Tiny Liechtenstein, the diminutive landlocked alpine nation of 36,000 located between Switzerland and Austria, gets little international attention due to its size, or lack thereof.
However, the principality has been rattled by a war of words between activists who want to revoke the royal veto and the hereditary prince, who has threatened to quit if they do, according to Agence France-Presse.
“Liechtenstein owes its very existence as a principality to its royal family and their princes, who have ruled it as an autonomous monarchy since the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806,” according to the wire service.
But current ruler Prince Alois von und zu Liechtenstein has threatened that his 900-year-old family will drop its royal duties if Liechtenstein passes a referendum eliminating the prince’s veto, a power enshrined in the constitution.
“The royal family is not willing to undertake its political responsibilities unless the prince … has the necessary tools at his disposal,” Alois said in a speech to parliament on March 1.
“But if the people are no longer open to that, then the royal family will not want to undertake its political responsibilities and … will completely withdraw from political life.”
Liechtenstein may be small – at just 62 square miles in size, it’s about one-twentieth the size of Rhode Island, the smallest US state – but it enjoys one of the highest living standards in the world due to healthy industrial and financial sectors.
Indeed, Liechtenstein has an average annual income of $137,070, according to the World Bank – the second-highest per capita in the world after Monaco.
Alois’ father Hans-Adam II, who transferred sovereignty to his eldest son in 2004 but officially remains head of state, is worth nearly $4 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
But the family, which still lives in its ancestral castle towering over the capital Vaduz, has been distressed what it sees as an attack on its power in the form of a petition drive dubbed “Yes, for your voice to count.”
The slogan refers to plans by a citizens’ committee to launch a referendum that would repeal the prince’s veto power.
“The movement first gained steam last year, when Alois, a 43-year-old father of four, threatened to veto a referendum legalizing abortion if citizens passed it,” according to Agence France-Presse. “After an acrimonious campaign, the referendum failed. Proponents blamed the prince’s veto threat.”
Sigvard Wohlwend, a spokesman for the movement, said the current campaign grew out of the abortion referendum and insisted the activists’ goal is not to do away with the monarchy but to give more power to Liechtenstein’s people.
But it is an uphill battle.
The campaign must gather 1,500 signatures by May 10 to call a referendum – not so easy in the fourth-smallest country in Europe, after the Vatican, Monaco and San Marino.
“It’s like a village here, and everyone knows everyone else. People don’t want anyone to know they’re voting for the referendum,” Wohlwend said.
(Above: Vaduz Castle in Liechtenstein, home to the nation’s royal family.)