San Marino is the second microstate I’ve had on Locally Foreign, the first being Nauru, and I picked up this book to get a bit of a better look at microstates, especially since their small size vs their sovereignty leads to some interesting political outcomes (like Nauru’s strategic recognition for Taiwan and Abkhazia).
Secrets of the Seven Smallest States of Europe by Thomas Eccardt looks at the seven true microstates in Europe – Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City. By focusing on the European ones, Eccardt draws on the parallel history led them to exist as fully sovereign countries. The European ones tend to have a path to sovereignty than the island microstates in the Caribbean, Pacific, or Africa, which usually mirror the colonialism to independence routes of the larger countries in those regions.
Eccardt splits the book into two, the first half a general look at the seven microstates as a whole, and the second half covering each one individually. What’s really interesting with these seven is that they all have so much in common, but when you time you try and pin them all under one generalization, one or two are almost always exceptions – and it’s never the same ones.
Their sovereignty generally exists because of the luck of history – most are neutral countries (except Luxembourg, which is in NATO) and most are mountainous and out of the way from the major sweeps of history (except Malta and the Vatican). Most are remnants of princely territories (except San Marino), and all are Catholic. They speak either Romance or Germanic languages, except for Maltese, which is a Semitic language. They’ve got varying levels of democracy, from the strong princely control of Liechtenstein and Monaco to the robust democracies of San Marino and Luxembourg. All have been affected by the same forces of European history – all were under the Roman Empire, all were under either the Hapsburgs or the Papal States, and Napoleon had his hand in all of them – conquering Malta and Luxembourg, gaining control of Andorra, Monaco, and Liechtenstein, crushing the Papal States, and specifically deciding to preserve San Marino as an “example of freedom”.
This also gives a good look at how the microstates navigate their relationships with their larger neighbours, as most are in customs unions or agreements that give a larger state a level of control. For example, France has a right to revoke Monaco’s independence should they fail to have a successor to the Prince,or that Andorra’s heads of state are the French President and a Spanish bishop. How the microstates make their economies function is also interesting – most have economies based on tourism and as tax havens, but all have looked at ways to diversify their economies. The Vatican, of course, is a weird outlier in most cases, since it may be legally a fully sovereign country, it really doesn’t function even remotely like one.
Overall, the European microstates have more in common than not, and it’s interesting to look at how microstates function as a type of country.