Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Principality of Liechtenstein

The Principality  of Liechtenstein is the 4th smallest country in Europe.  Only Vatican City, Monaco and San Marino are smaller.  The entire country is 160 sq km (62 sq miles) and it is nestled in the Alps between Austria and Switzerland.  It is about 1/10th the size of Washington DC.  The country only has a population of 35,000 people.  Half of the work force commutes daily from Switzerland and Austria.

Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan are the only double-landlocked countries in the world, meaning they are surrounded completely by other landlocked countries.

Liechtenstein was established in 1719 as part of the Holy Roman Empire.  In 1806, it became an independent state.  The country had close ties to the Austro-Hungarian Empire but after WWI it entered in to a customs and monetary union with Switzerland.  Swiss Francs are the official currency.

Vaduz is the capital city.  The prime minister is the head of the government and is appointed by the crown prince.  Parliament elects a cabinet which is confirmed by the prince.  In 1984, Liechtenstein was the last country in Europe to give women the right to vote.  There is a national police force but there has not been an army since it was disbanded in 1868 for financial reasons.

Despite its small size, Liechtenstein is pretty well off.  It's a tax haven for banks, has the lowest business tax rates in Europe and because of easy rules of incorporation there are lots of mail box companies.  Almost 74,000 companies are registered here (that's more then twice the number of people).

In 2011, Liechtenstein joined the Schengen area but it still isn't a member of the European Union.  There is no American or Czech embassy.  In fact there are no embassies at all because the country is just too small.  Most embassies in Switzerland are accredited to Liechtenstein.

After WWII, Czechoslovakia seized what they considered to be German possessions.  This included Liechtenstein family castles and land in Bohemia and Moravia including the Lednice-Valtice area.  The total land taken is about 10 times larger than the whole country of Liechtenstein.  During the Cold War, Liechtenstein citizens were forbidden to enter Czechoslovakia.  Liechtenstein and the Czech Republic didn't establish diplomatic relations until July 13, 2009.  As a reference point, I moved to Brno on July 1, 2009.
Here's a Rick Steves video I found out on YouTube about Liechtenstein.

©Rick Steves

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