European microstates

The European microstates or European ministates are a set of very small sovereign states in Europe. The term is typically used to refer to the six smallest states in Europe by area: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City.[1] Four of these states are monarchies (three principalities—Andorra, Liechtenstein, and Monaco—and one papacy, the Vatican City). These states trace their status back to the first millennium or the early second millennium except for Liechtenstein, created in the 17th century.

Map of the European microstates; Liechtenstein, San Marino, Malta, Monaco, Vatican City and Andorra

Microstates are small independent states recognized by larger states. According to the qualitative definition suggested by Dumienski (2014), microstates can also be viewed as "modern protected states, i.e. sovereign states that have been able to unilaterally depute certain attributes of sovereignty to larger powers in exchange for benign protection of their political and economic viability against their geographic or demographic constraints."[2] In line with this definition, only Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino, and Monaco qualify as "microstates" as only these states are sovereignties functioning in close, but voluntary, association with their respective larger neighbours. Luxembourg, which is much larger than all the European microstates combined, nonetheless shares some of these characteristics.[3]

Some scholars dispute the status of Vatican City as a state, arguing that it does not meet the "traditional criteria of statehood" and that the "special status of the Vatican City is probably best regarded as a means of ensuring that the Pope can freely exercise his spiritual functions, and in this respect is loosely analogous to that of the headquarters of international organisations."[4]

List of states often labelled as microstates

Arms Flag Microstate Capital city Area (km2/sqmi) Notes
Andorra – Principality of Andorra Andorra la Vella 468 km2 (181 sq mi) The Principality of Andorra used to be a feudal remnant high in the Pyrenees, a fiefdom held jointly by the Bishop of Urgell in Spain and the Count of Foix in France, with a population of approximately 89,000. The County of Foix merged into the French Crown in 1607 and thus the King of France and then the President of France took the place of the Count of Foix. Since 1993 Andorra has been a parliamentary democracy, but it maintains two Co-Princes, one being France's elected head of state and the other being the Bishop of Urgell. It has been independent since 1278. Catalan is its official language.
Liechtenstein – Principality of Liechtenstein Vaduz 160 km2 (62 sq mi) The Principality of Liechtenstein is the sole remaining polity of the Holy Roman Empire, having been created out of the counties of Vaduz and Schellenberg in 1719 as a sovereign fief for the wealthy Austrian House of Liechtenstein. Its population is over 35,000. Owing to its geographic position between Switzerland and Austria, it was not swallowed up during the reorganisation of Germany following the French Revolution, and avoided incorporation into the German Empire later in the 19th century.
Malta – Republic of Malta Valletta 316 km2 (122 sq mi) The Republic of Malta is an archipelago of seven islands in the central Mediterranean Sea and has a population of around 446,000 (2013 estimate),[5] meaning it has a larger population than several non-microstates, notably Iceland which has a population of around 325,000 (2014 estimate).[6] People first arrived on Malta about 5200 BC from the nearby island of Sicily. It gained independence from the United Kingdom as a Commonwealth realm in 1964, and became a republic in 1974. Malta is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the only microstate to be a full member of the European Union. Roman Catholicism is the official state religion of Malta.
Monaco – Principality of Monaco Monaco-Ville (de facto) 2.02 km2 (0.78 sq mi) The Principality of Monaco on the French Riviera, ruled by the House of Grimaldi since the 13th century, achieved full independence only following the cession of the surrounding Nice region from Piedmont to France in 1860.

Monaco is located on the Mediterranean Sea, tucked into the Maritime Alps and has a population of around 35,000. Its constitutional monarchy is led by Prince Albert II. The population is 95% Roman Catholic. French, English, Italian, and Monégasque are the most widely spoken languages. Its economy is based on light manufacturing, banking and financial services, shipping and trade, R&D in biotechnology, marine environments, and tourism.

San Marino – Republic of San Marino Città di San Marino 61 km2 (24 sq mi) The Republic of San Marino,[7] also known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino,[7] is the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world. It is the continuation of a monastic community founded in 301 A.D. and is the last survivor of a large number of self-governing Italian communes from the Middle Ages, having survived the consolidation of Italy into medium-sized territorial states in the 15th century and the unification of Italy in the 19th century, largely owing to its remote location in a valley of the Apennines and its decision to offer sanctuary to leaders of the unification movement. It has a population of approximately 30,000.
Vatican City – Vatican City State Vatican City 0.49 km2 (0.19 sq mi)[8] The State of the Vatican City is the last remnant of the former Papal States, the lands in central Italy ruled directly by the Pope. After the unification of Italy in the 19th century the Papal States had become formally part of the Kingdom of Italy, but the Vatican disputed this claim of geographic authority, and the Papacy continued to exercise de facto political control over an area around St Peter's Basilica in Rome. A sovereign Vatican state was later established by the Lateran Treaty of 1929 between the Pope and the government of Benito Mussolini, in which the Pope recognised the Italian state in exchange for establishing Roman Catholicism as the state religion, and recognition of the Pope's sovereignty over a tiny state located entirely within the city of Rome. Its population is about 800, of whom about 450 reside in its territory.[9]

The Holy See is a unique sovereign entity under international law distinct from Vatican City with the pope as the head of both, maintaining diplomatic and official relations with over 170 states and entities and participating in various international organizations either in its own capacity or on behalf of Vatican City.

The Rock in Monaco-Ville, Monaco

Economic policies and relationship with the European Union

The European microstates are all of the limited size, population and have limited natural resources. As a result, they have adopted special economic policies, typically involving low levels of taxation and few restrictions on external financial investment. Malta is a full member of the European Union, while the other five European microstates have obtained special relations with the European Union. Many of the microstates have also entered into a customs union with their larger neighbours to improve their economic situation (Vatican City and San Marino with Italy, Liechtenstein with Switzerland, Monaco with France). Most of them lack clearly marked borders; for example, Monaco forms a continuous metropolitan area with its neighboring French communes (the largest being Beausoleil) and has many streets running across or along the border.

Similar entities


While the microstates have sovereignty over their own territory, there are also a number of small autonomous territories, which despite having (in almost all cases) their own independent government, executive branch, legislature, judiciary, police, and other trappings of independence, are nonetheless under the sovereignty of another state or monarch.

Sovereign Military Order of Malta

Flag of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is a Catholic lay order that is a traditional example of a sovereign entity under international law other than a state.

Unlike the Holy See, which is sovereign over the Vatican City, the Order has no territory. However, its headquarters, located in Palazzo Malta and Villa Malta, are granted extraterritoriality by Italy, and the same status is recognized by Malta regarding its historical headquarters, located in Fort St Angelo.[10] The Order is the direct successor to the medieval Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of Malta, and today operates as a largely charitable and ceremonial organization.

It has permanent non-state observer status at the United Nations, has full diplomatic relations, including embassies, with 100 states[11] and is in more informal relationships with five others. It issues its own stamps, coins, passports, and license plates, and has its own army medical corps.

Historical small territories

The wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars caused the European map to be redrawn several times. A number of short-lived client republics were created, and the fall of the Holy Roman Empire gave sovereignty to each of its many surviving Kleinstaaterei. The situation was not stabilized until after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Following World War I and World War II a number of territories gained temporary status as international zones, protectorates or occupied territories. A few of them are mentioned here:

Historical small territories
Name Start date End date Modern-day state(s) Notes
Couto Misto10th century1868Spain/PortugalIndependent microstate on the border between Spain and Portugal
Duchy of Naples8401137ItalyThe Duchy survived the withdrawal of the Byzantine Empire and remained independent until subsumed by the Kingdom of Sicily in 1137
Republic of Lucca11601805ItalyThe Republic was absorbed into the Principality of Lucca and Piombino (a client state of the First French Empire) between 1805 and 1815, and formed the independent Duchy of Lucca between 1815 and 1847, as a consequence of the Congress of Vienna
County of Santa Fiora12741633Italy 
Senarica13431797ItalySmallest independent state to hold that distinction for so long
Republic of Mulhouse13471798France 
Republic of Ragusa14th century1808Dubrovnik, Croatia 
Republic of Cospaia14401826ItalyCreated after an error by Pope Eugene IV during the sale of territory to the Republic of Florence. A small strip of land went unmentioned in the sale treaty and its inhabitants promptly declared themselves independent.
Republic of Saint-Malo15901594Ille-et-Vilaine, France 
Republic of Paulava17691795LithuaniaA completely independent republic founded by a Lithuanian noble Paweł Ksawery Brzostowski with its own President, parliament, laws and army. The state was recognized by the Grand Duke and King Stanisław August Poniatowski itself.[12][13]
Gozo17981800Gozo, Malta 
Free City of Kraków18151846Kraków Poland 
Neutral Moresnet18161920Kelmis, BelgiumNeutral Moresnet was a condominium between the Netherlands and Prussia over a disputed zinc mine.[14] 
Free Cities of Menton and Roquebrune18481849FranceThe Free Cities of Menton and Roquebrune seceded from Monaco in 1848. In November 1849 they were annexed by Sardinia, and in 1861 were annexed by France.
Republic of Krushevo3 August 190313 August 1903Municipality of Kruševo, North Macedonia 
Free State of SchwentenJanuary 1919August 1919Świętno, Poland 
Free City of Danzig19201939Gdańsk, Poland 
Klaipeda Region or Memel Territory19201923LithuaniaThe territory was placed under French control under the Treaty of Versailles in 1920, but was occupied by Lithuania in 1923 in the Klaipėda Revolt
Free State of Fiume19201924Rijeka, Croatia 
Saar (League of Nations mandate)19201935Saarland, GermanyFollowing World War I, the Saar was a League of Nations mandate under French control, until a referendum in 1935 saw over 90% of voters opt to return to Germany.
Saar (protectorate)19451956Saarland, GermanyFollowing World War II, France governed the Saar directly as a protectorate, surrounded by France proper to the west and the French Zone of Occupation of Germany to the east.
Free Territory of Trieste19471954Divided between Italy, Slovenia and CroatiaTrieste had been occupied by Italy following the end of World War I, and was notionally recreated as a Free Territory following the end of World War II, when it was divided between areas of Allied and Yugoslav control, formalised in 1954 with the Allied part being returned to Italy.
Dubrovnik Republic (1991)19911991Dubrovnik, Croatia 
  • Association football club AS Monaco FC, though based in Monaco, plays in the French football league system. In contrast, Malta maintains its own league system with a 14-team top division.
  • Some of the European microstates are members of the Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE); several of the island dependencies compete in the Island Games, alongside several other island dependencies from elsewhere in the world. Countries that participate at the Games of the Small States of Europe are: Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro and San Marino.
  • Monaco (since 1959), Malta (since 1971), Andorra (from 2004 to 2009), and San Marino (debut in 2008, then from 2011 onwards) are or were contestant countries of Eurovision Song Contest.


  • Duchy of Grand Fenwick, an imaginary European microstate in a 1955 novel called The Mouse That Roared by Irish-American writer Leonard Wibberley. The novel was later adapted to a play and film.
  • Principality of Genovia is a European fictional microstate created by writer Meg Cabot in the book series The Princess Diaries of 2000, and adapted to film.
  • Pottsylvania is a fictional small eastern European country that appeared in the television series Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show, collectively referred to as Rocky and Bullwinkle between 1959 and 1964.
  • Slovetzia is a fictional small eastern European country that appeared in the 1997 film The Beautician and the Beast.

See also


  1. Klieger, P. C. (2012). The Microstates of Europe: Designer Nations in a Post-Modern World. Lexington Books.
  2. Dumienski, Zbigniew (2014). "Microstates as Modern Protected States: Towards a New Definition of Micro-Statehood" (PDF). Occasional Paper. Centre for Small State Studies. Retrieved 6 July 2014. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. Eccardt, Thomas M. (26 October 2017). "Secrets of the Seven Smallest States of Europe: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City". Hippocrene Books via Google Books.
  4. Mendelson, M., 1972. Diminutive States in the United Nations. The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 21(4), pp.609–630.
  5. "Estimated Population by Locality - 31st March, 2013" (PDF). Malta Government Gazette no. 19094. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  6. "Key figures". Statistics Iceland. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  7. "San Marino". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 March 2011.
  8. De Agostini Atlas Calendar, 1945–46, p. 128. (in Italian)
  9. "Population" (in Italian). Vatican City State. 1 February 2019. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  10. "After Two Centuries, The Order of Malta Flag Flies Over Fort St. Angelo, Beside The Maltese Flag " Sovereign Order of Malta - Official Site". Archived from the original on 16 September 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  11. The Order's official website lists them in this table |date=19 November 2016.
  12. Grigaliūnaitė, Violeta. "Paulavos respublika: vieta, galėjusi tapti lietuviškuoju Monaku ar Lichtenšteinu". Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  13. "Paulavos respublika. Kas tai? - Lankytina vieta Merkinėje". (in Lithuanian). 5 June 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  14. Dröge, Philip, Moresnet, Unieboek, Antwerp, Belgium, March 2016
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