How small is small?

How small does a country have to be in order to be a “small country”? If we would define a country as “large” based on geography, Kazakhstan would be the second largest European country and Sweden with population of less than 10 million would be in the top 10 of largest European countries. It makes little sense to me to define the size of a country based on geography.

A while ago Newsweek made a list of what they call the best countries in the world. In making the list, they defined a country as large if it has more than 50 million inhabitants, medium being 20 to 50 million and small being less than 20 million. This division is based on population, rather than geographic size. I agree with this. A country is made by its inhabitants, not its rocks. In this weblog I will discuss the social and cultural aspects of Small European Countries. Sure, the character of people depends on the geography they live in, but in my opinion geography is not the most defining.

So how small is small? The Newsweek division is nice and suits their purpose well, but to my taste a bit too rigid. In my view, a country is defined as small if its significantly smaller than its neighbours. If we can define which countries will be counted as large, than the rest must be small. Which countries in Europe are definitely large? Well, Russia, Germany, Turkey, France, Italy, England (not UK, as discussed previously) and Spain are traditionally called “large” countries. In the good old days of 15-members EU, the Netherlands called itself “the largest of the small countries”. But the EU has grown and my definition of a European country is not EU-limited anyway. Romania (population 22 million) is quite bigger than the Netherlands, but surely it can not be counted as a large country.

Russia is a large European country. Can you tell whether this is in the European or Asian part of it?

The only countries I doubt about are Ukraine and Poland. I have done a statistical analysis (I love statistics) and based on the outcome I count Poland, with 38 million inhabitants (and therefore, also the larger Ukraine) as a large country. Poland is almost double the size of Romania, and it is a distinctive qualitative jump in the ranking of European countries by population. Poland and Romania mark the gap between small and large. This also fits nicely in the modern day reality – the definitions of Europe are being made in the East.

There are also the microstates. Microstates are so limited in features that when I discuss a small European country I will not refer to them. They live in a world of their own. The smallest countries on my list of European countries are Andorra, Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein and San Marino (Monaco is not a member of UEFA and therefore doesn’t count). All these have a population of less than 100 thousands. The next in size is Iceland, that has a population of over 300 thousands – a qualitative jump! – and is a serious chunk of land as well. Iceland is obviously not a microstate.

You can rent the whole country of Liechtenstein for 50.000 Euro per night. Prince not included. Seriously, they even won the IgNobel prize for the idea!

To summarize it all – a small European country is one of the members of the UEFA. It is smaller (in terms of population) than Poland but larger than Andorra. I’ve added a complete list here.

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