Head of the government of Liechtenstein

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 29 June 1995

Mr President, Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, it is a very great honour for me to take the floor in this beautiful Chamber as the head of the government of one of the smallest member states of the Council of Europe, a fine Organisation that has done valuable and indispensable pioneering work to ensure that Europe is much more democratic than it would have been without it.

Permit me to take up four points. Firstly, Liechtenstein’s path to accession to the Council of Europe; secondly, the process of European integration in the context of the Council of Europe; thirdly, the interest in the Council of Europe that Liechtenstein still has and will have in the future; and, finally, human rights, especially with reference to the European Convention on Human Rights.

When Liechtenstein applied to join the Council of Europe in 1977, after a long period of rapprochement, it soon became clear that the Council of Europe had to express its opinion on a fundamental question, namely how the question of the small European states would be handled. There were fears that Liechtenstein was too small and too dependent, that it possessed too little sovereignty to be able to work with the Council of Europe as a full member with a valuable contribution to make. The question was asked as to whether, at the domestic level, its constitution contained the relevant provisions to enable it to accede – the President has already touched on the question of women’s voting rights.

It is a sign of this Organisation’s democratic way of thinking that Liechtenstein was accepted as a member, that the principle of equal rights for small states was accepted. The Council of Europe’s action was fully in keeping with the thoughts of its founding fathers, whose aim was to prevent discrimination between big and small states and to treat all countries equally, whatever their size.

For Liechtenstein, accession to the Council of Europe was of decisive importance in various respects. Firstly, its integration into this international body meant it was able to enjoy the protection of the international order. Secondly, for Liechtenstein accession to this Organisation also constituted further confirmation and consolidation of our own sovereignty. Thirdly, it was also an act of international solidarity, for a small state can only exist when it is accepted by larger, more powerful states. The power of small states is limited, so that a small state, like hardly any other state, is dependent on guarantees of nonaggression and on the existence of a system based on individual freedom and the fundamental principles of democracy. A small state must therefore not only restrict itself to the role of a spectator but must work with the modest means at its disposal so that international work to ensure adherence to basic principles and the rule of law are strengthened.

In Liechtenstein solidarity must be a guiding principle. As the importance of the individual in a small democratic state subject to the rule of law is naturally stronger than elsewhere, a country of the size of Liechtenstein can identify particularly strongly with the Council of Europe’s objectives, such as the guarantee of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the aim of which is the well-being, protection and dignity of the individual. In contrast to large states, small states almost automatically have a close relationship with their citizens. Whilst it is necessary in large states to have local authorities and other intermediate levels of government, in Liechtenstein contacts are very direct and very close. All citizens know “their” parliamentary representative, “their” member of the government, or at least know that it is possible to contact them. There are therefore particularly good opportunities to foster a sense of patriotism, in the positive meaning of the word, and civic awareness.

At the same time, however, its small size forces it not to see its borders as a means of cutting itself off, but as points of contact. The difference between small and large states becomes relative in a number of respects. The large states seek to scale down the various forms of organisation in order to promote contacts with their citizens and the regions, whilst smaller states like Liechtenstein seek contacts with larger organisations, such as the Council of Europe, in order to be able to contribute to then work and, as it were, make themselves a little “larger”.

All in all, therefore, Liechtenstein fits in very well with this idea of the Council of Europe, and I think that the step it has taken has paid off in many respects both for the country itself and, to a modest extent, the Council of Europe. The credibility of both sides, of Liechtenstein and the Council of Europe, has certainly increased considerably.

I now come to the subject of the Council of Europe and current developments with respect to European integration and the European Union. In Liechtenstein, interest has focused in the past few years on the question of economic integration. For Liechtenstein it very quickly became clear that joining the European Community – now the European Union – cannot be considered, because it is not compatible with the country’s size. When we look at the situation today, we realise Liechtenstein’s financial resources would have been insufficient. However, it was possible to find a compromise route via a treaty between EFTA, to which Liechtenstein belongs, and the European Union. This compromise route, though, is one that for a small state like Liechtenstein entails an enormous expenditure of resources. It was an act of political courage that the then Head of Government, Hans Brunhart, set out along this route, with the active support of Prince Nikolaus, the former Ambassador here in Strasbourg, and it was gratifying that the people of Liechtenstein accepted and supported this policy.

Preparations for entry into the European Economic Area tied up many resources and will continue to do so in the next few months, perhaps even years. However, it would be wrong to emphasise the mainly economic aspects of the EEA treaty and overlook others. We must not forget that without the foundations laid by the Council of Europe a purely economic policy has little sense and little justification. Only with the preservation of fundamental values, of human rights and the cultural identity of Europe, can a policy be successful in the long run.

Since its foundation in 1949 the Council of Europe has worked successfully for the creation of a European area in which the constitutional principles of democracy and the rule of law are upheld and human rights are observed. With the collapse of communism this task has taken on a new, enormous dimension. For our neighbours in central and eastern Europe it has become very important to co-operate with the Council of Europe on the implementation of their democratic reforms. The Council of Europe has accepted the challenge presented by its expansion with great commitment and energy. It will be of decisive importance to ensure that expansion does not lead to this institution watering down its high standards and thus undermining its credibility.

Looking ahead to next year’s Intergovernmental Conference of the European Union, at which, in particular, the latter’s own expansion will be discussed, it appears to me to be necessary to precisely define the Council of Europe’s role in the process of European unification. It will be important to emphasise the particular strengths I have detailed. We must continue to work on fostering the democratic legal structures in Europe in general and in central and eastern Europe in particular. Only in this way will the development of a Europe with a legal culture be possible, a Europe that can serve as an example for others to copy, rather than a purely economic Europe.

I will now come back to the subject of the Council of Europe and would like to stress two areas in particular: legal and cultural co-operation.

Liechtenstein derives very great benefit from the groundwork done here at the Council of Europe. To put it in slightly colloquial terms, Liechtenstein is a bit of a copycat. As a result of our small size and the limited resources we have at our disposal, we have to adopt the results of good groundwork and adapt them to Liechtenstein’s particular needs. In addition, it is important for Liechtenstein to be able to work on various bodies in which constitutional issues are discussed and developed. We have always ensured that distinguished experts are members of these bodies, and here I would mention as one example among many our former Prime Minister, Dr Gerard Batliner. It is especially at the development stage that a great deal can be achieved to help the new states joining the Council of Europe. Liechtenstein considers itself lucky that it is able to make a modest contribution here. It also considers itself lucky that important domestic developments can be initiated as a result of the groundwork and advance planning carried out at the Council of Europe. I am thinking in this connection of Convention No. 141 on Laundering Search,

Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime, which I have been able to sign here today.

I now come to cultural co-operation. In a Europe in which countries are increasingly bound up with one another it is important to find a common platform. However, this is only possible when the cultural peculiarities of individual states are not forgotten. Especially in Liechtenstein, we are confronted with the conflict of cultural openness and cultural identity. On the one hand, a consequence of living in a small state is one’s involvement in a close cultural interchange. On the other hand, people continually worry that they might lose their cultural identity. As a result of the size of the country every Liechtensteiner lives in a border region and has daily contact with other cultures. We are therefore aware that we must, on the one hand, nurture our culture but, on the other hand, become part of an overall European culture. Cultural co-operation in the framework of the Council of Europe offers us a guarantee that a unifying pan-European consciousness can develop in a Europe of cultural diversity.

I would like to emphasise this last aspect in particular. Critics of the European integration process are always claiming that the result of European integration will be cultural homogeneity. However, the work of the Council of Europe proves the opposite. It is the cultural peculiarities of the various states that, taken together, form a “European culture”.

I now come to my last point, the reform of the protection machinery of the European Convention on Human Rights. Unfortunately, it is a fact that human rights violations take place again and again in Europe too. The Council of Europe is the moral authority par excellence and can ensure that these violations are made known and that pressure is brought to bear to put an end to them. The protection of minorities in particular appears to me to be very important in the overall context of human rights violations. With the European Convention on Human Rights, the Council of Europe has provided itself with a very efficient instrument, for if we apply the formula for mathematical series we discover that with thirty-four member states we would save a total of 561 bilateral treaties. This means that instead of 561 treaties having to be concluded to deal with one important issue the Council of Europe draws up just one convention that is accepted by its member states.

The most important Council of Europe convention is the European Convention on Human Rights, which is currently a victim of its own success. The Convention’s protection machinery, which is unique of its kind in the entire world, must be adapted to the new circumstances and future requirements. Its restructuring, which will, I hope, be decisively accelerated with today’s official opening of the new Human Rights Building, will help in no small measure to bring the goal of a united Europe of human rights closer. In this connection, I would just like to mention Protocol No. 11.

In conclusion I wish to say that I am convinced that the Council of Europe will also be an important pillar of the European architecture in the future. It is extremely important to create a pan-European awareness for the joint development of the peoples of our continent. Liechtenstein, with its admittedly modest resources, would also like to participate in this process in the future and wishes the Council of Europe every success in the difficult years of European expansion ahead, whether it be the expansion of the Council of Europe itself or of the European Union. Thank you for your attention.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you very much, Mr Frick, for your most interesting statement.

Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. I will allow supplementary questions, but I would also ask you, Mr Frick, to keep your replies as brief as possible.

The first question is from Mr Ruffy of Switzerland.

Mr RUFFY (Switzerland) (translation)

I would like to know what the consequences of joining the European Economic Area were for the Principality of Liechtenstein. We Swiss envy you!

What were the trickiest points when it came to reshaping the agreements which have long bound us together? Since the proximity of our two countries nowadays no longer has the same significance, what are the disadvantages of the new situation?

Mr Frick, Head of the government of Liechtenstein (translation)

We are very concerned about this question. You know that our relations with Switzerland are unique. Our most important activities are in areas in which Switzerland has relieved us of much of the burden. This concerns the movement of goods and work done for us up to now by Swiss authorities. However, I am pleased to say that Switzerland continues to give us a lot of help in these areas, so that we are making rapid progress and have few problems.

The European Economic Area is also important for us because as a result of our participation in this large economic area we will be able to consolidate the current positive situation in Liechtenstein. This means that we do not so much expect an improvement in our economic situation as simply the maintenance of the favourable status quo. However, we are certainly aware that for us the European Economic Area also involves risks, namely in connection with the free movement of persons. As you may know, thirty-eight per cent of the population of the Principality of Liechtenstein are foreigners, and, in view of the need to retain our own identity, it is therefore important to ensure that we have a sensible immigration policy. However, I believe that given the arrangements we have as a result of our membership of the European Economic Area it will also be possible to pursue a sensible policy in the future.

As far as our relationship with Switzerland is concerned, I am convinced that it will also be very good in the future. I would especially like to mention our good relationship with Switzerland as a main reason for our joining the European Economic Area. We all know that Switzerland will come to some arrangement with Europe, whether by means of bilateral negotiations, which are currently being conducted very intensively, or perhaps by means of European Economic Area membership at a later date and then one day – I am convinced this will happen, and this is the Federal Council’s political objective – membership of the European Union.

For Liechtenstein it was therefore important to sort out its relationship with Europe in good time and in such a way that any route taken by Switzerland towards integration with Europe would not only be good for the principality but also for its relationship with Switzerland. Therefore, unlike some people, I do not see the European Economic Area treaty as a breaking of ties or a deterioration of our relationship with, for example, Switzerland but, on the contrary, as the consolidation of that relationship and as a fantastic improvement in our relationship with other European states.

Mr TORRES ALIS (Andorra) (translation)

Firstly, Mr Frick, may I congratulate you on your excellent speech. As Andorran parliamentarians we found that your speech echoed concerns which we share fully and points which we have in common.

Now that you have joined the European Economic Area, do you think that the conditions imposed will bring about major changes in your country, particularly with regard to the demographic balance between nationals and foreigners?

Mr Frick, Head of the government of Liechtenstein (translation)

Thank you very much for those kind words on our accession. No, I do not think that it will cause any great changes. I would like to say that especially as far as the free movement of persons and the integration of foreigners in Liechtenstein are concerned the country is a model of integration. When we look at the proportion of foreigners in other European countries I think that our figure of 38% is very high, and when I consider in what ways these foreign fellow-citizens are integrated I believe we do not need to hide our faces.

I hope to be able to continue to preserve this fantastic climate in our country by carrying out a sensible immigration policy, a policy in which our Liechtenstein citizens will also see that their concerns have been understood. However, this means that we must always have a certain amount of control over what is happening to ensure that we are not overrun and that developments proceed at a slow pace.

However, the European Economic Area has brought other advantages for our foreign fellow-citizens in particular, especially as a number of adjustments have had to be made. We have gladly made them, and they have provided foreigners with social security and certain rights, as well as access to certain commercial and freelance occupations. I think that it is also especially to the credit of the European Economic Area that, almost in the spirit of the Council of Europe, it has brought about equality and a rise in the living standards of all our citizens.

Mrs ARNOLD (Denmark)

Mr Frick, I, like Mr Ruffy, have a question relating to your relations to Switzerland. Last week I spent three days’ holiday in Switzerland and I also paid a visit to your charming country. Going to Liechtenstein is just like going to another canton in Switzerland because you use the same currency and you obviously have monetary union with Switzerland. Now you have chosen the European Economic Area and Switzerland has not; it has chosen to stay out of that area.

How does your monetary co-operation with Switzerland work? Do you have any formal rules for that co-operation and, if so, what are they? How do you see the future for that monetary economic union if Liechtenstein and Switzerland choose to take more distinct routes?

Mr Frick, Head of the government of Liechtenstein (translation)

Yes, thank you. I will be very brief. It is indeed a fact that we have the same currency, and have had for some considerable time. At the beginning we simply adopted the Swiss franc, we simply took it over – in the peaceful sense, of course. We have had a monetary union with Switzerland for about fifteen years and are integrated into the currency system. Due to its small size Liechtenstein has little or no influence on the Swiss currency, that is neither on its strengths nor its weakness. We can therefore sit back and observe further developments. We will in all probability simply adopt the same measures as Switzerland, although for us theoretically any other currency would be possible. We could theoretically also have adopted the United States dollar, but the Swiss franc has proved itself to such an extent that it is to be expected that we will follow any steps the Swiss take.

Mr MUEHLEMANN (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr Frick, it is very gratifying and astonishing that you are Switzerland’s pace-setter on the way to Europe. You are so young that we expect you to go on to take Liechtenstein into the European Union. What do you expect from the European Union, and under what circumstances will you be prepared to strive for Liechtenstein’s accession?

Mr Frick, Head of the government of Liechtenstein (translation)

Mr President, I believe it would be presumptuous if we were to regard ourselves as Switzerland’s pace-setter. I believe one must consider the question of size. However, I would be happy if Switzerland could nevertheless see us as an example of the fact that a small state can also certainly feel happy and contented in some form of European integration.

With regard to our possible membership of the European Union, I do not see us joining in the current situation. Various factors play a role here: the European Economic Area, with its purely economic orientation, is manageable and has many advantages for us; our accession to the European Union in its present form would mean the expenditure of so much effort that, at least as things stand at the moment, it would be an unmanageable task. At present therefore, for us membership of the European Union is not a subject for discussion.


I call Mr Muehlemann to ask a supplementary question.

Mr MUEHLEMANN (translation)

I would like to thank you, and I hope you do not lose courage. After all, we are already working together in a mini- Europe in the Lake Constance Council, and I hope that we will be able to participate in achieving this objective of creating a Europe of the regions.

Mr Frick, Head of the government of Liechtenstein (translation)

When I say we do not intend to join the European Union at the moment or do not see it as an ultimate objective this does not mean that we should not develop beyond the level we have reached in joining the European Economic Area.

I find the point you have just referred to very important: this emphasis on the regions and on links with neighbouring areas. I believe that especially when we consider our good relations with the cantons of St Gallen and Graubiinden, as well as Vorarlberg, this will be an important task for the next few years. I think the times have passed in which states only pursued inward-looking policies and thought that each state could tinker about on its own.

Mr HAGÄRD (Sweden)

In 1991, Liechtenstein signed the European Social Charter of 1961 but, so far, it has not been ratified. I should like to take this opportunity, Mr Frick, to ask you when Liechtenstein is going to ratify the European Social Charter.

Mr Frick, Head of the government of Liechtenstein (translation)

Thank you for this question. At the moment we are working on creating the conditions for ratifying the Charter. In the last few years our policy has been to first of all wait for European Economic Area membership, because it entails some adjustments as far as our social legislation is concerned. Other projects are currently under way that are connected with the Social Charter.

Unfortunately, much as I would like to, I cannot make a firm statement on our schedule, but the Social Charter is one of the conventions that are on the top of our agenda and which we would like to tackle in the next few months.

Mr BERGER (Switzerland) (translation)

I would first congratulate Mr Frick on his excellent speech.

Mr Frick, as Head of Government you will easily understand why it is that several Swiss parliamentarians have put questions to you, by reason of the close links between our two countries.

There has been much discussion recently about the marked changes in our relations – and I must indeed describe them thus – since your country joined the European Economic Area. I congratulate your people and your government on your political courage and on the solidarity you have shown in the construction of Europe.

The constitution of the principality is mixed – or so it seems to me. Several years ago this characteristic led to differences of opinion within the country. I am told you are considering changing your constitution. What direction will this take? What stage has reform reached?

Mr Frick, Head of the government of Liechtenstein (translation)

Our relations with Switzerland are indeed very close. As Mrs Arnold has very charmingly pointed out, one almost has the feeling of entering another canton. As head of government, I actually ought to be almost indignant – almost. However, this shows how good our relations are. You will understand what I mean when I say I appreciate what you said.

It is indeed correct that there are different views on the interpretation of certain constitutional provisions by the various forces in our country. Discussions of a more informal nature are currently under way. We are trying to bring about a convergence of views in the country. There are, I think, possibilities of resolving the many open questions in this area by simply interpreting these provisions. I am actually confident that an agreement on carrying out such an interpretation can be reached between the Prince, the parliament and the government to resolve these questions.

As discussions are currently under way I would ask you to understand that we cannot let you know the way things stand at the moment or the direction in which they are going. After all, you know that when a party or group makes its views known in public people like to misinterpret this to mean they only want to stake out a position from which they do not intend to budge. I believe in an area as sensitive as the constitution it is important for people to trust one another and to try to keep the discussion alive in such a way that all sides have the feeling that one would like to present a joint solution and not simply impose one’s own. However, to conclude my remarks on this subject, I think that apart from the question of areas of responsibility our constitution is excellent and exemplary in many respects, even though it has been in existence since 1921. I am thinking here of the rights of the people, which are even more extensive than they are in Switzerland. This works because Liechtenstein is a very small state. I am thinking of our comprehensive catalogue of basic rights, which is complemented to a pleasing extent by the European Convention on Human Rights. I am sure that we will also succeed in resolving the questions that are still open, which do not constitute a serious problem at the moment, in such a way that all the organs of the state are able to agree.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Mr Frick, it has been our pleasure to welcome you to our Assembly today, on a day rich in events. We shall see you again in a few hours’ time at the formal opening of the new Human Rights Building.

I would' like all citizens of your country to know that Liechtenstein’s Head of Government was present in our midst today and to know that they too have been welcomed here in your person.

May I take this opportunity to request you to convey our best wishes to your government, to our parliamentary colleagues and to His Highness Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein, whom we know well and who honours us with his friendship. We wish you every success and happiness for your part in this enterprise, an enterprise which is becoming ever more fascinating, but often ever more difficult.