The Principality of Andorra is de jure “a parliamentary co-principality with the president of France and the Catholic bishop of Urgell (Catalonia, Spain) as co-princes.” (From Wikipedia)

A visiting tourist however would likely have at least some credible reasons to doubt the sovereignty in fact. For example, the postal services are entirely supplied by Spain and France.

Also, it may be that “As co-princes of Andorra, the president of France and the bishop of Urgell maintain supreme authority in approval of all international treaties with France and Spain, as well as all those that deal with internal security, defense, Andorran territory, diplomatic representation, and judicial or penal cooperation. ” (Although I have not found official confirmation)

Which certainly suggests the sovereignty of Andorra is at best shared, and reliant on, French and Spanish sovereignty.

Since the actual situation seems better described by some other arrangement such as de facto protectorate, client state, etc., then the implication would be Andorra is only de jure sovereign.

If that is the case then the general principle seems to be that countries can possibly exist in a situation that is only de jure sovereign.

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    Look at the arrangements for San Marino. Oldest republic in the world. Country in it's own right - sort of, maybe. See Wikipedia . The Sanmarinades will, of course, tell you that they are a wholly independent nation. Feb 8, 2021 at 10:09
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    Which countries to your mind are 'de facto sovereign', and do not in any way 'share' their sovereignty?
    – AakashM
    Feb 8, 2021 at 22:30
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    What do postal services have to do with sovereignty? In many countries the government is not directly involved in postal services.
    – gerrit
    Feb 9, 2021 at 8:38
  • Ah, another sovereignty question :-). Feb 9, 2021 at 11:40
  • If you think of the internet as a sort of generalized postal service, then almost no country is sovereign according to this metric. Feb 9, 2021 at 23:41

4 Answers 4


In a way you are doing word games. International law has developed as customary law. There is no nature-given or God-given definition of sovereignty, it is merely a verbal shortcut to describe a whole raft of concepts which were historically related.

  • France officially accepts that Andorra is not part of France.
  • Spain officially accepts that Andorra is not part of Spain.
  • There is a government authority in Andorra, so it is not terra nullius.
  • Andorra is issuing passports which are accepted by other countries.

That means Andorra is, to a meaningful degree, sovereign. Any country, even the largest, has to accept that there are practical restrictions on their actions. No country is fully sovereign in the way some armchair international lawyers would use the term.

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    So every country is, at most, partially sovereign to varying degrees?
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Feb 8, 2021 at 16:28
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    @MichaelZ, yes. There are a few which have a very high freedom of action, but not total freedom of action. One could define this as being fully sovereign, accepting that full sovereignty is not full freedom of action, or one calls that partial sovereignty.
    – o.m.
    Feb 8, 2021 at 17:07
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    @MichaelZ, either that, or it is commonly understood what sovereignty means, and that full sovereignty is actually as much as most other states get. Just as freedom of speech is not the right to say anything at all without punishment -- there are libel laws, incitement or conspiracy to crimes, etc
    – o.m.
    Feb 8, 2021 at 18:15
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    @effedici, the EU member states can leave again any time they like. Of course then the treaties are no longer providing benefits, either. But consider Iran. In theory, they are sovereign and free to sell their oil to any other sovereign nation. In practice, both unilateral sanctions by a superpower and multilateral sanctions by other countries get in the way. So is Iran sovereign? No less than many other countries.
    – o.m.
    Feb 9, 2021 at 16:36
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    @IMSoP Under this perspective there are no "free actions". Every action has consequences, the meaningful difference is if you are able to do them (and subject yourself to the consequences) or you cannot without the consent of a third party. Feb 10, 2021 at 10:15

Canada, especially between 1949 and 1982, was in a quite comparable relationship to London, if we don't count practicalities such as independent access to the sea and military strength.

Even today, the Queen of Canada reigns from abroad. And yet, Canada is a sovereign country as much as a country can ever be.

Notes reflecting remarks by the OP and by JoelFan:

  1. This answer focuses on whether the mere fact of a shared or non-resident head of state necessarily impacts the sovereignty of a nation. The test I was applying was looking at what would likely happen during a constitutional crisis - a power clash between an unambiguously articulated will of the people of Andorra and the will of either Prince of Andorra. It helped that Andorra is a democracy. I could look at separation of powers, how the top ranks within each are constituted, on the process for constitutional amendments, and such.

  2. Canada appealed to me as a measuring stick as both Canada and Andorra have been through a number of slow paced political developments leading to more and more formal independence on its respective, generally friendly, shared/foreign head of state.

  3. I avoided the question of whether a country of any size, especially of small size and/or landlocked, can ever be immune to foreign military pressure, to invasions of its entire territory, and to (other than only symbolic) international trade blockades. I assumed that dwelling on this would be off topic. I think that small countries sometimes persisted for centuries (like Andorra) and other times they did not.

    The OP did not expressly doubt the de facto sovereignty of other small landlocked countries such as San Marino, or even of much larger but still invadable countries; I think that Andorra is doing well among its peers, that the will of the people of Andorra is sovereign within Andorra, and Andorra is treated as a sovereign nation by everybody else.

  4. I ignored the explicitly raised factor of whether Andorra is a member of the Universal Postal Union, given that Andorra is an undisputed member of other key international organizations, and of United Nations in particular, which is a strong indication of Andorra's de jure AND de facto sovereignty over a certain territory: the other UN members are not motivated to hypothetically allow another member to flood UN membership with a number of its puppet states. UN membership, and/or recognition by a majority of UN members, are more relevant tests for de facto sovereignty than the UPU membership.

  5. I ignored also the most conspicuous but possibly only rhetorical question of whether de jure sovereignty can be separated from de facto sovereignty: whose ius (whose law) would that be? The law of the sovereign in question? The law of their friends and influencers? The law of their mortal enemies? It's always possible to run a legal system which formally denies certain geopolitical reality for an extended period of time.

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    And the Queen is also known as the Sovereign :-)
    – gerrit
    Feb 9, 2021 at 9:04
  • Congratulations on all the upvotes, but this is not relevant to the question. Canada is "de facto" just as sovereign as any other conventional country. A casual visitor to Canada would have no reason to doubt its sovereignty as they would with Andorra, as Canada has every conventional sign of sovereignty. Any historical or present connection to the British Crown is de facto of ceremonial purpose only.
    – JoelFan
    Feb 9, 2021 at 21:15
  • This is actually an extremely tricky question upon further reflection for Canada, and I presume for the other federated nations too. Because, very technically, there are 11 co-sovereigns occupying the territory known as ‘Canada’. For example, the federal government does not have full independent sovereignty, as it can not indepedently change it’s consitution without the approval of the majority of the other 10 co-sovereigns, known as ‘Provinces’, even if the vast majority of Canadians agreed at the federal level. This could truly be a massive can of worms for the federated nations.
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Feb 9, 2021 at 22:50
  • @MichaelZ - It's even more complex if you consider also all the indigenous nations within Canada whose sovereignty predates white man's business there. However, I'm only exploring the role of Queen of Canada (+ the Westminster Parliament) versus the two Princes. I chose Canada as a measuring stick with several refinements of its constitutional ties to London, and as a country with a large territory to provide the contrast to Andorra. If you want a small unitary measuring stick, use Isle of Man and don't overlook the Marine etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act of 1967; Andorra seems ahead. Feb 9, 2021 at 23:38
  • @MichaelZ Those are internal, though, not external. The same could be said of the U.S. At least in theory, the federal government isn't supposed to change or violate the terms of the Constitution without 3/4 of the 50 states agreeing to the change (practice is unfortunately often another matter.) But those parties who must agree to the change are all internal, not external. Of course, the same idea applies to all functioning democracies. The power to lead the nation depends on keeping people happy enough to re-elect you. But, again, those people are internal, not external.
    – reirab
    Feb 9, 2021 at 23:38

Having your postal service run by another country doesn't compromise your sovereignty in any way. What would affect your sovereignty would being prohibited by that other country from deciding to run the postal service yourself, and them having the power to enforce it. As far as I’m aware, that’s not the case with Andorra —- its elected Parliament could decide to run its own postal service but chooses not to.

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    @RonJohn Yes, but they haven’t used that power to prohibit Andorra from running its own postal service, so that doesn’t matter. Of course France and Spain could remove Andorra’s sovereignty.
    – Mike Scott
    Feb 9, 2021 at 7:20
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    @RonJohn The President of France indeed has some power to enforce his individual will in Andorra, balanced by the Bishop of Urgell having the same. After all, they are the joint heads of state so this is only natural. Neither of these imply that the nations of France or Spain have the same power.
    – Falc
    Feb 9, 2021 at 13:47
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    Mike, having power but not using it still means you have the power.
    – RonJohn
    Feb 9, 2021 at 13:49
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    I think Faic's point is a good one, that these people as individuals are co-princes is probably distinct from their countries having that power. Queen Elizabeth is head of state of Canada, Australia and many other countries but this does not mean that the UK is control of these countries, there is a distinction between a personal union and a political one. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_union
    – Ivan McA
    Feb 9, 2021 at 15:41
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    @JoelFan Quite the opposite. If you couldn’t give your postal service to another country to run (assuming that country’s consent), then that would compromise your sovereignty, because it would be an imposed constraint.
    – Mike Scott
    Feb 10, 2021 at 6:53

That's a thorny question and mostly about semantics.

In international law, states are treated as people. States exist like people are alive. The relation is binary; a person is dead or alive and a state exists or does not exist. Sovereignty is merely an attribute of a state's existence. A person that exists has a functioning brain - a state that exists has sovereignty.

So your question is about whether Andorra is among the some 200 states that are alive or not. You'd answer that question in exactly the same way that you'd answer the question of whether a person is dead or alive. It used to be simple. You'd check whether a person was breathing and had a pulse. Thanks to modern medicine/recent developments in international law it is not so simple anymore. Determining exactly when a fetus becomes a person or when someone is braindead is nontrivial. Sometimes new states are created by independence movements through civil wars. But how do you determine at what date the state came into existence? Answering that questione exactly may be important, for example if people involved in the civil war are tried for war crimes.

Legally speaking, the answer is no. An entity can not be "only" de jure sovereign. De jure means "by the law" and if it is sovereign by the law then it is, according to the law, sovereign. Will this always match "facts on the ground"? Not always, but for the law that is irrelevant.

The Montevideo convention from the 1930s spells out some characteristics an entity should have to be considered a sovereign state. But the Montevideo convention has never been ratified by a majority of states and states are not required to follow it.

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