A European microstate or European ministate is a very small sovereign state in Europe. In modern usage, it typically refers to the six smallest states in Europe by area: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City (the Holy See).[1]

Map of the European microstates

Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco and Vatican City are monarchies (Vatican City is an elective monarchy ruled by the Pope). These states trace their status back to the first millennium or the early second millennium except for Liechtenstein, created in the 17th century.

Microstates are small independent states recognised by larger states. According to the qualitative definition suggested by Zbigniew Dumieński (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, Monaco, and San Marino qualify as "microstates" as only these states are sovereignties functioning in close, but voluntary, association with their respective larger neighbours. Luxembourg and Cyprus which are far larger than all the European microstates combined, nonetheless share some of these characteristics.[3]

List of states often labelled as microstates

Arms Flag Microstate Capital city Area Notes
    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 sole official language.
    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 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),[4] meaning it has a larger population than several non-microstates, notably Iceland which has a population of around 325,000 (2014 estimate).[5] People first arrived 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.
    Monaco None (city-state) 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 Città di San Marino 61 km2 (24 sq mi) The Republic of San Marino,[6] also known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino,[6] is the oldest surviving sovereign constitutional republic in the world.[7] 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 None (city-state) 0.49 km2 (0.19 sq mi)[8] A sovereign Vatican state was 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 entirely surrounded by 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 organisations either in its own capacity or on behalf of Vatican City.

Economic policies and relationship with the European Union


The European microstates are all of limited size and population. They also 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 neighbouring 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 recognised 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 organisation.

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 Kleinstaaten. The situation was not stabilised 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 Misto 10th century 1868 Spain/Portugal Independent microstate on the border between Spain and Portugal
Duchy of Naples 840 1137 Italy The Duchy survived the withdrawal of the Byzantine Empire and remained independent until subsumed by the Kingdom of Sicily in 1137
Republic of Lucca 1160 1805 Italy The 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 Fiora 1274 1633 Italy  
Senarica 1343 1797 Italy Smallest independent state to hold that distinction for so long
Gersau 1433 1798 Switzerland  
Republic of Mulhouse 1347 1798 France  
Republic of Ragusa 1358 1808 Dubrovnik, Croatia  
Republic of Cospaia 1440 1826 Italy Created 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-Malo 1590 1594 Ille-et-Vilaine, France  
Republic of Paulava 1769 1795 Lithuania A completely independent republic founded by a Lithuanian noble Paweł Ksawery Brzostowski with its own President, parliament, laws and army. The state was recognised by the Grand Duke and King Stanisław August Poniatowski.[12][13]
Gozo 1798 1800 Gozo, Malta  
Free City of Kraków 1815 1846 Kraków Poland  
Neutral Moresnet 1816 1920 Kelmis, Belgium Neutral Moresnet was a condominium between the Netherlands and Prussia over a disputed zinc mine.[14] 
Free Cities of Menton and Roquebrune 1848 1849 France The 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 Kruševo 3 August 1903 13 August 1903 Municipality of Kruševo, North Macedonia  
Free State of Schwenten 6 January 1919 10 August 1919 Świętno, Poland  
Free State of Bottleneck 10 January 1919 23 February 1923 Hesse, Germany
Free City of Danzig 1920 1939 Gdańsk, Poland  
Klaipeda Region 1920 1923 Lithuania The 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 Fiume 1920 1924 Rijeka, Croatia  
Territory of the Saar Basin 1920 1935 Saarland, Germany Following 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 1945 1956 Saarland, Germany Following 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 Trieste 1947 1954 Divided between Italy, Slovenia and Croatia Trieste 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.

Historical dependencies


Several historical territorial dependencies and colonies have also formerly existed in Europe, under the sovereignty of another state or monarch. These include:


See also



  1. ^ Klieger, P. C. (2012). The Microstates of Europe: Designer Nations in a Post-Modern World. Lexington Books.
  2. ^ Dumieński, Zbigniew (2014). "Microstates as Modern Protected States: Towards a New Definition of Micro-Statehood" (PDF). Occasional Paper. Centre for Small State Studies. Retrieved 14 July 2022. {{cite journal}}: 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. ISBN 9780781810326 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ "Key figures". Statistics Iceland. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  6. ^ a b "San Marino". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 March 2011.
  7. ^ "San Marino is the oldest republic in the world". dw.com. Retrieved 31 August 2021.
  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". Orderofmalta.int. 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". 15min.lt. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  13. ^ "Paulavos respublika. Kas tai? - Lankytina vieta Merkinėje". TuristoPasaulis.lt (in Lithuanian). 5 June 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  14. ^ Dröge, Philip, Moresnet, Unieboek, Antwerp, Belgium, March 2016