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Liechtenstein: Prince Hans-Adam Threatens To Withdraw From Council Of Europe

Prince Hans-Adam II, the outspoken ruler of Liechtenstein, this week threatened to withdraw from the Council of Europe, saying the allegiance was doing his country "more harm than good." RFE/RL looks at the contentious relationship between the continent's top human rights watchdog and the tiny, rich Alpine state.

Prague, 15 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- In a March constitutional referendum, Europe's most powerful monarch, Liechtenstein's Prince Hans-Adam II, added even more muscle to his position.

Under the previous constitution, the prince already had the authority to dissolve parliament and call for early elections. But now Hans-Adam also has the right to dismiss the government, nominate judges, veto legislation, and rule by emergency decree.

As a counterbalance, the constitutional changes also give the people of Liechtenstein the right to call a referendum to end the monarchy.

Even before the March vote, the proposed changes drew the attention of the Council of Europe. The council's Commission for Democracy Through Law criticized the revisions as the work of "a monarch exercising personal discretionary power."

Following the referendum, rapporteurs from the Council of Europe's Monitoring Commission last month traveled to Vaduz to meet with supporters and opponents of the reform.

Caroline Ravaud, the head of the Monitoring Commission's secretariat in Strasbourg, France, told RFE/RL, "The issue in the case of Liechtenstein is to look at whether one can speak of a pluralistic democracy following the constitutional changes that occurred in March 2003."

The rapporteurs are due to present their conclusions this autumn. If the council's Parliamentary Assembly decides the revisions are incompatible with its standards, Liechtenstein will have to choose between its new constitution and its membership in the 44-nation organization.

Hans-Adam went on the defensive this week, warning that if the Council of Europe asks Liechtenstein to revoke its constitutional reforms, he will take it as a "good opportunity" to withdraw from the organization. "Membership in the Council of Europe only costs time and money," the 58-year-old prince said in an interview with the "Liechtensteiner Vaterland" newspaper. He added, "Right now it is doing us more harm than good."

Gerlinde Manz-Christ, spokesperson for Liechtenstein's prime minister, Otmar Hasler, said the government takes a different view of the issue. She said Council of Europe membership has always been important for Liechtenstein, as it enables the 33,000-strong principality sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria to air its views at an international level.

"[The government] believes the Council of Europe is still a very important international organization, especially for Liechtenstein. And we will continue to actively participate in their work because we support the principles of [rule of] law, good governance and democracy," Manz-Christ said.

The council's Ravaud likewise said that ties between Liechtenstein and the Council of Europe remain strong. She said Hans-Adam's views on council membership are not to everyone's taste. "In my view this position only commits the prince, and certainly not the totality of the Principality of Liechtenstein," she said.

Liechtenstein's opposition Vaterlandische Union (Patriotic Union) has not commented on the prince's ultimatum, saying it is premature to speculate on a scenario that may or may not come true.

The potential standoff would not be the first political crisis faced by the Council of Europe. In 1969, Greece's military regime voluntarily withdrew the country's membership before a decision could be made to expel it. In 1981, the Parliamentary Assembly withdrew the Turkish parliamentary delegation's seats in response to a military coup in that country.