During my short visit to Liechtenstein, I had been lucky enough to have been granted an audience with Prince Hans Adam II, the principality’s head of state and Europe’s last remaining full-power monarch.
The prince’s office inside the imposing Vaduz Castle was unexpectedly modest and totally unguarded. A sprightly smiling man strode in. We shook hands and I immediately felt at ease. The prince had a warm disarming smile. On his wrist, he was wearing a simple electronic watch.
‘Our country is indeed a happy one,’ he said in impeccable English with a slight German accent. ‘We’ve got one hundred per cent literacy, high living standards and practically no crime. There are problems, of course. In the last couple of years unemployment has grown from 0.1 per cent to 0.7 per cent.’
I made some hasty calculations on a piece of paper: 0.1 per cent of Liechtenstein’s population was (at the time) 30 people.
‘Our world has become much smaller of late and we all live in a global village, where people are keen to find their roots, their own community,’ continued the prince. ‘On the other hand, the world has become more vulnerable: a major conflict in any part of the planet now means war in your own backyard. Small countries these days can flourish only in an atmosphere of peace and trade. We strongly believe in free enterprise. We also work very hard, having the longest working week in Europe. The working day here, and my working day too, starts at 8am. There is no lunch break culture.’
Having spent several years as a London banker in his youth, the prince clearly knew what he was talking about in this regard.
He went on to list other aspects that ‘make Liechtenstein tick’ – a strong democracy in which ‘people can really influence their own future’. The country’s taxes are low. Even after the war, when the state had little revenue, Liechtenstein preferred to lower taxes instead of increasing them, an attempt to help businesses survive the post-war rebuilding. ‘The more you increase taxes – the less people buy,’ he said. ‘So, I think, we have found quite a good balance for our mini-state. Our slogan is “stability through monarchy” and the fact that we are so small makes us nearer to the people.
‘Our monarchy works because it has much to do with the family,’ he concluded. ‘We try to promote family values and live a normal family life without getting too much into the public eye. I try to keep my family out of the press, although we are not inaccessible. All my children went to an ordinary school in Vaduz, and I walk around the town unguarded.’
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