Why does Western Europe have small 'in between' countries? For example, Andorra is a tiny country between Spain and France. Another example is Luxembourg which is between France and Germany. Even Monaco, which is surrounded by France, is close to the border of Italy, while little Liechtenstein is between Austria and Switzerland.

Is there a common reason why these kinds of countries form? For example, are they created to give people who don't identify with either of the surrounding countries' cultures or policies a place of their own? These 'in between' countries appear to be a Western European phenomenon.

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    Small countries were the norm in the middle-ages; nation-states were formed in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. France was much smaller in the middle-ages, Switzerland used to be just a military alliance of a couple of small countries until 1803, and Italy and Germany unifyied as late as the 1860s and 1871 respectively.
    – Bregalad
    Apr 7, 2018 at 17:06
  • San Marino is 100% inside Italy. So is Vatican City, which is a bit of a special case, though. More small nations that are a bit less independent: the Channel Islands (two entities), the Isle of Man, the Faroe Islands, Åland.
    – chirlu
    Apr 7, 2018 at 17:37
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    Possible duplicate of How have European microstates survived? Apr 8, 2018 at 4:38
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    Have a look at how parts of the Netherlands are inside parts of Belgium that are inside the Netherlands. This happened because in medieval times, land ownership was linked to persons, not "states" (which didn't exist). Most principalities have, over time, been absorbed by larger entities (as kings gained power and individual lords lost power), eventually being reformed as states (in the process sometimes creating oddities like the one I linked). Other principalities, like Andorra or Liechtenstein, remained as individual territories.
    – DevSolar
    Apr 9, 2018 at 9:40
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    (ctd.) So, in a way, "small" and "in between" was the default, and the large nation states predominant today were the "new thing".
    – DevSolar
    Apr 9, 2018 at 9:43

3 Answers 3


Every country in the world has its own history. In Medieval Europe there were hundreds and possibly thousands of small states, most of which were more or less subordinate to larger states that in turn were more or less subordinate to still larger states, and so on.

In the later middle ages and modern times rulers of powerful states sought to gain more and more control over their subordinate states and to conquer small states that were not subordinate to them.

So after about 500 or 600 years of history the map of Europe is mostly composed of large countries whose members mostly speak the national language and feel like members of the national ethnic group. The large (but not total) coincidence between ethnic groups and national borders is due to the efforts of national governments to convert all members of ethnic groups within their borders to members of the national ethnic group.

So the few tiny countries remaining in Europe are the remnants of the large number of former countries that once existed in Europe, the survivors that were not annexed by larger countries.

  • Wasn't it mostly due to the partitioning after WW1?
    – John Dee
    Apr 7, 2018 at 22:00
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    Andorra, Monaco, Luxemburg, Lichtenstein, and San Marino existed before WWI, Vatican City was created after WWI in 1929 for reasons mostly unconnected with the war, and Malta & Cyprus were created after WWII. All other European countries are larger than Cyprus (except for a few post soviet nations not recognized by every nation) including those created after WWI.
    – MAGolding
    Apr 10, 2018 at 3:20

In the case of Luxembourg, the country's independance was established during the early 19th century because of the strength of its main fortress in the capital, Luxembourg-ville.

But not so because some fierce nationalists would have used the fortress to defend the country against imperialist invaders. Rather because the fortress was such a huge advantage for whoever controlled it, that giving full sovereignty to either France, The Netherlands or Prussia/Germany would have been a threat to the security of the other two.

The balance of powers was considered during the 19th century, and possibly untill WWII, as the main garantee for peace. This concept drove the European policy of UK, and of some continental leaders like Metternich. As a consequence, the Congress of Vienna (1815), the first Treaty of London (1839) and the Second Treaty of London (1867) gradually led to the small, independant country of Luxembourg, and to the dismantlement of its capital's fortress - to make sure no imperialist power would take advantage of it.

Remaining neutral for the next 150 years must have helped Luxembourg to maintain or recover its independance ever since, even if it has not prevented its occupation by Germany during both World Wars.



This is actually part of a larger phenomenon -- in general, Europe is less unified politically than other parts of the world. China, for example, was a single empire for much of its history, often with a population greater than Europe's. India since about 1500 had one empire that controlled much of it.

In Europe, the losing side in a war was often not absorbed by the winning side, and sometimes the outcome of a war was the creation of more countries, i.e. WW1.

In recent decades, the already-large number of countries became even bigger as Yugoslavia, the USSR and Czechoslovakia all split up.

Various arguments have been made for why this is so. One was the influence of the Pope, and his independence from any State. By contrast, in other parts of the world, the political authorities often were also the religious authorities.

Another reason that has beens given is the geographic disunity of Europe. Water and mountains naturally divide it up into a lot of regions, with pieces such as Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, Iberia, and Italy that don't naturally fit into another piece.


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