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Andorra continued in 2006 to participate in the European Union (EU) Savings Tax Directive, which undermines the country’s status as a major tax haven.
As a co-principality, Andorra was ruled jointly for 715 years, from 1278 to 1993, by French and Spanish leaders; since 1607 this has involved the president of France and the Spanish bishop of Seu d’Urgel, Spain, who, as of May 12, 2003, was Monsignor Joan Enric Vives i Sicilia. The 1993 constitution modified this feudal system, keeping the titular heads of state but transforming the government into a parliamentary democracy. Andorra became a member of the United Nations in 1993 and a member of the Council of Europe in 1994.
In April 2005, the country held national elections returning the Liberal Party of Andorra (PLA) to power with 42 percent of the vote and 14 out of the 28 seats in the Consell General. The PLA, however, lost ground and no longer has the absolute majority it had gained in the 2001 elections. The Social Democratic Party (PS) doubled its support, winning 12 seats compared with the 6 it had won in 2001. The remaining 2 seats in the Consell are held by CDA–Segle-21, a union of the two center-right parties (Andorran Democratic Center Party, or CDA, and Century 21, or S21). PLA leader Marc Forne stepped down as cap de govern (executive council president) and was replaced by former foreign minister Albert Pinat Santolaria.
One of the main goals of the Pinat government is to move forward with reforms required by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to remove the country from its list of tax havens. The EU Savings Tax Directive, which provides a way to tax revenue from savings accounts held by European citizens in a member state other than their own country of residence or in certain non-EU countries, came into effect on July 1, 2005. Andorra agreed to participate in the directive, which is intended to prevent harmful tax practices, in November 2004.
Andorra is an electoral democracy. About 80 percent of registered voters participated in elections in 2005 to choose the members of the Consell General, which then selects the executive council (cabinet) president, who is the head of government. Popular elections to the 28-member Parliament are held every four years. Fourteen members are chosen in two-seat constituencies known as “parishes,” and 14 are chosen by a national system of proportional representation.
The people have the right to establish and join different political parties, and an opposition vote exists. However, more than 60 percent of the population consists of noncitizens, who have no right to vote and face a number of hurdles that bar them from becoming citizens. As a result, there is little participation by non-Andorrans in government and politics.
The country currently participates in the EU Savings Tax Directive, which is designed to reduce tax evasion in offshore accounts such as those found in Andorra. Because of a lack of available information, Transparency International did not review and rank Andorra in its 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech is respected across the country. There are two independent daily newspapers— Diari d’Andorra and El Peridico de Andorra —access to broadcasts from neighboring France and Spain, and unlimited internet access.
Although Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion and the constitution recognizes a special relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, the state has ceased providing the Church with subsidies. There are no restrictions on proselytizing, and Mormons and members of Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to do so, unimpeded. Negotiations between the Muslim community and the government have still not produced a proper mosque for the close to 2,000 Muslims residing in the country. The Muslim community’s 2003 request to convert some public buildings into a mosque was turned down by the government. Similar requests made to the Catholic bishop to use a former church were not well received. The government does provide public facilities for various religious functions for the Muslim community. Academic freedom is respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are generally respected. Domestic and international human rights organizations operate within the country with little government interference. Although the government recognizes that both “workers and employers have the right to defend their own economic and social interests,” there is neither an explicit right to strike nor legislation penalizing antiunion discrimination. A law regulating collective bargaining has been expected from parliament for some time. There have been few advances in labor rights in the country since the creation of a registry for associations in 2001, which has enabled trade unions to gain the legal recognition that they had lacked previously.
The country’s judicial system, which is based on Spanish and French civil codes, does not have the power of judicial review of legislative acts. Police can detain suspects for up to 48 hours without charging them with a crime. The country does not maintain a military force and depends on France and Spain for the defense of its borders. Prison conditions meet international standards.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance criticized Andorra, in its 2003 report, for the country’s restrictive naturalization criteria. Even though a majority of those living in Andorra are noncitizens, a person can become a citizen only by marrying a resident Andorran or by residing in the country for more than 25 years. Prospective citizens are also required to learn Catalan, the national language. Although noncitizens receive most of the social and economic benefits of citizens, they lack the right to vote.
Immigrant workers, primarily from North Africa, complain that they lack the same rights as citizens. Although the law gives legal status to 7,000 immigrants, many immigrants hold only “temporary work authorizations.” Temporary workers are in a precarious position, as they must leave the country when their job contract expires.
Citizens have the right to own property, but noncitizens can own only 33 percent of a company unless they have lived in the country for 20 years or more. A proposed law to reduce this requirement from 20 to 10 years is pending in Parliament.
Women enjoy the same legal, political, social, and professional rights as men, although they are underrepresented in government. Today, only four women occupy seats in Parliament. There are no specific laws addressing violence against women, which remains a problem across the country. There are no government departments for women’s issues or government-run shelters for battered women. Abortion is illegal, except to save the life of the mother.