Andorra, The biggest small state in Europe

With an area of 468 km², the Principality of Andorra is the biggest of the small European nations. Andorra’s border with France is 37 km long, and with Spain 64 km. The craggy, mountainous relief of Andorra is made up of 65 peaks of more than 2,000 m high enclosing two valleys varying between 2,942 m, the highest point above sea level of the peak of Coma Pedrosa, and 838m, corresponding to the lowest point of the border with Catalonia.

Landscapes of Quaternary origin

The Quaternary origin that characterizes the Andorran orography is highlighted in its “Y” shaped lakes and rivers. It is this layout that has defined the main directions of the country’s rivers over time: the Valira del Nord, the Valira d’Orient, the Valira and the Madriu, joined by many tributaries, where the Principality of Andorra’s largest towns are located. The Valira del Nord and the Valira d’Orient form the famous Gran Valira River at Escaldes-Engordany.

The lakes in the Andorran landscape are also worthy of note. Most of these lakes are small and round, and are to be found in the basin of the Valira d’Orient and in smaller numbers in the Valira del Nord basin. The biggest lake is the Juclar, totalling 29 hectares, but many other lakes are also well known, including Tristaina, Pessons, L’Illa, Gargantillar, L’Estanyó and Cabana Sorda.

Mountain flora and fauna

Narcissus poeticusAndorra is a land of abundant flora and fauna with more than 1,150 species. The flora on the sunny slopes and lower altitudes contrast with those of the pastures, meadows and cultivated fields. The poet’s narcissus (Narcissus poeticus) is the symbolic flower of Andorra, which flourishes among the red pines, oaks, birches, rhododendrons, hazels and firs. The great forests of black pine and fir of the subalpine level are the precursors of the Alpine meadows, scrubland and screes of the Andorran Alpine level.

ChamoisThe chamois, along with the river trout, is the most representative species of Andorran fauna and also one of the best known in the Pyrenees. It lives among the mountain peaks alongside the white partridge, the mole, the pine-marten and many birds of prey. Penetrating the woods of the Principality, we find squirrels, wild boar, woodpeckers and capercaillie, while lower down we find the habitat of foxes, hoopoes, partridges, robins and dippers, rabbits, hares and many other types of typical mountain fauna.

Cold winters and mild summers

With twelve months of sunshine and average temperatures varying between a minimum of –2ºC and a maximum of 24ºC, this high mountain area is cold in winter (4.7º in December) and mild in summer (19.1º in August). The rainfall in the Principality of Andorra is usually around 1,003.6 mm a year, mainly falling in autumn, while in winter this falls in the form of snow.

A country with its own political and legal system

Andorra is the only country in the world with a political system based on co-princes, or in other words, the only one with two Heads of State. In spite of its long history –according to legend Andorra was founded by Charlemagne in 805 out of gratitude for the help its people had given in the fight against the Saracens – its Constitution is recent, written in 1993 when the Principality became an independent State with its own laws, democracy and social system. It is divided for administrative purposes into seven parishes or Comuns (councils): Canillo, Encamp, Ordino, la Massana, Andorre-la-Vella, Sant Julià de Lòria and Escaldes-Engordany.

From the Act of Consecration to universal suffrage

The Act of Consecration of the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Urgell in 839 is the first document listing the parishes of Andorra as the fief of the Counts of Urgell. The power of the bishops of Urgell extended across Andorra until the Principality became ecclesiastical territory in 1133.

Until 1278, the year when the Pareatges, or feudal agreements, were signed between the co-sovereigns Count of Foix, Roger Bernat III and the Bishop of Urgell, Pere d’Urg, there were many confrontations between the Church of Urgell and the Counts of Foix over the sovereignty of Andorra. In 1933, the present parliament, the Consell General, established male universal suffrage and in 1970 granted voting rights to women.

The Government of Andorra

The 15th January 1981 is an important date in the history of the country, as the Executive Council, or in other words the Government of Andorra, was formed at the request of the people of Andorra. This was the beginning of a whole process of reforms culminating in the adoption of the first written Constitution of 14th March 1993 and enjoying the support of 74% of Andorrans.

The Government directs the Principality’s national and international policy and the State administration, exercises regulatory powers and prepares the annual budget, which is submitted for voting to the Consell General. At present, it is formed by the Head of Government, who is elected by Parliament, and the following ministries: Urban and Territorial Planning; Foreign Affairs, Culture and Cooperation; Finance; Justice and Interior; Health, Social Welfare and Family; Economy; Education and Occupational Training; Tourism & Environment; Housing, Youth, Higher Education and Research; Sports and Volunteering; Agriculture and Natural Heritage.

Institutional reform

Pareatges 1278-1978The institutional structure of Andorra has its origin in the Pareatges of the 13th century and is the outcome of the historic evolution of the country. In this context, and according to the Andorran Constitution, Andorra is a State with two co-princes who are equal, personal and exclusive – the Bishop of Urgell, at present Joan Enric Vives i Sicília, and the President of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac.

The co-princes, who are joint and several heads of State, are arbitrators and moderators of the public powers and exercise their office with the counter signature of the Head of Government or the Síndic. They can also call general elections, give accreditation to diplomatic representatives, sanction ad promulgate laws and declare State consent to obligations by means of international treaties and in accordance with the Constitution.

The Consell General

The first Consell GeneralThe Consell General (Parliament) goes back to the year 1419, when the Consell de la Terra was created. It was formed by 28 general parliamentarians elected from a parish (municipal) and national lists by universal, free, equal, direct and secret suffrage, for a period of four years. The governing body of the Consell General is the Sindicatura formed by a Síndic and a Subsíndic, who cannot hold office for two consecutive periods.

With powers to exercise the legislative power, approve the State budget and promote and control the political action of the Government, the Consell General meets in traditional ordinary and extraordinary sessions and operates both in plenary sessions and committees. For agreements to be valid, a minimum of half the members must be present. At present, the Consell General is made up of the following parliamentary groups: Liberals, Social Democrats, and Andorran Democratic Center (CDA) + Segle 21.

The Andorran Judicial System

Jurisdictional power is exercised in all matters in the first instance by the office of the Batlle of Andorra, either as a one-man court (judges) or in collegiate form (Tribunal de Battles), except in criminal matters where major crimes are judged by the Tribunal de Corts.

The second jurisdictional proceedings consist of the Higher Court of Justice, which is competent to judge all appeals brought against judicial decisions adopted in the first instance. As the highest interpreter of the Constitution, the Andorran Constitutional Court, consisting of four Magistrates, acts jurisdictionally, and its sentences are binding upon the public authorities and individuals.

Les comuns

The Principality of Andorra consists of seven parishes headed by comuns (town councils), as follows: Canillo, Encamp, Ordino, la Massana, Andorre-la-Vella, Sant Julià de Lòria and Escaldes-Engordany.

Membership of the UN and other international organisations

On 28th July 1993, Andorra became the 184th member of the UN, confirming the international recognition of the country. The Principality was confirmed as a legal, democratic and welfare State. It joined the World Tourism Organisation in 1996 and is also a member of other international organisations.