At one time, or rather in summer of 1901, famous Russian poet, translator, landscape painter, essayist and literary critic Maximilian Voloshin was the first Russian to make a spontaneous journey from Paris to the unknown for him country of Andorra. He got to know its romantic beauty on foot along Pyrenean mud-locked roads. And he stayed there not for long. The fruits of the poet's stay in the Pyrenean state were travel notes, landscapes, poems and letters...
Almost 117 years later, I got to reach the capital of the Pyrenean principality via Spain: first by train from Madrid to the Catalan city of Lerida (Lleida), and then by bus to Andorra la Vella. And already the next day, there took place my conversation (held by our embassy in Madrid) with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Andorra Maria Ubach, who had kindly agreed to answer questions from the observer of “International Affairs”.
But first, by tradition, we will introduce our interlocutor to readers.
Maria Ubach Font was born in 1973 in Andorra. She received higher education in France. In 1998 she graduated from the Faculty of Economics of the University of Toulouse and Grenoble. She received a master's degree in international relations at the Sorbonne University in Paris. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Andorra she has worked since 1998. She was a Deputy Permanent Representative of Andorra to the Council of Europe (1998-2001), then – a Deputy Permanent Representative of her country to UNESCO (2001-2006). Then for five years she headed the Department for Multilateral Affairs and Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Andorra. From 2011 to 2015 she was Ambassador to France and concurrently accredited in Portugal, being at the same time a Permanent Representative of Andorra to UNESCO and representing the Head of Government of her country in the Permanent Council of the International Organization of Francophonie. And since 2015, Maria Ubach served as Ambassador of Andorra to the EU, and concurrently accredited in Germany and the Benelux countries. And on July 17, 2017 she was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Principality of Andorra. Maria Ubach is fluent in Catalan, French, English and Spanish ...
... Of course, for more than 100 years after Maximilian Voloshin, Andorra has changed a lot and continues changing. Formerly there were Only the Pyrenees, valleys, streams and rivers remain as they were previously.
- Ms. Minister, we in Russia, perhaps, except for experts and inquisitive tourists, are little acquainted with your country, with the main directions of development of the Principality of Andorra. What are the most significant results of the current domestic policy of your country and the principles of the Andorran foreign policy?
- First of all, I would like to note that our country has significantly changed over the past 6-7 years. And, what is more, for various reasons and in different sectors.
In the first place, changes for the better have occurred in a number of sectors of the Andorran economy. For a long time already our principality has lived mainly on account of two basic branches - foreign tourism and trade. However, after a serious economic crisis that our country experienced in the late 2000s, Andorra faced a need for change. Two traditional industries were clearly not enough. Furthermore, the principality is surrounded by the Pyrenees, and our Andorran mentality has always been considered "closed" and conservative. So our psychology also needs to be gradually changed. And little by little we began to move to a new phase of our history and build a modern, more open and diversified economy. Of course, tourism and commerce remain basic sectors, locomotives of our development. All in all, the country annually receives on the average 8 million foreign visitors.
But we began to complement these leading industries, for example, by providing economic prosperity thanks to a variety of new services, latest information technologies and so on. Moreover, we carry out a fiscal reform. Such changes required an increasing recognition of Andorra in the international field. In July 2016 our parliament ratified the Convention with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. Previously, we had very low taxes. And since January 2015, we introduced direct taxation of companies' profits in the country and introduced a tax on economic activities, lease and rent, as well as VAT. These measures, according to our calculations, will increase state budget revenues, but our country will still have fiscal advantages in comparison with neighboring countries. We go on working to create an open and transparent national economy. In every possible way we promote its diversification, attracting foreign investments to the country. We invite qualified specialists from abroad to us, herewith fixing strict quotas for their number.
- Andorra has opened to the world and activates its foreign policy. And in what way?
- We continue to take steps to reform the country in accordance with international rules. We work on our rapprochement with international organizations, first of all, with the European Union. We are in the process of preparing an agreement with the European Union on association. This will give opportunities to commerce on equal terms and duty-free with all the EU countries. And in view of this, we work to harmonize and modernize our legal framework. We also negotiate with other small countries, such as Monaco and San Marino, to take a common stand in contacts with the EU. More recently, it has been agreed that Andorra will become a venue for the Iberoamerican Summit in 2020 for the first time in its history. The decision was unanimously adopted last December by the ministers of foreign affairs of Iberoamerican countries at the 24th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Andorra participated in the global summit on combating climate change, held in Paris, - One Planet Summit.
We also actively work in the Latin American direction. We developed business ties with countries of this region, as well as with states, members of the International Organization of Francophonie (OIF). Our principality is a full member of main international organizations, such as the UN, UNESCO, WHO, WTO, OSCE and the Council of Europe.
Abroad, our modest Andorra has got only 5 embassies - in Spain, France, Austria, Portugal and Belgium. Our Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York serves as embassy to the United States, Canada and Mexico. We also have a mission to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and international organizations in Europe. In Andorra itself there function embassies only of Spain and France, which our country traditionally has got special relations with. They are our major trade and economic associates and the closest states in cultural and humanitarian relations.
Today, Andorra is very active in foreign policy activities on a wide range of subjects. We seek a maximally wide dialogue with all countries of the world community; we seek a greater openness in all areas - political, financial, as well as on refugee issues. Such are now, briefly, the main principles and directions of the foreign policy of our principality. Our country is small and fragile. That is why we, in priority, need a support and a broader cooperation with the European Union and we are work towards it.
- Sometimes you have to hear and read that Andorra, despite its small size, is famous for its stability and quiet and level life of its citizens. What is the basis of your citizens´ well-being?
- As I´ve already said, the well-being of our citizens is based on foreign tourism, trade and a number of new directions, which I´ve mentioned as well. With a population of 70 thousand plus people, we annually receive more than eight million tourists. Andorra, indeed, enjoys the glory of a stable and tranquil country. We hope that henceforward it will stay that way. It is stability and safety along with beauties of the nature, that attract many tourists to our country.
- What did the Andorran people manage to achieve in the course of many years of their country´s remarkable history, and what are the principality citizens still missing ?
- It's a difficult question ... I'll try to answer it as simply as possible. Andorra has got a long and difficult history. The first mention of the tribes inhabiting the territory of the present Andorra dates back to 778. Here also lived the Visigoths, who had taken refuge in the Pyrenees from the Arabs’ invasion. And in 817 Andorra was annexed to the possessions of Emperor Charlemagne. In 1133 it was handed over under the authority of the bishop of Urgel.
Then French feudal lords and Urgel bishops fought for the country, the latters´ finally concluding an agreement (in 1278) with the counties of de Foix on joint suzerainty. This year is considered the year of Andorra´s emergence. In 1607 the principality was patronized by French kings, and from the 19th century - by the Presidents of France. Until 1993 Andorra was under the protectorate of two countries - France and Spain.
And on March 14, 1993, in a referendum Andorrans approved a new Constitution, which established a parliamentary form of government in the country. Then there was signed the Treaty on Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation between Andorra, Spain and France. It entrenched a new status of the sovereign state - the Principality of Andorra. Such is our history. Parliament also existed in the past - we have one of the oldest parliaments in Europe (the Council of Land was instituted in Andorra in 1419!) ...
For a long time Andorra was a poor agrarian country, which citizens left in search of work for the south of France or for Spain.
However, the situation began to change already in the 30 - 40s of the last century. Although even today the labor market in Andorra is rather small. Therefore, after receiving education in Andorra or in neighboring countries, and not finding occupational work inside the country, some young people go in search for it to other states. After we sign the agreement with the European Union, they will be able to freely travel to its member-countries to find job there according to their specialty. Andorrans support the initiatives by the authorities to modernize the country, reach greater openness and diversify the economy. We are still facing many problems, but we are working to solve them.
- Do migrants from other states come to your country as well?
- Yes, for example, Latin-Americans come to our country. In the winter time they work at mountain ski resorts as maintenance personnel. Asian-born also work here, but there are quite few of them.. By the way, Russian citizens also live here. To date, there are 516 Russians in Andorra. The immigration policy of the Principality is under control, and the number of immigrants is strictly quoted according to demands of the economy.
- And, of course, I would like to ask you, Ms. Minister, about the history of relations between Andorra and Russia, about main landmarks of the relations between our countries?
- The diplomatic relations between Andorra and Russia were established on June 13, 1995. So in 2020 we will celebrate their quarter-century anniversary. We evaluate our bilateral relations positively. We have very good relations with Russian Ambassador to Spain Yuri Korchagin, who is concurrently accredited in Andorra c and stays in Madrid. Here we have honorary consul Pere Joan Thomas, famous Andorran businessman, who in 2006 became the first ambassador of our country in Moscow with his residence in Andorra. He does a lot for the development of Russian-Andorran relations in many directions. Andorra supports Russia in the elections to various international organizations. This just happened at the elections to the executive committee of the World Tourism Organization, where we helped to run in a Russian candidate. Our country strives to develop and expand the ties with Russia. Trade and economic relations are still of small scale. But the relations in the field of tourism are steadily growing. Our travel companies work closely with Russian tour operators to attract Russians to go on vacation to Andorra. In 2018, we expect about 50-60 thousand guests from Russia. By this number, they firmly hold the third-fourth position after Spanish, French and British tourists.
We have successes in the development of cultural relations and humanitarian contacts as well.
- What about the Russian-Andorran cooperation in the field of education? Do Andorran young people study in Russia?
- Right off I will say: our education structure is special. It includes three systems: the Andorran one, which developed in the 1980s and uses the Catalan language, namely, our official language. In general, in our country, in education there exists linguistic diversity. Lessons can be taught in French, Spanish, English and Portuguese. In addition to our system, there function two more systems - French and Spanish. Young people can study in France and Spain up to receiving bachelorhood. And residents of our neighboring countries can also study in Andorra. Every Andorran has also got a right to choose any of these systems. The state guarantees them this right.
At the same time, Andorra has its own social system, largely influenced by the French one.
The literacy rate in our country is one hundred percent. Primary and secondary education for Andorrans is compulsory and free. The country has got its own small state university, founded in 1997. There are only 4 faculties in it – of medicine, informatics and management, distance education and advanced vocational education. A little more than 40% of the total number of Andorran students study at our university. The rest mainly prefer to study at universities in Spain and France.
As to our cooperation with Russia in this area, it’s difficult to say anything. Do any Andorrans study in your country? As far as I know, so far, not. Perhaps, it is a matter of the future.
- What are prospects of the relations between Andorra and Russia? What is planned to do for their development?
- First of all, we would like Andorran tour operators to operate more broadly in Russia and advertise more actively our potential to receive Russians in Andorra. As to the trade-economic and scientific-technical fields, both parties need to more carefully study the capacities of our states and actively cooperate in the international area, especially in the fields where our positions are close or coincide. We would like Russian people to know more about Andorra as well as about our steps to expand tourist offers. We would them to learn of the cultural attractiveness of our country, its museums and resorts, the unique beauties of our nature, sporting competitions and fishery. We invite Russians to rest and cooperate.
What would you wish the readers of our magazine?
- First of all, of course, I would like to wish everyone good health and a happy year; as well as - to visit Andorra to admire magnificent scenery of our small mountainous country and take advantages of all the potentialities of tourism, sports and recreation.
Thank you, Ms. Minister, for the interesting conversation.
The Principality of Andorra is a sovereign parliamentary state, located in the south-west of Europe in the eastern part of the Pyrenees between France and Spain. The area of the country is 468 square kilometers. (Two Andorra would fit on the territory of Moscow). It is the largest of the European ministates. According to the data for 2016, the registered population of the country was 78 264 people. Out of them, indigenous Andorrans were about 35 thousand. In the principality there also live Spaniards, Portuguese, French and citizens of other nationalities, including Russians. In the country there operate harsh immigration laws. Citizenship status can be granted to the foreigners, who have resided in Andorra for 20 years. Approximately 90% of Andorran residents consider themselves Catholics. The Constitution of 1993 has entrenched the historically formed administration of Andorra by two co-rulers - the Bishop of Urgel and the President of France, who are guarantors of independence and equitable good-neighborliness with Spain and France. Andorrans’ attitude towards Russia and the Russians is quite friendly.