Conxita Marsol, senior consul of Andorra la Vella, spoke about the problems and main tasks of the capital of Andorra.
Interview: Irina Rybalchenko
What are the largest foreign capital investment projects in the capital of Andorra?
Here in Andorra la Vella, I cannot give many examples of large projects with foreign participation. There is a foreign investment company producing dried fruits; there is a foreign private medical clinic…
Why do you think there are so few foreign investors in Andorra?
This question is better directed to the government of Andorra. Andorran companies, before coming to Andorra la Vella or any other parishes of Andorra, first have to obtain permission to invest from the government. Only after approval by the government, a company with foreign participation can be established. So Andorra-la-Vella as a parish cannot influence the influx of companies with foreign capital.
Our readers (who are also potential investors) complain that there is too much bureaucracy in Andorra, the quality of Andorran banks is poor and they are not able to provide high-quality services to international clients who are trying to set up companies… Could you comment on this?
I agree that the bureaucracy seriously limits the inflow of foreign capital into Andorra. We spoke several times with the head of the Andorran government that we need to find a solution to this problem. I know this topic quite well because my previous work has been devoted to it (Conxita Marsol was the owner of a law firm). It is a complicated issue. There are countries that are more flexible, and where you can set up a foreign company in a few weeks. It is clear that the inflow of foreign capital should be controlled, but the process should be much faster.
Who are the largest private entrepreneurs of Andorra?
I cannot answer this question since this is confidential information.
You spoke about the construction of the cable car from Andorra la Vella to the peak de Carroi as a project with foreign capital. How real and relevant is it today?
This is a real project, which is on the table, and it was in our election program. Once we announce the contest, all information will be available to the public, and residents of the capital will be able to vote for this project. If voters support it, we will begin to implement it. This is an example of a private investment project: Andorra la Vella will pay zero euros. The project will be fully funded by private investors through a concession.
What is the cost of the project?
About 40 million euros.
What is the annual budget of Andorra la Vella?
About 50 million euros.
Recently in Andorra, there was a tender for the construction of a casino. Did the administration of Andorra-la-Vella and you personally participate in the tender committee?
No. The tender committee included the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Territorial Planning, some technical experts, the Andorra Council for the Regulation of Gambling reps (Consell Regulador Andorrà del Joc)… But Andorra-la-Vella did not participate in this project.
The results of the tender ended in scandal. The losing parties, represented by the four companies, filed a lawsuit against the government of Andorra. Are you up to date with the ongoing investigation?
There was a conflict, and the investigation has not yet been completed. The government is also analyzing this issue. I know that the winner was asked for various documentation, including a license. We need to wait a bit to see how it all ends.
So the subject of building a casino is closed or not?
No, the topic is not closed. Perhaps we will still have a casino. In any case, it will be in Andorra-la-Vella, three places were proposed: on the street Prat de la Creu, on a square opposite the Pyrenees store and on Av. De Meritxell.
What happened to the Waterpark project?
This was a private project of an investor from Russia, not a public one. An interesting project that would positively affect the country’s added value. However, it did not work, and the owner of the land changed the project – deciding to construct residential buildings.
As far as I remember, the idea of building a large arena was also discussed, including for the Cirque du Soleil show. Why is this project not implemented? And how much does the installation and dismantling of the scene each summer cost?
Yes, there is a project to build a multifunctional facility. The government definitely supports it. Personally, I believe that such a complex is necessary for the tourist country that we are.
It is not only the installation and dismantling of the stage during the tour of the circus Cirque du Soleil or the annual fair Fira d’Andorra. The point is that it blocks a large number of parking spaces, causing great inconvenience.
The municipality of Andorra la Vella offered the government a plot of land to build a multifunctional complex on it. I hope that funds will be found in the state budget, and in a couple of years, the project will become a reality.
In the last 5 years in Andorra la Vella, there has been an increase in property prices. At the same time, buying real estate is easy, but selling is almost impossible. All real estate transactions are mainly limited to renting. Why is there no private investment in the real estate market of the capital of Andorra?
Here I do not agree. We have examples of real estate acquisition by foreign investors. Here in Andorra la Vella, several buildings are built with foreign capital. Moreover, I do not agree with your statement regarding renting: I think it is much easier to buy and sell than to rent. There are practically no apartments for rent, but on the contrary, there are apartments for sale.
There is plenty of movement in the real estate market of Andorra la Vella (purchases, sales, as well as the construction of new residential buildings). What we really lack is the facilities for rent. Here there is a problem, I agree with that.
Why there are so many empty plots of land in Andorra la Vella if the land prices are so high?
In the capital itself, there are very few wastelands. In neighboring Santa Coloma, there is plenty of land, it is true, but this is a matter of private owners. Many owners prefer to just have the land or to grow tobacco on it, which is traditional for our country. After all, it’s not so bad to have land that allows us to breathe in a crowded city.
One more question about land – taking into account such high prices for it, why do you build single-story parking lots in the capital of Andorra? Why in order to save land there are no projects for the construction of multi-story parking?
Most parking lots are built on rented private land, which is not the property of our administration. Projects for the construction of multi-story parking are also on the table.
On the main street of the capital of Andorra – Av. Meritxell, as well as in the city center, there are many old buildings in need of renovation. Who is responsible for this: the government, the administration of the capital of Andorra, or the private owners?
The private owners.
Is there a law that requires private owners to control the appearance of urban buildings?
Yes, there is a law that limits the height of buildings, regulates the use of building materials, its colors, etc. I want to say that we, for our part, have invested a lot of money to repair buildings in the city center, including on Av. Meritxell and some buildings in the old city, and the repairs are ongoing.
What do you think about shopping in Andorra? Why is it not developing and why there are still no luxury brands in the country?
Shopping has always been our engine; it has allowed our country to grow. And while trade is still one of Andorra’s values, it is true that it is suffering. Today’s tourists come here more for the views and experiences than for shopping.
We are actively working on a strategic plan for retail development together with the government.
Why there are no big brands? Well, this is also one of those projects that is on the table. Quality tourism and major luxury brands are related concepts. We understand that we need to rely on better tourism, and in this way, I do not want to say anything bad about the tourism that we have today.
Some brands are slowly coming. Of course, these are not the mythical Chanel or Dior. However, in perfumery and in jewelry stores you can find good brands, this also applies to watches. We hope that we can improve the offer, it is necessary for Andorra.
Are there any negotiations underway with luxury brands?
This is a question for the government. As far as I know, this subject is indicated in the strategic plan of the government. However, I do not know at what stage it is now.
Shopping in the cities is gradually dying. People are increasingly buying goods online (including shipping from China). Andorra does not give such an opportunity. Why?
This is a question for customs. You can shop online here in Andorra, but it will cost much more. I know that this issue is also under discussion by the Government, the Association of Merchants and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce.
Our readers complain that in some Andorran stores, clothes from last year’s collections are sold under the guise of a new collection. Is this issue somehow regulated at the administration level?
This is also a question for the government of Andorra. The government has a special structure that should control sales, but I think that this is a matter of the stores themselves.
We have a Consumer Protection Agency (Associació Andorrana de Consumidors i Usuaris d’Andorra, AACU) which works to ensure that such things are not allowed. In any case, this is very bad for the image of the country. It is better to talk about this with representatives of an association that protects the rights of consumers.
It would be interesting to know your opinion on the project for the construction of an international airport in Andorra. After all, this is a matter of strategic security of the country, isn’t it?
We need an airport. And we need an airport in our country. There is an airport in la Seu d’Urgell, it is almost ready to launch, research is ongoing, and this option is on the table. We must analyze which airport we need more – inside or outside Andorra. Many countries, such as Monaco, do not have an airport on their territory. Nevertheless, the fact that the airport in la Seu or in Andorra should be implemented – is obvious. I think this is a good initiative, and the research conducted by the Chamber of Commerce for the construction of an airport in Andorra is important.
So you personally support this idea?
Yes, I support this idea. However, we must analyze each of these options, and one of them should be launched in the nearest future.
Question from kids: why was the skate park removed from Central Park?
Because we have built a new one in Santa Coloma. It is beautiful and modern. We did it in collaboration with the Andorra Skating Association (la Associació de skates d’Andorra).
The bus station of the capital of Andorra is the “business card” of the country. Who is the author of the project? Why such non-modern materials were used (ceiling panels, monitors without liquid crystals)?
This is a government project, a national investment. Solar panels are installed on the roof of the building. And I think that it is quite modern. In addition, the bus station is located in the center of the city.
Significant improvement to the logistics of the city, including improving access from the bus station up, forms a part of the 2020 budget.
In addition, a large pedestrian street will be built from the bus station to the street of Prat de la Creu.
Andorra la Vella, unlike Moscow, Paris, London, New York, does not use electric buses. Why?
This is due to large differences in altitudes within our territory. Buses with electric motors lack autonomy. However, we are thinking on this subject, and gradually we will come to it.
Logistics in the country is also a matter of government. Nevertheless, we advocate environmentally friendly solutions, we have increased the number of pedestrian zones, and we will continue to move along this line. In addition, we made sure that our buses are modern and comply with all European regulations (Euro 6 and the minimum amount of emissions).
Between Andorra and Spain (La Seu d’Urgell), we have the old Hispano-Andorrana buses running that are harmful to the environment (Euro 3). How is this possible?
These buses are the result of a concession concluded many years ago by the government of Andorra. The Ministry of Transport of the government will be able to answer this question.
Please tell us about the most important projects in the capital of Andorra this year…
Well, there is a bit of everything. We want to continue towards the sustainable development of the city. We will continue to expand the pedestrian zone, in particular, between Andorra la Vella and Santa Coloma, which will end in the area of the La Margineda bridge. Our plans include reconstruction of the stadium, restoration of the fire-damaged Serradells pool, and expansion of sidewalks on Callaueta Street and at the intersection of Riberaygua and Meritxell streets.
In the area of Ciutat de Valls, we will build a parking lot for the residents of this area.
La Dama de Gel is to connect with Central Park by a footpath along the river.
Andorra la Vella is a two-level city. We have recently built the La Quirola elevator and we want to build another one – from Príncep Benlloc to Ciutat de Valls. These projects seem small, but they are very important to improve the capital.
The observation deck of the Mirador de la Comella is also a very important project because it offers a beautiful view.
Cleaning is also one of our top priorities. We spend a lot of money on snow removal and street cleaning equipment.
Finally, Dr. Vilanova Street provides direct access to the center of Andorra la Vella. There are 3,000 parking spaces here and from here tourists get to our central Plaza del Poble, which must also be reconstructed during this mandate.
In conclusion, a question that also interests our readers is how and who finances the election campaigns in Andorra, in particular, Andorra la Vella.
Campaigns are not privately funded, such as in the United States. Parties fund them. The head of government, as well as all my colleagues who hold a similar position in other districts, pay 5% of our monthly salary in the form of a contribution to parties in order to pay for future campaign expenses. There is also a subsidy from the General Council to political parties depending on the number of representatives.
Donations are accepted, but they must be public.