Andorra

Andorra, small independent European coprincipality situated among the southern peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains and bounded by France to the north and east and by Spain to the south and west. It is one of the smallest states in Europe. The capital is Andorra la Vella.

Andorra consists of a cluster of mountain valleys whose streams unite to form the Valira River. Two of these streams, the Madriu and the Perafita, flow into the Madriu-Perafita-Claror valley, which occupies about one-tenth of Andorra’s land area and is characterized by glacial landscapes, steep valleys, and open pastures. The valley was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004.

Andorra has traditionally had a strong affinity with the region of Catalonia in northern Spain. Andorra’s official language is Catalan (Spanish and French are also spoken); its institutions are based in Catalonian law, and a large proportion of the Spanish immigrants (or their descendants) in Andorra are Catalan. Most Andorrans are Roman Catholic; Andorra is part of the diocese of Urgel. Almost nine-tenths of the population is classified as urban, and half of residents are foreign nationals, mainly from Spain, France, and Portugal.

With only a tiny proportion of Andorra’s land cultivable, the traditional economy centred on the pasturing of sheep and the harvesting of modest quantities of tobacco, rye, wheat, olives, grapes, and potatoes. Industry was limited to processing these products and to handicrafts. Because of the lack of customs duties and low or nonexistent taxes, Andorra has become an important international centre of retail trade that has attracted millions of shoppers from all over Europe with its duty-free imported consumer goods, including alcoholic beverages, electronic devices, tobacco, and clothing. Tourism is another of Andorra’s leading industries, and the area has excellent opportunities for winter sports. The construction industry flourished in response to the increase in tourism. The banking sector is also economically significant.

Although not a member of the European Union, Andorra has used the euro as its de facto primary currency since 2002. In July 2011 Andorra concluded a monetary agreement with the EU that made the euro its official currency, although the Andorran government was not granted the power to issue its own euro banknotes. No railway system exists, but good roads link Andorra with France and Spain, and the principality is served by a small airport in Seo de Urgel, Spain. The University of Andorra was established in 1997; it has faculties in nursing, computer studies, and virtual studies and continuing education. Virtually all Andorrans are literate.

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