Britain: Big shout for Europe's tiny states

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The Independent Online
If you want to see the Continent at its most civilised, go to Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino or the Isle of Man, argues Cleo Paskal.

At a time when EU centralising is driving regions to clamour for more self-determination (and the right to produce culturally important cheeses), Europe's microstates are a shining beacon to disestablishmentarianists everywhere. They thumbed their turned-up noses at the "big is better" trend, and as a result are doing much better than their cumbersome neighbours.

In the same way that Monaco is saner than France, Andorra does better than Spain. It nestles in the Pyrenees, between France and Spain, and for years the avowed mainstay of the economy was "trans-shipments of goods" (smuggling). It was once described as "a cross between Shangri-La and Heathrow Duty Free". In typical small-country style, the government safeguarded its farmers from being wiped out in the flood of foreign goods by insisting that foreign tobacco companies that wished to sell in Andorra had first to buy up Andorra's entire crop of (unspeakably vile) tobacco. The country is now largely a congenial tax haven, with excellent skiing.

San Marino is treated with reverence (and not a little bit of envy) by the rest of Italy. Not only does the oldest republic in the world have to import labour from Italy, its citizens also pay lower taxes (and they really do pay them) and get better benefits. Corruption is closely and effectively monitored and voter fraud is unknown.

Liechtenstein, erstwhile false-teeth-production capital of Europe, is another haven of free, high-quality education and health care. Its citizens are provided with an eiderdown-padded social net through secret (and lucrative) banking procedures that make Switzerland look as discreet as my uncle Joe after four Scotches. They generated additional funds from having made the entire country a heavily ticketed pay-for-parking zone. Tourists just driving though often end up paying a "but officer I just left my car here for a second while I ran in to get a postcard of your beautiful country" tax.

Just in case you are feeling a bit smug about the New Britain, drop in on the Isle of Man. Often described as England in the Fifties, it is comparably safe, friendly and beautiful, though also, in true Fifties style, homophobic. State schools deliver quality education and best of all, there are no speed limits and excellent kippers.

So next time Brussels sprouts some no-brainer about how homogenity is good for Europe, mumble under your breath, "oh yeah? Well then, how come San Marino's entire penal system consists of six generally empty prison cells". Or, better yet, declare your house an independent nation.

With no speed limits.