Church of Sant Juan de Caselles
Andorra is one of the of the most low profile members of the European continent. The country is located on Southwestern Europe in the heart of the east Pyrenees Mountains. Andorra is also a unique example of shared-sovereignty as for 715 years from 1278 to 1993 it was ruled jointly by the French chief of state and the Spanish bishop of Urgel. In 1993, the government was transformed into a parliamentary democracy. Andorra la Vella is the capital city.
Andorra remained detached from the mainstream Europe for a long time, except some interactions with its neighbours, France and Spain. During the post-World War period the country came into spotlight with its thriving tourism industry prospects. The majestic mountain ranges of this small country are treasure trove of scenic beauty and skiing opportunities. The country sides also prove to be an alluring site for hiking and easy getaway from hustle-bustle of the city life. Andorra attracts a large number of immigrants due to a blooming economy that is bereft of any income taxes.
Surrounded by France and Spain, Andorra is basically a mountainous country encompassed by the eastern Pyrenees. There are total 65 peaks above 2,500 m, the highest peak being Coma Pedrosa at an altitude of 2,947 m. The lowest point is 840 m and narrow valleys dissect all the rugged mountains. Spread over 468 sq kms. of area, the country’s developed and cultivated land only accounts for some 8% to 9% of Andorran territory.
The rest of the country is made up of meadows, mountain and woods. Water is one of the most important natural resources. The four main water courses running through its territory are the Valira del Nord, the Valira d'Orient, the Madriu and the Gran Valira. Andorra has thermal springs too which surface at a temperature of 70°C in the parish of Escaldes-Engordany and are considered helpful for treating rheumatism and skin disorders.
Andorra boasts of a diverse landscape with a rich variety of flora and fauna. Owing to its position on the East side of the Pyrenees it is also home to many wild species like the wild goat, wild boar, martens, capercaillie, white partridge and wild trout.
The climate of Andorra is temperate and ideal for tourism. People there enjoy many sunny days throughout the year. Summers are usually warm and dry while winters are snowy and cold.
As a result of heavy immigration traffic, the Andorrans constitute a minority in their own country. Only 33% of inhabitants hold Andorran nationalities while other foreign nationals like Spaniards (43%), with Portuguese (11%) and French (7%) constitute the rest of it. The remaining 6% belong to several other nationalities. The official language is Catalan.
Andorra la Vella
The first signs of human life in Andorra appeared at the end of the last ice-age. But, formally, it was Charlemagne who founded Andorra in 805. The Act of Consecration of the cathedral of Santa Maria d'Urgell is the first known document, which mentions, in 839, the parishes of Andorra as the fief of the Counts of Urgell. From the 11th century on, the power of the bishops of Urgell over Andorra increased progressively.
But in the 11th century a dispute arose between the bishop and his northern French neighbour over Andorra. In 1278, the conflict was resolved by the signing of a parage, which stated that Andorra's sovereignty be shared between the French head of state and the bishop of La Seu d'Urgell.
In 1419, the Andorrans asked the co-Princes to grant them the right to meet and manage community problems for themselves. So the Consell de la Terra was set up as the first parliament which preceded the Consell General of today, bringing together representatives from all the parishes.
In the next few decades, Andorra was periodically invaded and ruled by the Spanish and French. Finally, Andorra made peace with one of is last enemies, Germany, in 1958. Then on the country maintained a low profile for a long time. Then the Andorran history changed its course forever on
15 January 1981. On this day, at the request of the Andorrans and by way of a decree from the co-Princes, the Andorran Government, the Consell Executive, was set up, and the president is elected by Parliament.
The Andorran Constitution converted the Principality of Andorra into an independent state. It defined in details the definition and limitations of democratic and social law and institutional powers. On 14 March 1993, and 74% of Andorrans voted on support of implementation of the Constitution. Andorra obtained international recognition by joining the UN on 28 June 1993, becoming the 184th member state.
Andorra remained isolated and impoverished from the mainstream Europe for a long time. But the economy saw brighter days since World War II through its tourist industry. After 1981, Andorra entered a period of reforms with the aim of adapting its institutions to the requirements of the modern world, while preserving its own identity at the same time. During this time it became a popular tourist and winter sports destination and a wealthy international commercial center because of its banking facilities, low taxes, and lack of customs duties.
Tourism is the backbone of Andorra's blooming economy and accounts for roughly 80% of GDP. An estimated 9 million tourists visit the country annually allured by its scenic beauty and simpler legal tangles. In 1990 Andorra approved a customs union treaty with the EU permitting free movement of industrial goods between the two. It lacked a currency of its own and used that of its two surrounding nations France and Spain. But 1999 onwards, the French franc and the Spanish peseta were replaced by a single currency, the euro. Andorra became a member of the Council of Europe in 1994.
Andorra was deprived of any disciplined distinction of administration till the recent past. It was on 14 March 1993 when 74% of Andorrans voted for the Constitution. The Principality became a civil state with new definitions of institutional powers. Andorra was established as a sovereign parliamentary democracy. It retained the co-princes as heads of state, but the executive power was entrusted to the head of government. The two co-princes now serve coequally with limited powers but have no power to veto over government acts. The co-princes are represented in Andorra by a delegate due to their absence and their role is ceremonial.
The selection of the co-princes is very unique. One co-Prince is the person who is currently serving as the President of France and the other is the current Catholic bishop of the Spanish city of La Seu d'Urgell. The defense of the country is the responsibility of France and Spain.
The main legislative body of the country is the unicameral General Council of the Valleys. It is a parliament of 28 seats where the members are elected by direct nationwide vote. Out of these, 14 are chosen from a single national constituency and the other 14 represent each of the 7 parishes. All the members serve four-year terms. The General Council who elects the Head of Government forms the Andorran government. The Head then appoints ministers to the cabinet that is the Executive Council.