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How to cite:
Herburger, J.; Hilti, L. (2023): Country Profile of Liechtenstein. Hannover. = ARL Country Profiles. https://www.arl-international.com/knowledge/country-profiles/liechtenstein/rev/3743. (date of access).



Liechtenstein is a double-landlocked country lying within the Alps between Austria and Switzerland with a total border length of 77.9 km. With a total area of 160 km2, Liechtenstein is the sixth-smallest independent nation in the world by area. The lowest point in Liechtenstein is Bangserfeld (429 m) and the highest point is Vorder Grauspitz (2599 m). The entire western border is constituted by the Rhine.

Liechtenstein has an overall population density of 237/km2, similar to Luxembourg, Kuwait and Germany. Its geography is divided into two major geographic areas: the comparatively densely populated Rhine Valley in the west and the sparsely populated mountainous area in the east.


The identity of Liechtenstein is predominantly associated with the alpine landscape and with the princely family. Liechtenstein was founded 300 years ago in 1719 through the purchase of two lordships by Prince Anton Florian of Liechtenstein. The Principality remained in the Holy Roman Empire until its dissolution in 1806, and Liechtenstein subsequently became a sovereign state and joined the Confederation of the Rhine (Rheinbund). The path from the absolute monarchy to a modern state took several constitutional reforms, with the constitution of 1921 finally balancing the power of the prince with that of the people. The controversial amendment and reform of the constitution in 2003 introduced more elements of direct democracy but also significantly extended the power of the Prince.

Liechtenstein introduced the right of women to vote extremely late – in 1984. Abortion is illegal in most cases, while same sex registered partnerships have been recognised since 2011.

The official language in Liechtenstein is German, while the spoken language is predominantly Alemannic dialects. Almost a third of people living in Liechtenstein do not hold a Liechtenstein passport. Most of them are Swiss, Austrian or German, but they also include a significant minority of Italians, Turks, Portuguese and others. More people work in Liechtenstein than actually live in the country, with many employees commuting from the surrounding countries rather than living here.

A century ago, Liechtenstein was homogenously Christian, with over 95% of the population Roman Catholic, one person of Jewish belief, and not a single Muslim. While Liechtenstein is more diverse today, three-quarters of the population are still registered as Roman Catholic. 7.8% are Reformed Christian, and 5.4% are Muslim.

Political, legal and governance

Liechtenstein is defined in its constitution as a constitutional hereditary monarchy on a democratic and parliamentary base. The power is shared between the monarch and a democratically elected parliament. There have historically been two main parties. Currently there are four parties in parliament.

General information

Name of country Liechtenstein
Capital, population of the capital (2020) Vaduz, 5,701 (Bevölkerungsstatistik Liechtenstein)
Surface area 160 km² (World Bank)
Total population (2020) 38,756 (World Bank)
Population growth rate (2010-2020) 7.88% (World Bank)
Population density (2020) 242.2 inhabitants/km² (World Bank)
Degree of urbanisation (2015) 0.00% (European Commission)
Human development index (2021) 0.935 (Human Development Reports)
GDP (2019) EUR 5,293 million (World Bank)
GDP per capita (2019) EUR 137,566 (World Bank)
GDP growth (2014-2019) 9.54% (World Bank)
Unemployment rate (2019) 2.89% (World Bank)
Land use (2018) 13,25% built-up land
20,05% agricultural land
43,31% forests and shrubland
21,10% nature
2,28% inland waters
(European Environment Agency)
Sectoral structure (2014) 52.0% services and administration
41.0% industry and contruction
7.0% agriculture and forestry
(Central Intelligence Agency)

To ensure comparability between all Country Profiles, the tables were prepared by the ARL.

Administrative structure and system of governance

According to the constitution, the state’s power is vested in the reigning Prince and the people. Liechtenstein is a two-tier country governed under a constitutional monarchy and consists of two constituencies and eleven municipalities.

The Prince is the head of state, who represents the country vis-à-vis other countries and exercises considerable political power, including the power to veto any legislation at his discretion, as well as to dissolve parliament and the government. He signs international treaties in person or delegates this function to a plenipotentiary. Some treaties under international law only become valid when ratified by parliament. Based on the names put forward by parliament, the Prince nominates the government, the district and high court judges, the judges of the Supreme Court, and the presidents and their deputies of the Constitutional Court and the Administrative Court of Appeal. 

The Prince’s other powers include the right to mitigate and commute punishments imposed with legal force and to abolish – i.e. dismiss – investigations initiated. All judgments are issued in the name of the Prince (BBC News n.d.).

The government is based on collegiality and is composed of the prime minister and four ministers. As of the end of 2021, 1,025 people worked for the government and the administration, which consists of five ministries and seven divisions. The national budget has operational revenues of around one billion Swiss francs; Liechtenstein is virtually free of public debt. The government is the executive power and is responsible to parliament. The two constituencies of the country, the Oberland or upper land (highlands) and the Unterland or lower land (lowlands), are entitled to at least two members of government, and their respective deputies must come from the same area. The members of government are proposed by parliament and appointed by the Prince. The government is appointed for a period of four years by the Prince based on a proposal by parliament. Its seat is in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. All Liechtenstein citizens are eligible to be elected to government, provided they fulfil the criteria to become a member of parliament (Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein 2018, p. 38-39).

The parliament (Landtag) consists of 25 members elected every four years by proportional representation in the two constituencies, the highlands (Oberland) (15) and the lowlands (Unterland) (10). Parliament discusses and adopts resolutions on constitutional proposals and drafts laws. Its additional duties are to assent to important international treaties; to propose members of the government, judges, and board members of the Principality’s institutions; to set the annual budget and approve taxes and other public charges; and to supervise the administration of the state. Parliament operates in sessions of the whole parliament and through the parliamentary commissions it elects. Members of parliament exercise their office on a part-time basis in addition to their regular professions. Citizens aged 18 and over who have permanent residency in the country and have lived in the country for at least one month before the election are entitled to vote and all eligible voters can run for office. Women in Liechtenstein were granted the right to vote in 1984, and thus could not stand for election to parliament before then.

The eleven municipalities have far-reaching powers in Liechtenstein. Through the right of initiative, the municipalities can directly influence constitutional or legislative matters. Through a referendum, municipalities can prevent constitutional and legislative amendments or financial decisions adopted by parliament. Municipalities have far-reaching autonomy encompassing responsibilities such as the election of the municipal organs, the granting of citizenship and the determination of municipal taxes. Individual municipalities have formed associations of common interests to realise large projects such as the water supply or wastewater disposal (Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein 2018, p. 38-39).

Citizens of Liechtenstein must also be resident in Liechtenstein to vote in parliamentary or municipality elections. The people of Liechtenstein have direct democratic rights. If called for by at least 1,000 citizens, a referendum can be initiated in order to have a popular vote on a legal or financial decision taken by parliament. Likewise, with 1,000 or 1,500 signatures, a popular initiative can be launched to amend laws or the constitution, on which a popular vote is held. The citizens of Liechtenstein can launch a motion of no confidence in the Prince and have the right to abolish the monarchy and elect judges where there is dissent between parliament and the Prince. There are also, however, firm limits to direct democracy in Liechtenstein as popular votes are usually binding for parliament but not for the Prince, who can veto the decisions of the people. The dualistic principle implies that the sovereignty of the people is restricted unless the monarchy is abolished altogether (Marxer 2007).

Role of the reigning Prince

The head of state is not elected by the people. The Law on the Princely House of Liechtenstein determines the successor to the throne. The eldest son of the reigning Prince becomes his successor. Women cannot become head of state in Liechtenstein under the Law on the Princely House of Liechtenstein. 

As head of state, the reigning Prince may enter into international treaties, which become valid through ratification by parliament. The reigning Prince may, via the government, issue ordinances, including those issued under emergency powers. Since the constitutional amendments of 2003, the people have the possibility of withdrawing their confidence from the reigning Prince, and the right to vote on the abolition of the monarchy (Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein 2018, p. 36-37).

The reigning Prince performs an active role in foreign policy independently of the government elected by the people. For example, the establishment of a legation in Bern in 1944, the country’s accession to the UN in 1990 or to the European Economic Area (EEA) in 1995 were all the result of foreign policy initiatives by the respective princes. The head of state appoints the government based on the proposal of parliament and can convene parliament and adjourn or dissolve it for serious reasons. Furthermore, as Chairman of the Judicial Selection Board, the reigning Prince also exercises an important role in the appointment of judges.

The reigning Prince is similarly strongly involved in the legislature. He has an active right of initiative and sanction, enabling him to commission the government (which can, however, refuse) or to veto a law coming into force (Fürstenhaus Liechtenstein n.d.).

Legislative procedure

Legislative procedures can be initiated by parliament, municipalities or the electorate. Furthermore, the reigning Prince has both the right of initiative and the right of sanction.

If petitions for initiatives are to be exercised by municipalities, identical petitions in a minimum of three municipalities must be decided at municipal assemblies by an absolute majority of the citizens present. This has never successfully been accomplished since the provision was introduced in 1921, most probably due to the overly complicated process compared to the popular initiative launched at national level (Marxer 2012, p. 2-3). If petitions for initiatives are to be exercised by the electorate, they must be supported by either 1,000 valid signatures or by 1,500 valid signatures for petitions related to the constitution by persons entitled to vote (Marxer, personal correspondence).

Proposals for initiatives must not conflict with the constitution or applicable international treaties. After an initiative has been registered with the Government Chancellery, the formal and material requirements are examined in a preliminary examination procedure. The government can refuse approval for formal reasons, for example, if the initiators are not entitled to vote. If the initiative is not rejected by the government, it is forwarded with a preliminary report concerning formal and substantive aspects to parliament, which in turn can refuse an initiative on substantive grounds. In particular, this concerns compatibility with the constitution and international treaties, including the European Convention on Human Rights or the Agreement on the European Economic Area (Marxer 2018, p. 3).

Initiatives can be either formulated or non-formulated. In the case of a non-formulated proposal, parliament must declare whether it agrees with the request. If so, parliament must settle the proposal by enacting, repealing or amending a law (the constitution), subject to a referendum and the consent of the reigning Prince. If parliament does not approve a non-formulated proposal, it lapses unless parliament decides to hold a referendum; in this case, if an absolute majority of those validly voting expresses themselves in favour of the popular proposal or the proposal of parliament, parliament must elaborate the adopted proposal in terms of the referendum. The decision in this regard must be subject to an obligatory referendum.

If a petition for an initiative is submitted as a formulated proposal, parliament must pass a resolution as to whether it approves the formulated proposal. If parliament does not approve the proposal, it must instruct the government to order a popular vote. Parliament has the right to make a counter-proposal to the proposed initiative, and the electorate can decide whether to adopt the proposed initiative, parliament’s counter-proposal, or to stay with the current legal provision. (Liechtensteiner Langtag 17.07.1973, Art. 80-83)

Since 1921, when the direct-democratic rights were formally introduced, there have been votes on more than a hundred proposals with around one-third being popular initiatives, one-quarter being popular referenda and the rest administrative referenda. More than a third of the popular initiatives have been successful.

Since 2003, the right to initiatives has included the right to abolish the monarchy. If the popular vote is in favour of abolishing the monarchy, parliament must draft a new republican constitution and put it up for a vote against the current constitution and eventually a new – not necessarily republican – constitution drafted by the Prince (Marxer 2012, p. 9-10).

Executive power

The government of the Principality of Liechtenstein is Liechtenstein’s highest executive body. The prime minister is granted certain privileges and powers by the constitution, including responsibility for all affairs delegated by the Prince and for countersigning laws as well as decrees and edicts issued by the Prince or with his authority. Furthermore, the Prime Minister keeps the reigning Prince informed about government affairs. Only the prime minister takes an oath of office before the reigning Prince; the other members of government and the state officials are sworn in by the prime minister. All laws, decrees and sovereign resolutions enter into force or become valid only once they have been signed by the prime minister (Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein 2018, p. 32--34).

Judiciary structure

The Liechtenstein court system is based on three ‘instances’: the Court of Justice (as part of the Ordinary Court) (first instance), the Court of Appeal (second instance), and the Supreme Court (final instance). All these courts are situated in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. In civil matters, proceedings before a district court are conducted by a single judge. In criminal matters, it depends on the alleged crime: normally, there is only one judge, but for some serious crimes, there are five judges, three of whom are lay assessors. The Superior and the Supreme Court always consist of five judges, three of whom are lay assessors. Unlike other jurisdictions, Liechtenstein does not have a jury system. For this reason, the judgment is rendered by a judge or several judges (Legalink n.d.)

Figure 1: Administrative structure of Liechtenstein

Figure 1: Administrative structure of Liechtenstein

Figure 2: System of powers of Liechtenstein

Figure 2: System of powers of Liechtenstein

Spatial planning system

Historical development

The historical development of spatial planning in the principality of Liechtenstein has been strongly influenced by four specificities. First, the regulation of the Rhine and the transition from an agrarian society to an international leader in industry as well as financial services. Second, the autonomy of the eleven municipalities that is so strong that the constitution of the principality gives them the right to leave the principality if a majority of the eligible voters decides to do so (Landtag des Fürstentums Liechtenstein 05.10.1921, Art. 4(2)). Third, a strong orientation towards grassroots democracy and, fourth, a constitutional right to property. As this brief overview will illustrate, the two last characteristics often go hand in hand.

Since less than a third of the whole territory of the principality can be used for year-round agriculture, the protection of arable land was historically an important issue – even more so since the river Rhine was only regulated in the second half of the nineteenth century and the former flood areas were meliorated in the 1930s and 1940s (Looser 2018, p. 4). Before that, spatial and economic development mainly took place along the old Roman military road that crossed the principality at the base of Rätikon mountain range. Until 1870 building and planning ordinances were decreed by the municipalities themselves and were mainly an issue of fire protection and the protection of arable land (Looser 2018, p. 4; Zwiefelhofer 2019, p. 40).

In 1870 a national building code was decreed that formed the legal basis for planning and building until the Building Law of 1947 replaced it. The Building Law of 1947 was intended to provide an answer for the dynamic development of industry (Zwiefelhofer 2019, p. 41) that was driven by infrastructural developments such as the railway connection, the extension of the street network, the development of a hydroelectric power plant as well as the armament during the Second World War (Geiger 2011).

While the Building Law of 1947 was at the time of its implementation one of the most modern in Europe, it was not until 1954 that the first municipality, the capital Vaduz, decreed the first municipal zoning plan and building code. The other municipalities followed only hesitantly in the 1960s and it was not until 2000 that the last municipality, Triesenberg, finally decreed its zoning plan and building code. The power of the municipalities is further reflected in their rejection of reforms of the Building Law, for example in 1968 and 1976 (Zwiefelhofer 2019, p. 41).

The massive land uptake through settlement development did not slow down, however, and most zoning plans of the municipalities only fostered urban sprawl further. To receive the required democratic backing from their populations, the municipalities decided to zone far more building land than was in fact necessary (Looser 2018, p. 6-7). Today, the land zoned for building is sufficient to accommodate an additional 100,000 inhabitants as well as the associated workplaces (Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein 2011, p. 22) for the existing 39,000+ inhabitants. If Swiss planning law applied to Liechtenstein, the municipalities would need to re-zone 5.4 million square metres of building land to agricultural land and hence would need to pay around CHF 5.4 billion in compensation to the landowners (Beck and Lorenz 2019, p. 21).

The start of national planning in Liechtenstein (apart from sectoral planning for agriculture or water protection) can be traced back to 1966 when the Department for Town and Regional Planning at the ETH in Zurich was commissioned to assess spatial development and planning in Liechtenstein. This assessment had wide-ranging consequences since in 1968 the first land use plan (Landesrichtplan) was decreed by the national parliament. Furthermore, a new staff position for spatial planning directly subordinate to the minister was set up within the government administration of the principality (Zwiefelhofer 2019, p. 41). Furthermore, an inter-department working group was founded, consisting of the heads of the departments of the national administration under the chair of the minister responsible for building and infrastructure. However, in 2012 this staff position was incorporated into the general administration of the principality and the inter-department working group was de-facto decommissioned (Looser 2018, p. 11).

These developments are indicative of the uneasy relationship spatial planning in Liechtenstein has with the municipalities and the population. Damning and long-lasting consequences must be attributed to the rejection of a spatial planning law by the population in a popular vote in 2002. The law had been drawn up in a process that started in 1991 and was approved by the national parliament with a vote of 24:1. However, the population rejected the law in the subsequent popular vote with a majority of 75% (Looser 2018, p. 15). As damage limitation, a new building law was approved by parliament and the population in 2009 that at least modernised planning procedures and some regulations within the law (Zwiefelhofer 2019, p. 41). Also, to improve cross-border planning the Verein Agglomeration Werdenberg-Liechtenstein was founded in 2009 to implement the Swiss Agglomeration Programme that funds infrastructural improvements for sustainable traffic and public transport. 

The last five years has seen new discussions about spatial development in Liechtenstein emerge, mainly deriving from an overarching traffic problem, but also from land uptake and climate change. The government has hence prepared a new Spatial Development Strategy (Raumkonzept) as well as a Mobility Strategy (Mobilitätskonzept) that include measures to reduce traffic as well as to better coordinate the overall activities of the nation and the municipalities. Furthermore, a regional development strategy for the northern part of Liechtenstein has been developed by six of the eleven municipalities. While critics argue that at the moment eleven planning authorities influence spatial planning in the principality with a focus on their own interests (Beck and Lorenz 2019, p. 22) and that spatial planning in the principality needs a reboot (Universität Liechtenstein 2019), official representatives emphasise the positive status quo of the planning instruments (Banzer 2019) and the existing possibilities of the building law (Schädler 2019). Spatial planning in Liechtenstein suffered another blow in August 2020 when the modernisation and expansion of the cross-border railway connection to Feldkirch and Buchs was rejected in the popular vote.

Constitutional framework and legal basis

The constitution of the principality of Liechtenstein does not specifically address questions of spatial planning. Principle part III of the constitution specifies the state’s main tasks and four of the paragraphs in principle part III are taken into consideration by the government in preparing the Landesrichtplan (see main instruments). These are paragraphs 14, 20, 21 and 22 (Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein 2011, p. 14) and mainly regulate the state’s obligation to foster public welfare, promote the economy and transport, protect people and the economy from natural hazards and regulate the use of forests and mountainous areas.

Apart from that, there are no other regulations with regards to the competences for spatial planning in the constitution. Article 32 of the Building Law is the main legal basis for national planning. This article obliges the government to take responsibility for intercommunal and cross-border planning and the national building ordinance defines the Landesrichtplan as the main instrument through which the government coordinates such planning (Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein 2020, p. 8). According to article 110 of the constitution the individual laws regulate the organisation and tasks of the municipalities in their own sphere of activities as well as those activities transferred to them by the national government (Beck and Lorenz 2019, p. 22).

According to article 40(2) of the Municipality Law and article 91(2) of the Building Law, the municipalities are responsible for spatial planning within their boundaries (Beck and Lorenz 2019, p. 22). The autonomy of the municipalities has been strengthened by the jurisprudence of the higher administrative court and the constitutional court. While the government has to approve the municipal building codes and zoning plans, approval can only be denied if municipalities violate the recognised rules of spatial planning. However, the approval of the municipal building codes necessitates that the municipalities and the government administration work together from an early stage (Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein 2011, p. 13).

Planning authorities

Since 2012 spatial planning on a national level has been administered by the Office for Building and Infrastructure (Amt für Bau und Infrastruktur). On 1 April 2022 this office was reorganised and subdivided into three new offices: the Office for Building Construction and Spatial Planning (Amt für Hochbau und Raumplanung), the Office for Underground Construction and Geoinformation (Amt für Tiefbau und Geoinformation) as well as a staff position for national real estate properties. The offices are subordinate to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Justice. Furthermore, other national laws, such as the powerful law to protect agricultural land, shape national planning in the principality of Liechtenstein.

The Office for Building and Infrastructure is responsible for the development, coordination and implementation of the Landesrichtplan. In the last years it has also coordinated and developed the new Spatial Development Strategy (Raumkonzept) as well as the Mobility Strategy (Mobilitätskonzept). Furthermore, it coordinates the activities of the municipalities and supports them in the development of their planning instruments. It also has to approve these instruments (in view of the strong level of municipal autonomy). The office is also represented in the Verein Agglomeration Werdenberg-Liechtenstein as well as the Vision 2050 regional development strategy for the northern municipalities of Liechtenstein. While the national level is responsible for intercommunal and cross-border planning, its role is mostly coordinative and consultative. However, with the reorganisation the office is now also responsible for the implementation of the main national building projects such as streets or hospitals.

The main actors in the implementation and execution of spatial planning are the municipalities. They are responsible for the development and implementation of the municipal building codes, the zoning plan as well as building regulations for specific parts of the municipality (for example to protect historically important buildings and neighbourhoods). The building codes are decreed by the municipal council (Gemeinderat) (Landtag des Fürstentums Liechtenstein 20.03.1996, Art. 40(2)), however, the implementation of the building code and the building permit process is the responsibility of the mayor (Gemeindevorsteher) (Landtag des Fürstentums Liechtenstein 20.03.1996, Art. 52(6)). It is important to note within two weeks of the building code being passed by the municipal council, a sixth of the eligible voters of a municipality can request a public vote at municipal level to reject it (Landtag des Fürstentums Liechtenstein 20.03.1996, Art. 41(2,3)). The council and the mayor are supported by a municipal building office as well as external planning agencies that consult the municipalities in the development of the building codes and other planning instruments.

Main instruments

The main instrument of spatial planning on a national level is the Landesrichtplan. Its main function is to coordinate the future development of the territory of the principality, to coordinate the actions of the national administration that have an impact on spatial development as well as the actions of the municipalities (Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein 2020, p. 8-9). While the main function of the Landesrichtplan is intercommunal and cross-border coordination, it can include recommendations for municipalities if specific spatial deficits arise. The Landesrichtplan is legally binding only for public authorities, not for private owners of land (Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein 2011, p. 12). The first Landesrichtplan was put into effect by the government in 1968 and the currently valid Landesrichtplan was adopted in 2011. The Landesrichtplan consists of a plan and a text describing the development goals and measures, as well as an explanatory report; it has a period of validity of 25 years. In the past, this period has been longer or shorter.

The Landesrichtplan is currently undergoing a major revision process. There are no particular procedural regulations in the building law apart from the overall regulations on administrative procedures. The current revision process comprises three phases. The first phase, which finished in May 2022, consisted of the collection and analysis of the relevant sectoral and municipal planning documents and the formation of a working group, a project lead group and a political steering committee (Lenkungsausschuss). In the second phase, important stakeholders from NGOs, interest groups, and the municipalities’ other administrative departments are included in the process in three forums. The goal of this phase is to have a first draft of the future Landesrichtplan before the formal approval procedure starts in phase 3. Phase 3 encompasses the official public consultation, adjustments to the drafts, and the government’s approval and resolution.

Apart from the Landesrichtplan, which is legally binding for authorities, some informal instruments were decommissioned. This includes the already mentioned inter-department working group but also a report on spatial development which was published by the government in 2008 and 2012. However, new informal planning instruments have been developed in the last few years. The Verein Agglomeration Werdenberg-Liechtenstein coordinates the activities of the eleven municipalities and the national office as well as six municipalities and the canton of St. Gallen on the Swiss side of the Rhine to implement the Swiss Agglomeration programme. In 2020 the first Raumkonzept Liechtenstein or spatial development strategy for Liechtenstein was developed and passed by the government. It was developed as a strategic framework for the future development of the principality and as a foundation for the current process of revising the Landesrichtplan.

While in Switzerland the Agglomeration programme is an instrument to coordinate settlement and traffic and transport development on a regional scale, in Liechtenstein the whole national territory is included in the programme. Hence, the only instrument on a regional level is the Vision 2050 spatial development strategy, which is an informal coordination platform for the six northern municipalities in Liechtenstein (five municipalities in the lowlands [Unterland] and Schaan).

The main planning instruments on the local level, and the only ones the municipalities are obliged to pass by law, are the building code (Bauordnung) and the zoning plan (Zonenplan). While the building code regulates building and design aspects such as volumes, densities, typologies and the protection of the landscape and view of a place, the zoning plan regulates the use of land. The building law defines six types of zone: agricultural zones, zones for public buildings, zones for the protection of natural hazards, the reserve zone for future settlement development and a special zone which is called übriges Gemeindegebiet. This area has no specific zoning but prohibits the erection of new buildings.

During the preparation of a new building code, the municipalities are not obliged by law to conduct a public consultation. However, some municipalities choose to do so in cooperation with the planning consultancy offices which prepare the building code. For changes or revisions to the zoning plan the landowners in question as well as their neighbours need to be consulted. Before the new building code and/or zoning plan are formally passed by the municipal councils, the municipalities can request a preliminary review through the government’s Office for Building Construction and Spatial Planning. After the new building code and/or zoning plan is passed by the municipal council there is a 30 day period for public disclosure. The documents also need to gain the final approval of the government. During this period changes required by the population or the government may need to be included. After the approval of the government, the two-week period to request a public vote starts. Only after this period has elapsed can the final documents be announced and published. Neither instrument has a predefined period of validity. Municipalities usually rework them every 10 to 20 years.

The most important zone for the development of a municipality’s built environment is the building zone (Bauzone). The national building law is very general when it comes to the definition of this zone, mentioning only that the municipalities must respect the needs of the population and the economy (Landtag des Fürstentums Liechtenstein 11.12.2008, Art. 11-19). The municipalities have hence been very creative in defining the building zone and consequently 150 different types of building zone exist in the eleven municipalities (Beck and Lorenz 2019, p. 123). The building zone usually defines the use of a plot of land as well as the intensity of the use and some sort of density measure.

Furthermore, municipalities can decree plans for specific parts of their territory, such as the Richtplan, the Überbauungsplan or the Gestaltungsplan. The Richtplan is a strategic and conceptual planning instrument, which can also be decreed for the whole municipal territory. In the Überbauungsplan and the Gestaltungsplan the municipalities can define specific, detailed design aspects, the development of car parks, green areas and the infrastructural development of the building plots (Landtag des Fürstentums Liechtenstein 11.12.2008, Art. 20-25). While the Richtplan is planned to have a validity of 10 to 15 years, the Überbauungsplan and Gestaltungplan are usually more oriented toward a shorter, project-related time frame.

Municipalities can also decree a so-called added-value fee (Mehrwertabgabe) (Landtag des Fürstentums Liechtenstein 11.12.2008, Art. 7) within their building code. Through this instrument, municipalities (such as Vaduz or Schaan) that grant exceptions to the binding building code can generate additional income by imposing a fee on the landowner based on the size and the market value of the building plot. However, not all municipalities use this instrument.

Figure 3: Planning system of Liechtenstein

Figure 3: Planning system of Liechtenstein

Example 1: Spatial Development Strategy (Raumkonzept) & Mobility Strategy (Mobilitätskonzept)

Due to its dispersed settlement structure and economic strength – Liechtenstein has roughly the same number of jobs as it has inhabitants – the country has faced multiple challenges when it comes to traffic congestion and soil sealing. These challenges have been amplified by the weak legal status of the national level as well as a number of public votes that rejected a spatial planning law in 2002 and the expansion of the railway network in 2020.

Within an ever-expanding public discussion about the future of spatial development in Liechtenstein – a discussion that focuses very much on topics of mobility – the government and the former Office for Building and Infrastructure (now the Office for Building Construction and Spatial Planning) developed the Spatial Development Strategy (Raumkonzept) and the Mobility Strategy (Mobilitätskonzept). Arguably inspired by similar strategic development frameworks in neighbouring Swiss cantons and the Austrian federal province of Vorarlberg, the principality held participatory processes to develop these papers for the first time.

While both documents are informal and legally non-binding they have elicited strong responses in the media and the pressure to deliver sustainable, innovative projects. The Spatial Development Strategy (Raumkonzept) specifies seven goals for the future development of the country for different settlement types (e.g. urban cores, dense settlements, rural settlements) with specific strategies. The Spatial Development Strategy is furthermore a strategic framework for the development of the new Landesrichtplan, which is a legally binding instrument for authorities. The Mobility Strategy specifically deals with the problem of traffic congestion in the country, which is increasingly seen as detrimental for the economy. The strategy defines ten measures and projects to improve the traffic situation and public transport in the principality as well as the relevant stakeholders for their implementation.

Example 2: The Ungrateful Power of Direct Democracy

Liechtenstein has been connected to the international railway system since 24 October 1872. Because Liechtenstein was closely connected to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire at that time, the railway line is still run by the Austrian Federal Railway Company (Österreichische Bundesbahnen, ÖBB). Whilst the railway stations have been updated to some extent, the rail system in Liechtenstein is generally outdated. The stations are old and the country is traversed by only a single railway track, making it vulnerable to delays and thereby also negatively impacting the international railway services.

Since the railway runs only through the northern part of the country and mainly serves big industrial companies, it has not been well regarded by the population in Liechtenstein. However, improvements to the railway, the construction of a second track and of three new stations could potentially encourage a higher percentage of the nearly 15,000 people that commute from Switzerland or Austria to take the train instead of their car. These were the main arguments of the proponents of the expansion of the railway system.

Negotiations about the funding for the international project, which also involved tracks and stations in Austria, were ongoing for nearly a decade. Between 2018 and 2020 negotiations even came to a halt before they were finally concluded in April 2020. Green politicians in the Austrian Ministry of Infrastructure in particular as well as the councillor responsible for mobility in the Austrian federal province of Vorarlberg saw it a landmark event. However, because of the volume of the project the voting population of Liechtenstein still had to give its consent to the expansion of the railway system – which it duly rejected by a majority of 62.3% in August 2020.

Those who mobilised against the project argued that the project costs were far too high and that the railway line did not serve the needs of the people in Liechtenstein. After the rejection of the spatial planning law in 2002, the people of Liechtenstein again rejected a major project that could have improved the spatial development of the principality.

Example 3: The development of the town centre of Vaduz – A combination of hard and soft planning

Vaduz, with its 5,700 inhabitants, is the capital of Liechtenstein and the seat of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, and hence the city considers that it must maintain a ‘prestigious appearance’ (Gemeinde Vaduz 24.04.2011, S. 2). The village centre has changed massively in the last 70 years, developing from a rural village to an international centre of the finance industry, the arts (Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Hilti Art Foundation) and daytrip tourism. This development has occasioned controversial discussions between different interests and stakeholders, with many locals feeling left behind by the interests of these sectors.

In the last 10 to 15 years, the development of the village centre of Vaduz has been shaped by a combination of hard and soft planning instruments. The municipal building code and zoning plan define the town centre as a core zone (Kernzone) where multifunctional uses (such as commerce, gastronomy, services, entertainment) as well as high-density housing are allowed. The building code also obliges the municipality to develop a design plan for the core zone (Gemeinde Vaduz 10.06.2014, S. 9). Furthermore, to guarantee the ‘prestigious appearance’ the municipality has decreed ‘rules for the design of publicly accessible places’ which regulate specificities such as the colours and labelling of parasols as well as the colour of tablecloths on tables set up in public spaces owned by the municipality (Gemeinde Vaduz 24.04.2011, S. 3–4).

In March 2017 the municipality of Vaduz initiated a participatory process with representatives of different stakeholder groups (the local economy, pensioners, youth, culture, education, etc.) to develop a strategic framework for the future development of the village centre and to make it more attractive for the local population, commuters and tourists. Different participatory formats with various stakeholder groups were held, resulting in 13 ‘strategic building blocks’ (strategische Bausteine) that ranged from public space, access to water, accessibility for pedestrians, housing, work etc.

After the local council had passed the development strategy for the village centre, a three week participatory festival entitled ‘Basecamp: Vadozner Huus’ was held in cooperation with the Institute of Architecture and Planning at the University of Liechtenstein and a private spatial planning consultancy. The festival was held on top of a parking garage that was built in the 1970s, which was defined in the strategy as the anchor point for the future development of the centre. The idea behind the festival was to gather specific ideas for the redevelopment of the area of the parking garage. The results of the festival were presented to the local council, which decided half a year later to demolish the parking garage and create public green space. (https://www.vaterland.li/liechtenstein/gesellschaft/gemeinden/marktplatz-areal-soll-ebenerdig-werden;art170,417661) As yet, however, the works to demolish the parking garage have not started, as negotiations with the neighbouring landowners are proving tricky.

Further literature concerning the planning system of Liechtenstein

Beck, P.; Lorenz, T. (2019): Raumentwicklung Liechtenstein. Gestalten statt nur geschehen lassen. Ruggell. Available at: https://www.stiftungzukunft.li/aktuelles/raumentwicklung-liechtenstein-gestalten-statt-nur-geschehen-lassen (09 April 2023).

Looser, R. (2018): Die Geschichte der Raumplanung im Fürstentum Liechtenstein von 1947 bis 2017. Ein Rückblick auf 70 Jahre räumliche Entwicklung. Stiftung Zukunft Liechtenstein. Ruggell. Available at https://www.stiftungzukunft.li/application/files/5415/5369/5362/Die_Geschichte_der_Raumplanung_im_Fuerstentum_Liechtenstein_final.pdf (18 August 2022).

Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein (2011): Landesrichtplan. Stand März 2011. Vaduz.

Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein (2020): Raumkonzept Liechtenstein 2020. Ministerium für Infrastruktur, Wirtschaft und Sport. Vaduz.

Important stakeholders

Institution/stakeholder/authority (including webpage) Special interest/competences/administrative area
Amt für Hochbau und Raumplanung , Office for Building Construction and Spatial Planning Authority for spatial planning
Automobil Club Fürstentum Liechtenstein Advocacy group, Cars and automobility
Liechtensteinische Gesellschaft für Umweltschutz (LGU), Association for the protection of the environment Advocacy group, Environment
Liechtensteinische Industrie- und Handelskammer, Chamber of Industry and Commerce Advocacy group, Industry and commerce
Liechtensteinische Ingenieur- und Architektenvereinigung (LIA), Association of Engineers and Architects Advocacy group, Architecture
"Stiftung Zukunft.li, Foundation Future Liechtenstein Think tank
Universität Liechtenstein, University of Liechtenstein Higher education, Schools in Law, Economics and Architecture
Verein ELF Think tank / discussion platform
Vereinigung der bäuerlichen Organisation in Liechtenstein (VBO), Association of agricultural organisations Advocacy group, Agriculture
Verkehrs-Club Liechtensten, Liechtenstein Mobility Association Advocacy group

Fact sheets


  • Attachment 1: Judiciary system Liechtenstein

  • Attachment 2: System of governance Liechtenstein

List of references

Banzer, S. (2019): Architektur und Raumplanung in Liechtenstein. In: Bauen+Wohnen (October 2019), 40-41. Available at: https://www.lia.li/CFDOCS/cms/admin/download.cfm?FileID=10272&GroupID=289 (18 August 2022).

BBC News (n.d.): Liechtenstein country profile. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/1066002.stm#leaders (04 October 2022).

Beck, P.; Lorenz, T. (2019): Raumentwicklung Liechtenstein. Gestalten statt nur geschehen lassen. Ruggell. Available at: https://www.stiftungzukunft.li/aktuelles/raumentwicklung-liechtenstein-gestalten-statt-nur-geschehen-lassen.

Fürstenhaus Liechtenstein (n.d.): Rights and Duties of the Reigning Prince. Available at: https://fuerstenhaus.li/en/the-monarchy/rights-and-duties-of-the-reigning-prince/ (04 October 2022).

Geiger, P. (2011): Zweiter Weltkrieg. Historisches Lexikon des Fürstentums Liechtenstein. Available at: https://historisches-lexikon.li/Zweiter_Weltkrieg#Wirtschaft (18 August 2022).

Gemeinde Vaduz (24 April 2011): Reglement über die Raumgestaltung im Zentrumsbereich ,,Städtle / Aulestrasse". Modified 31 May 2016. Available at: https://www.vaduz.li/application/files/5216/08057511/Raumgestaltung_Zentrumsbereich_Reglement.pdf (18 August 2022).

Gemeinde Vaduz (10 June 2014): Bauordnung der Gemeinde Vaduz 2014 (Building Code for the municipality of Vaduz). Modified 21 April 2021. Available at: https://www.vaduz.li/application/files/4416/2218/0521/Bauwesen__Bauordnung_2014.pdf (18 August 2022).

Landtag des Fürstentums Liechtenstein (05 August 1921): Verfassung des Fürstentums Liechtenstein (Constitution of the Prinicpality of Liechtenstein).

Landtag des Fürstentums Liechtenstein (20 March 1996): Gemeindegesetz (Municipality Law). Available at: https://www.gesetze.li/konso/pdf/1996076000?version=11 (18 August 2022).

Landtag des Fürstentums Liechtenstein (11 December 2008): Baugesetz (Building Law). Available at: https://www.gesetze.li/konso/2009.044 (18 August 2022).

Legalink (n.d.): Brief Introduction to the Legal System of Liechtenstein. Available at: https://www.legalink.ch/xms/files/CROSS_BORDER_QUESTIONNAIRES/CORRUPTION/Liechtenstein_Anticorruption_Laws_LEGALINK2013_GASSER_PARTNERS.pdf (04 October 2022).

Liechtensteiner Langtag (17 July 1973): Gesetz über die Ausübung der politischen Volksrechte in Landesangelegenheiten. Volksrechtegesetz, VRG (People’s Rights Act). Available at: https://www.gesetze.li/konso/pdf/1973050000?version=21 (04 October 2022).

Looser, R. (2018): Die Geschichte der Raumplanung im Fürstentum Liechtenstein von 1947 bis 2017. Ein Rückblick auf 70 Jahre räumliche Entwicklung. Stiftung Zukunft Liechtenstein. Ruggell. Available at: https://www.stiftungzukunft.li/application/files/5415/5369/5362/Die_Geschichte_der_Raumplanung_im_Fuerstentum_Liechtenstein_final.pdf (18 August 2022).

Marxer, W. (2007): Direct Democracy in Liechtenstein. Available at: https://www.liechtenstein-institut.li/application/files/2115/7435/0264/Marxer_Direct_Democracy_Buenos_Aires.pdf (04 October 2022).

Marxer, W. (2012): Initiatives in Liechtenstein. Safety Valve in a Complex System of Government. In: Setälä, M; Schiller, T. (eds.): Citizens’ Initiatives in Europe. Procedures and Consequences of Agenda-Setting by Citizens. Houndmills = Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century, 37-52.

Marxer, W. (2018): Direkte Demokratie in Liechtenstein. Entwicklung, Regelungen, Praxis. Bendern = Liechtenstein Politische Schriften 60. Available at: https://www.liechtenstein-institut.li/application/files/3216/1286/6216/LPS_60_Marxer_Direkte_Demokratie_2018_ergaenzt.pdf (04 October 2022).

Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein (2011): Landesrichtplan. Stand März 2011. Vaduz.

Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein (2018): The Principality of Liechtenstein. Encounter with a Small State. Vaduz. Available at: https://www.regierung.li/magazines/kleinstaat-en/#page-1 (04 October 2022).

Regierung des Fürstentum Liechtenstein (2020): Raumkonzept Liechtenstein 2020. Ministerium für Infrastruktur, Wirtschaft und Sport. Vaduz.

Schädler, M. (2019): «Das ist in Liechtenstein nun mal so». Interview mit Regierungschef-Stellvertreter Daniel Risch. In: Liechtensteiner Vaterland (95), 27 April 2019, 3.

Universität Liechtenstein (2019): Neustart Raumplanung li. Herausforderungen und Chancen der Raumentwicklung Liechtensteins. Vaduz. Available at: https://www.stiftungzukunft.li/aktuelles/raumentwicklung-liechtenstein-gestalten-statt-nur-geschehen-lassen (09 April October 2023).

Zwiefelhofer, T. (2019): Die Entwicklung des Liechtensteinischen Bau- und Raumplanungsrechts. In: Bauen+Wohnen (April 2019), 40-41. Available at: https://www.lia.li/CFDOCS/cms/admin/download.cfm?FileID=10200&GroupID=289 (18 August 2022).