districts. Andorrans are a minority in their own country; Spanish, French, and Portuguese residents make up 70% of the population.

The national language is Catalan, a romance language related to the Provencal groups. It is spoken by more than 6 million people in the region comprising French and Spanish Catalonia. French and Spanish are also spoken.

Education law requires school attendance for children up to age 16. A system of French, Spanish and Andorran lay schools provide education up to the secondary level. Schools are built and maintained by Andorran authorities, but teachers are paid for the most part by France or Spain. About 50% of Andorran children attend the French primary schools, and the rest attend Spanish or Andorran schools. Andorran schools follow the Spanish curriculum, and their diplomas are recognized by Spain. There are no schools of higher education.

Andorra is the last independent survivor of the March states, a number of buffer states created by Charlemagne to keep the Muslim Moors from advancing into Christian France. Tradition holds that Charlemagne granted a charter to the Andorran people in return for their fighting the Moors. In the 800s, Charlemagne's grandson, Charles the Bald, named the Count of Urgel as overlord of Andorra. A descendant of the count later gave the lands to the diocese of Urgel, headed by the Bishop of Urgel.

In the 11th century, fearing military action by neighboring lords, the bishop placed himself under the protection of the Lord of Caboet, a Spanish nobleman. Later, the Count of Foix, a French noble, became heir to Lord Caboet through marriage, and a dispute arose between the French Count and the Spanish bishop over Andorra.

In 1278, the conflict was resolved by the signing of a pareage, which provided that Andorra's sovereignty be shared between the Count of Foix and the Bishop of Seo de Urgel of Spain. The pareage, a feudal institution recognizing the principle of equality of rights shared by two rulers, gave the small state its territory and political form.

Over the years, the title was passed between French and Spanish rule until, under the French throne of Henry IV, an edict in 1607 established the head of the French state and the Bishop of Urgel as co-princes of Andorra.

In its mountain fastness, Andorra has existed outside the mainstream of European history, with few ties to countries other than France and Spain. In recent times, however, its thriving tourist industry along with developments in transportation and communications have removed the country from its isolation.

Until very recently, Andorra's political system had no clear division of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. A constitution was ratified and approved in 1993. The constitution establishes Andorra as a sovereign parliamentary democracy that retains as its heads of state a co-principality.

The fundamental impetus for this political transformation was a recommendation by the Council of Europe in 1990 that, if Andorra wished to attain full integration in the European Union (EU), it should adopt a modern constitution which guarantees the rights of those living and working there. A Tripartite Commission--made up of representatives of the co-princes, the General Council, and the Executive Council--was formed in 1990 and finalized the draft constitution in April 1991.

Under the new 1993 constitution, the co-princes will continue as heads of state, but the head of government retains executive power. The two co-princes serve coequally with limited powers that do not include veto over the government. They are represented in Andorra by a delegate. As co-princes of Andorra, the President of France and the Bishop of Seo de Urgel maintain supreme authority in approval of all international treaties with France and Spain, as well as all those which deal with internal security, defense, Andorran territory, diplomatic representation, and judicial or penal cooperation. Although the institution of the co-princes is viewed by some as an anachronism, the majority sees them as both a link with Andorra's traditions and as a way to balance the power of Andorra's two much larger neighbors.

Andorra's main legislative body is the 28-member General Council (Parliament). The sindic (president), the subsindic and the members of the Council are elected in the general elections to be held every four years. The Council meets throughout the year on certain dates set by tradition or as required.

At least one representative from each parish must be present for the General Council to meet. Historically, within the General Council, four deputies apiece from each of the seven individual parishes have provided representation. This system allowed the smaller parishes, who have as few as 350 voters, the same number of representatives as larger parishes which have up to 2,600 voters. To correct this imbalance, a provision in the new constitution introduces a modification of the structure and format for electing the members of the Council; under this new format, half of the representatives are to be chosen by the traditional system, while the other half will be selected from nationwide lists.

A sindic and a subsindic are chosen by the General Council to implement its decisions. They serve three-year terms and may be reappointed once. They receive an annual salary. Sindics have virtually no discretionary powers, and all policy decisions must be approved by the Council as a whole. In 1981, the Executive Council, consisting of the head of government and seven ministers, was established. Every four years, after the general elections, the General Council elects the head of government, who, in turn, chooses the other members of the Executive Council.

The judicial system is independent. Courts apply the customary laws of Andorra, supplemented with Roman law and customary Catalan law. Civil cases are first heard by the batlles court--a group of four judges, two chosen by each co-prince. Appeals are heard in the Court of Appeals. The highest body is the five-member Superior Council of Justice.

Andorra has no defense forces and only a small internal police force. All able-bodied men who own firearms must serve, without remuneration, in the small army, which is unique in that all of its men are treated as officers. The army has not fought for more than 700 years, and its main responsibility is to present the Andorran flag at official ceremonies.

Co-Prince--Jacques Chirac, President of France Co-Prince--Juan Marti Alanis, Bishop of Seo de Urgel, Spain Head of Government--Marc Forne Sindic General--Josep Dalleres Ambassador to the United States--Juli F. Minoves Triquell

Andorra's nascent political system is dominated by five major political parties/groups of which only one has completed the necessary registration process. The five are the Liberal Union, the National Andorran Coalition, the Andorran National Democracy, the New Democracy, and the National Democratic Initiative parties. Given the number of parties and Andorra's relative size, no one party controls the General Council; therefore, legislative majorities arise through coalitions. As a result of the political fragmentation, interest groups formed on the basis of economic and political motives have a strong hand in Andorran politics. Since the 1993 constitutional ratification, two coalition governments have formed. The current government unites the UL, CNA, and a minor party with Marc Forne Molne, a liberal Unionist, as Cap de Govern, or Head of Government.

Recently, the government has addressed many long-awaited reforms. In addition to political parties and trade unions being legal for the first time (although no labor unions exist at present), freedom of religion and assembly have been guaranteed. Most significant has been a redefinition of the qualifications for Andorran citizenship, a major issue in a country where only 13,000 of 64,000 are legal citizens. Non- citizens are allowed to own 33% of the shares of a company.

By creating a modern legal framework for the country, the 1993 constitution has allowed Andorra to begin a shift from an economy based largely on duty-free shopping to one based on international banking and finance. Despite promising new changes, it is likely that Andorra will, at least for the short term, continue to confront a number of difficult issues arising from the large influx of foreign residents and the need to develop modern social and political institutions. In addition to questions of Andorran nationality and immigration policy, other priority issues will include modernizing the educational system, allowing freedom of association, dealing with housing scarcities and uncontrolled speculation in real estate, and developing the tourist industry.

Andorra's GDP for 1993 was $1 billion, with tourism as its principal component. Attractive for shoppers from France and Spain as a free port, the country also has developed active summer and winter tourist resorts. With some 340 hotels and 390 restaurants, as well as many shops, the tourist trade employs a growing portion of the domestic labor force.

There is a fairly active trade in consumer goods, including imported manufactured items, which, because they are duty-free, are less expensive in Andorra than in neighboring countries. As a result, smuggling is commonplace. Andorra's duty-free status has also had a significant effect on the controversy concerning its relationship with the European Union. Its negotiations on duty-free status and relationship with the union began in 1987, soon after Spain joined. An agreement that went into effect in July 1991 sets duty-free quotas and places limits on certain items--mainly milk products, tobacco, and alcoholic beverages. Andorra is permitted to maintain price differences from other EU countries, and visitors enjoy limited duty-free allowances.

The results of Andorra's elections thus far indicate that many support the government's reform initiatives and believe Andorra must, to some degree, integrate into the European Union in order to continue to enjoy its prosperity. Although less than 2% of the land is arable, agriculture was the mainstay of the Andorran economy until the upsurge in tourism. Sheep-raising has been the principal agricultural activity, but tobacco growing is lucrative. Most of Andorra's food is imported.

In addition to handicrafts, manufacturing includes cigars, cigarettes, and furniture for domestic and export markets. A hydroelectric plant at Les Escaldes, with a capacity of 26.5 megawatts, provides 40% of Andorra's electricity; Spain provides the rest.

Since the establishment of sovereignty with the ratification of the constitution in 1993, Andorra has moved to become an active member of the international community. In July 1993, Andorra established its first diplomatic mission in the world, to the United Nations. In early 1995, the United States and Andorra established formal diplomatic relations. Andorra has also expanded relations with other nations.

Andorra is a full member of the United Nations (UN), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Customs Cooperation Council (CCC), Telecommunications International Union, Universal Copyright Convention, Meteorological Organization Convention, the 1941 Automotive Convention, International Red Cross, European Council, FUTFI SAT, and the World Tourism Organization. Since 1991 Andorra has a special agreement with the European Union.

As noted, the United States established diplomatic relations with Andorra in early 1995. The two countries are on excellent terms, and the U.S. includes the country within the Barcelona consular district. United States consulate general officials visit Andorra regularly.

Maurice Parker is the U.S. consul general in Barcelona and the representative of the U.S. Government to Andorra. The U.S. consulate general is at Passeig Reina Elisenda, 23-25, 08034 Barcelona, Spain (tel. 280-2227).

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