"Swiss" and "Swiss Confederation"
Switzerland (German: die Schweiz; French: Suisse; Italian: Svizzera; Romansh: Svizra, in its full name the Swiss Confederation (Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica, hence its abbreviation CH), is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in western Europe,where it is bordered by Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east.
Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning an area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi). While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8 million people is concentrated mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found. Among them are the two global cities and economic centres of Zurich and Geneva.
The Swiss Confederation has a long history of armed neutrality—it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815—and did not join the United Nations until 2002. It pursues, however, an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world Switzerland is also the birthplace of the Red Cross and home to a large number of international organizations, including the second largest UN office. On the European level, it is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association and is part of the Schengen Area – although it is notably not a member of the European Union, nor the European Economic Area.
Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world by per capita gross domestic product, and has the highest wealth per adult (financial and non-financial assets) of any country in the world.Zurich and Geneva have respectively been ranked as the cities with the second and eighth highest quality of life in the world. It has the world's nineteenth largest economy by nominal GDP and the thirty-sixth largest by purchasing power parity. It is the twentieth largest exporter and eighteenth largest importer of goods.
Switzerland comprises three main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, and Italian, to which the Romansh-speaking valleys are added. The Swiss, therefore, though predominantly German-speaking, do not form a nation in the sense of a common ethnic or linguistic identity. The strong sense of belonging to the country is founded on the common historical background, shared values (federalism and direct democracy) and Alpine symbolism.The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291; Swiss National Day is celebrated on the anniversary.
The English name Switzerland is a compound containing Switzer, an obsolete term for the Swiss, which was in use during the 16th to 19th centuries.The English adjective Swiss is a loan from French Suisse, also in use since the 16th century. The name Switzer is from the Alemannic Schwiizer, in origin an inhabitant of Schwyz and its associated territory, one of the Waldstätten cantons which formed the nucleus of the Old Swiss Confederacy. The toponym itself is first attested in 972, as Old High German Suittes, ultimately perhaps related to suedan "to burn", referring to the area of forest that was burned and cleared to build. The name was extended to the area dominated by the canton, and after the Swabian War of 1499 gradually came to be used for the entire Confederation.
The Swiss German name of the country, Schwiiz, is homophonous to that of the canton and the settlement, but distinguished by the use of the definite article (d'Schwiiz for the Confederation, but simply Schwiiz for the canton and the town).
The New Latin name Confederatio Helvetica was introduced gradually after the formation of the federal state in 1848, harking back to the Napoleonic Helvetic Republic, appearing on coins from 1879, inscribed on the Federal Palace in 1902 and after 1948 used in the official seal. It is derived from the name of the Helvetii, a Gaulish tribe living on the Swiss plateau before the Roman era. Helvetia appears as a national personification of the Swiss confederacy in the 17th century, with a 1672 play by Johann Caspar Weissenbach.
History of Switzerland
Switzerland has existed as a state in its present form since the adoption of the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848. The precursors of Switzerland established a protective alliance at the end of the 13th century (1291), forming a loose confederation of states which persisted for centuries.
Early history of Switzerland and Switzerland in the Roman era
The oldest traces of hominid existence in Switzerland date back about 150,000 years. The oldest known farming settlements in Switzerland, which were found at Gächlingen, have been dated to around 5300 BC.
Founded in 44 BC, Augusta Raurica was the first Roman settlement on the Rhine and is now amongst the most important archaeological sites in Switzerland.
The earliest known cultural tribes of the area were members of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures, named after the archaeological site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel. La Tène culture developed and flourished during the late Iron Age from around 450 BC, possibly under some influence from the Greek and Etruscan civilisations. One of the most important tribal groups in the Swiss region was the Helvetii. In 58 BC, at the Battle of Bibracte, Julius Caesar's armies defeated the Helvetii. In 15 BC, Tiberius, who was destined to be the second Roman emperor and his brother, Drusus, conquered the Alps, integrating them into the Roman Empire. The area occupied by the Helvetii—the namesakes of the later Confoederatio Helvetica—first became part of Rome's Gallia Belgica province and then of its Germania Superior province, while the eastern portion of modern Switzerland was integrated into the Roman province of Raetia.
In the Early Middle Ages, from the 4th century, the western extent of modern-day Switzerland was part of the territory of the Kings of the Burgundians. The Alemanni settled the Swiss plateau in the 5th century and the valleys of the Alps in the 8th century, forming Alemannia. Modern-day Switzerland was therefore then divided between the kingdoms of Alemannia and Burgundy. The entire region became part of the expanding Frankish Empire in the 6th century, following Clovis I's victory over the Alemanni at Tolbiac in 504 AD, and later Frankish domination of the Burgundians.
Throughout the rest of the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries the Swiss regions continued under Frankish hegemony (Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties). But after its extension under Charlemagne, the Frankish empire was divided by the Treaty of Verdun in 843. The territories of present day Switzerland became divided into Middle Francia and East Francia until they were reunified under the Holy Roman Empire around 1000 AD.
By 1200, the Swiss plateau comprised the dominions of the houses of Savoy, Zähringer, Habsburg and Kyburg. Some regions (Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, later known as Waldstätten) were accorded the Imperial immediacy to grant the empire direct control over the mountain passes. When the Kyburg dynasty fell in 1264 AD, the Habsburgs under King Rudolph I (Holy Roman Emperor in 1273) extended their territory to the eastern Swiss plateau.
Old Swiss Confederacy
Growth of the Old Swiss Confederacy, Reformation in Switzerland, and Early Modern Switzerland
Federal charter of 1291
The Old Swiss Confederacy was an alliance among the valley communities of the central Alps. The Confederacy facilitated management of common interests (free trade) and ensured peace on the important mountain trade routes. The Federal Charter of 1291 agreed between the rural communes of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden is considered the confederacy's founding document, even though similar alliances are likely to have existed decades earlier.
The Old Swiss Confederacy from 1291 (dark grey) to the sixteenth century (light grey) and its associates (blue)
By 1353, the three original cantons had joined with the cantons of Glarus and Zug and the Lucerne, Zurich and Bern city states to form the "Old Confederacy" of eight states that existed until the end of the 15th century. The expansion led to increased power and wealth for the federation. By 1460, the confederates controlled most of the territory south and west of the Rhine to the Alps and the Jura mountains, particularly after victories against the Habsburgs (Battle of Sempach, Battle of Näfels), over Charles the Bold of Burgundy during the 1470s, and the success of the Swiss mercenaries. The Swiss victory in the Swabian War against the Swabian League of Emperor Maximilian I in 1499 amounted to de facto independence within the Holy Roman Empire.
The Old Swiss Confederacy had acquired a reputation of invincibility during these earlier wars, but expansion of the federation suffered a setback in 1515 with the Swiss defeat in the Battle of Marignano. This ended the so-called "heroic" epoch of Swiss history. The success of Zwingli's Reformation in some cantons led to inter-cantonal religious conflicts in 1529 and 1531 (Wars of Kappel). It was not until more than one hundred years after these internal wars that, in 1648, under the Peace of Westphalia, European countries recognized Switzerland's independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality.
During the Early Modern period of Swiss history, the growing authoritarianism of the patriciate families combined with a financial crisis in the wake of the Thirty Years' War led to the Swiss peasant war of 1653. In the background to this struggle, the conflict between Catholic and Protestant cantons persisted, erupting in further violence at the Battles of Villmergen in 1656 and 1712.
Switzerland in the Napoleonic era, Helvetic Republic, and Act of Mediation
The Act of Mediation was Napoleon's attempt at a compromise between the Ancien Régime and a Republic.
In 1798, the revolutionary French government conquered Switzerland and imposed a new unified constitution. This centralised the government of the country and effectively abolished the cantons and Mülhausen and Valtellina valley separated from Switzerland. The new regime, known as the Helvetic Republic, was highly unpopular. It had been imposed by a foreign invading army and destroyed centuries of tradition, making Switzerland nothing more than a French satellite state. The fierce French suppression of the Nidwalden Revolt in September 1798 was an example of the oppressive presence of the French Army and the local population's resistance to the occupation.
When war broke out between France and its rivals, Russian and Austrian forces invaded Switzerland. The Swiss refused to fight alongside the French in the name of the Helvetic Republic. In 1803 Napoleon organised a meeting of the leading Swiss politicians from both sides in Paris. The result was the Act of Mediation which largely restored Swiss autonomy and introduced a Confederation of 19 cantons. Henceforth much of Swiss politics would concern balancing the cantons' tradition of self-rule with the need for a central government.
In 1815 the Congress of Vienna fully re-established Swiss independence and the European powers agreed to permanently recognise Swiss neutrality. Swiss troops still served foreign governments until 1860 when they fought in the Siege of Gaeta. The treaty also allowed Switzerland to increase its territory, with the admission of the cantons of Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva. Switzerland's borders have not changed since.
Restoration and Regeneration (Switzerland) and Switzerland as a federal state
The first Federal Palace in Bern (1857). One of the three cantons presiding over the Tagsatzung (former legislative and executive council), Bern was chosen as the federal capital in 1848, mainly because of its closeness to the French speaking area.
The restoration of the power to the patriciate was only temporary. After a period of unrest with repeated violent clashes such as the Züriputsch of 1839, civil war broke out in 1847 when some of the Catholic cantons tried to set up a separate alliance (the Sonderbundskrieg).The war lasted for less than a month, causing fewer than 100 casualties, most of which were through friendly fire. However minor the Sonderbundskrieg seems to be when compared with other European riots and wars in the 19th century, it nevertheless had a major impact on both the psychology and the society of the Swiss and of Switzerland.
The war convinced most Swiss of the need for unity and strength towards its European neighbours. Swiss people from all strata of society, whether Catholic, Protestant, or from the liberal or conservative current, realised that the cantons would profit more if their economic and religious interests were merged.
Thus, while the rest of Europe was plagued by revolutionary uprisings, the Swiss drew up a constitution which provided for a federal layout, much of it inspired by the American example. This constitution provided for a central authority while leaving the cantons the right to self-government on local issues. Giving credit to those who favoured the power of the cantons (the Sonderbund Kantone), the national assembly was divided between an upper house (the Swiss Council of States, 2 representatives per canton) and a lower house (the National Council of Switzerland, representatives elected from across the country). Referenda were made mandatory for any amendment of this constitution.
Inauguration in 1882 of the Gotthard Rail Tunnel connecting the southern canton of Ticino, the longest in the world at the time.
A system of single weights and measures was introduced and in 1850 the Swiss franc became the Swiss single currency. Article 11 of the constitution forbade sending troops to serve abroad, though the Swiss were still obliged to serve Francis II of the Two Sicilies with Swiss Guards present at the Siege of Gaeta in 1860, marking the end of foreign service.
An important clause of the constitution was that it could be re-written completely if this was deemed necessary, thus enabling it to evolve as a whole rather than being modified one amendment at a time.
This need soon proved itself when the rise in population and the Industrial Revolution that followed led to calls to modify the constitution accordingly. An early draft was rejected by the population in 1872 but modifications led to its acceptance in 1874.It introduced the facultative referendum for laws at the federal level. It also established federal responsibility for defense, trade, and legal matters.
In 1891, the constitution was revised with unusually strong elements of direct democracy, which remain unique even today.
Switzerland during the World Wars and Modern history of Switzerland
Switzerland was not invaded during either of the world wars. During World War I, Switzerland was home to Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (Vladimir Lenin) and he remained there until 1917. Swiss neutrality was seriously questioned by the Grimm-Hoffmann Affair in 1917, but it was short-lived. In 1920, Switzerland joined the League of Nations, which was based in Geneva, on the condition that it was exempt from any military requirements.
During World War II, detailed invasion plans were drawn up by the Germans, but Switzerland was never attacked.Switzerland was able to remain independent through a combination of military deterrence, concessions to Germany, and good fortune as larger events during the war delayed an invasion. Under General Henri Guisan, a massive mobilisation of militia forces was ordered. The Swiss military strategy was changed from one of static defence at the borders to protect the economic heartland, to one of organised long-term attrition and withdrawal to strong, well-stockpiled positions high in the Alps known as the Reduit. Switzerland was an important base for espionage by both sides in the conflict and often mediated communications between the Axis and Allied powers.
Switzerland's trade was blockaded by both the Allies and by the Axis. Economic cooperation and extension of credit to the Third Reich varied according to the perceived likelihood of invasion and the availability of other trading partners. Concessions reached a peak after a crucial rail link through Vichy France was severed in 1942, leaving Switzerland completely surrounded by the Axis. Over the course of the war, Switzerland interned over 300,000 refugees and the International Red Cross, based in Geneva, played an important part during the conflict. Strict immigration and asylum policies as well as the financial relationships with Nazi Germany raised controversy, but not until the end of the 20th century. Even in the 21st century, some Swiss banks and entities still refused to surrender the assets obtained from victims of Nazi persecution.
During the war, the Swiss Air Force engaged aircraft of both sides, shooting down 11 intruding Luftwaffe planes in May and June 1940, then forcing down other intruders after a change of policy following threats from Germany. Over 100 Allied bombers and their crews were interned during the war. During 1944–45, Allied bombers mistakenly bombed a few places in Switzerland, among which were the cities of Schaffhausen, Basel and Zurich.
After the war, the Swiss government exported credits through the charitable fund known as the Schweizerspende and also donated to the Marshall Plan to help Europe's recovery, efforts that ultimately benefited the Swiss economy.
Women were granted the right to vote in the first Swiss cantons in 1959, at the federal level in and, after resistance, in the last canton Appenzell Innerrhoden (one of only two remaining Landsgemeinde) in 1990. After suffrage at the federal level, women quickly rose in political significance, with the first woman on the seven member Federal Council executive being Elisabeth Kopp, who served from 1984–1989,and the first female president being Ruth Dreifuss in 1999.
In 2003, by granting the Swiss People's Party a second seat in the governing cabinet, the Parliament altered the coalition which had brought stability to Swiss politics since 1959.
Switzerland joined the Council of Europe in 1963. In 1979 areas from the canton of Bern attained independence from the Bernese, forming the new canton of Jura. On 18 April 1999 the Swiss population and the cantons voted in favour of a completely revised federal constitution.
In 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations, leaving the Vatican City as the last widely recognised state without full UN membership. Switzerland is a founding member of the EFTA, but is not a member of the European Economic Area. An application for membership in the European Union was sent in May 1992, but not advanced since the EEA was rejected in December 1992 when Switzerland was the only country to launch a referendum on the EEA. There have since been several referenda on the EU issue; due to a mixed reaction from the population the membership application has been frozen. Nonetheless, Swiss law is gradually being adjusted to conform with that of the EU, and the government has signed a number of bilateral agreements with the European Union. Switzerland, together with Liechtenstein, has been completely surrounded by the EU since Austria's membership in 1995. On 5 June 2005, Swiss voters agreed by a 55% majority to join the Schengen treaty, a result that was regarded by EU commentators as a sign of support by Switzerland, a country that is traditionally perceived as independent and reluctant to enter supranational bodies.
Geography of Switzerland
Extending across the north and south side of the Alps, Switzerland encompasses a great diversity of landscapes and climates on a limited area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 sq mi). The population is about 7.9 million, resulting in an average population density of around 190 people per square kilometre (485/sq mi).The more mountainous southern half of the country is far more sparsely populated than the northern half.In the largest Canton of Graubünden, lying entirely in the Alps, population density falls to 27 /km² (70 /sq mi).
Contrasted landscapes between the Matterhorn area in the high Alps, the Sanetsch region and the plateau at Lake Lucerne
Switzerland lies between latitudes 45° and 48° N, and longitudes 5° and 11° E. It contains three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps to the south, the Swiss plateau or middleland, and the Jura mountains on the north. The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central-south of the country, comprising about 60% of the country's total area. Among the high valleys of the Swiss Alps many glaciers are found, totalling an area of 1,063 square kilometres. From these originate the headwaters of several major rivers, such as the Rhine, Inn, Ticino and Rhone, which flow in the four cardinal directions into the whole of Europe. The hydrographic network includes several of the largest bodies of freshwater in Central and Western Europe, among which are included Lake Geneva, Lake Constance and Lake Maggiore. Switzerland has more than 1500 lakes, and contains 6% of Europe's stock of fresh water. Lakes and glaciers cover about 6% of the national territory.
About a hundred of Switzerland's mountain peaks are close to or higher than 4,000 metres (13,000 ft). At 4,634 m (15,203 ft), Monte Rosa is the highest, although the Matterhorn (4,478 m/14,692 ft) is probably the most famous. Both are located within the Pennine Alps in the canton of Valais. The section of the Bernese Alps above the deep glacial Lauterbrunnen valley, containing 72 waterfalls, is well known for the Jungfrau (4,158 m/13,642 ft) and Eiger, and the many picturesque valleys in the region. In the southeast the long Engadin Valley, encompassing the St. Moritz area in canton Graubünden, is also well known; the highest peak in the neighbouring Bernina Alps is Piz Bernina (4,049 m/13,284 ft).
The more populous northern part of the country, comprising about 30% of the country's total area, is called the Middle Land. It has greater open and hilly landscapes, partly forested, partly open pastures, usually with grazing herds, or vegetables and fruit fields, but it is still hilly. There are large lakes found here and the biggest Swiss cities are in this area of the country. The largest lake is Lake Geneva (also called Lac Léman in French), in western Switzerland. The Rhone River is both the main input and output of Lake Geneva.
Contrasted climates between the most glaciated area in western Eurasia (Aletsch Glacier), the cold temperate Jura (Vallée de Joux) and the southern canton of Ticino (Lake Lugano)
The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly between the localities from glacial conditions on the mountaintops to the often pleasant near Mediterranean climate at Switzerland's southern tip. Summers tend to be warm and humid at times with periodic rainfall so they are ideal for pastures and grazing. The less humid winters in the mountains may see long intervals of stable conditions for weeks, while the lower lands tend to suffer from inversion, during these periods, thus seeing no sun for weeks.
A weather phenomenon known as the föhn (with an identical effect to the chinook wind) can occur at all times of the year and is characterised by an unexpectedly warm wind, bringing air of very low relative humidity to the north of the Alps during rainfall periods on the southern face of the Alps. This works both ways across the alps but is more efficient if blowing from the south due to the steeper step for oncoming wind from the south. Valleys running south to north trigger the best effect. The driest conditions persist in all inner alpine valleys that receive less rain because arriving clouds lose a lot of their content while crossing the mountains before reaching these areas. Large alpine areas such as Graubünden remain drier than pre-alpine areas and as in the main valley of the Valais wine grapes are grown there.
The wettest conditions persist in the high Alps and in the Ticino canton which has much sun yet heavy bursts of rain from time to time.Precipitation tends to be spread moderately throughout the year with a peak in summer. Autumn is the driest season, winter receives less precipitation than summer, yet the weather patterns in Switzerland are not in a stable climate system and can be variable from year to year with no strict and predictable periods.
Switzerland's ecosystems can be particularly fragile, because of the many delicate valleys separated by high mountains, often forming unique ecologies. The mountainous regions themselves are also vulnerable, with a rich range of plants not found at other altitudes, and experience some pressure from visitors and grazing. The climatic, geological and topographical conditions of the alpine region make for a very fragile ecosystem that is particularly sensitive to climate change.
Politics of Switzerland
The Swiss Federal Council in 2012 with President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf (in the middle)
The Federal Constitution adopted in 1848 is the legal foundation of the modern federal state. It is among the oldest constitutions in the world. A new Constitution was adopted in 1999, but did not introduce notable changes to the federal structure. It outlines basic and political rights of individuals and citizen participation in public affairs, divides the powers between the Confederation and the cantons and defines federal jurisdiction and authority. There are three main governing bodies on the federal level: the bicameral parliament (legislative), the Federal Council (executive) and the Federal Court (judicial).
The Federal Palace, seat of the Federal Assembly and the Federal Council.
The Swiss Parliament consists of two houses: the Council of States which has 46 representatives (two from each canton and one from each half-canton) who are elected under a system determined by each canton, and the National Council, which consists of 200 members who are elected under a system of proportional representation, depending on the population of each canton. Members of both houses serve for 4 years. When both houses are in joint session, they are known collectively as the Federal Assembly. Through referendums, citizens may challenge any law passed by parliament and through initiatives, introduce amendments to the federal constitution, thus making Switzerland a direct democracy.
The Federal Council constitutes the federal government, directs the federal administration and serves as collective Head of State. It is a collegial body of seven members, elected for a four-year mandate by the Federal Assembly which also exercises oversight over the Council. The President of the Confederation is elected by the Assembly from among the seven members, traditionally in rotation and for a one-year term; the President chairs the government and assumes representative functions. However, the president is a primus inter pares with no additional powers, and remains the head of a department within the administration.
The Swiss government has been a coalition of the four major political parties since 1959, each party having a number of seats that roughly reflects its share of electorate and representation in the federal parliament. The classic distribution of 2 CVP/PDC, 2 SPS/PSS, 2 FDP/PRD and 1 SVP/UDC as it stood from 1959 to 2003 was known as the "magic formula". In the 2007 Federal Council elections the seven seats in the Federal Council were distributed as follows:
2 Social Democrats (SPS/PSS),
2 Liberal Democrats (FDP/PRD),
2 Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC),[note 6]
1 Christian Democrats (CVP/PDC).
The function of the Federal Supreme Court is to hear appeals against rulings of cantonal or federal courts. The judges are elected by the Federal Assembly for six-year terms.
The Landsgemeinde is an old form of direct democracy. It is still practised in two cantons.
Swiss citizens are subject to three legal jurisdictions: the commune, canton and federal levels. The 1848 federal constitution defines a system of direct democracy (sometimes called half-direct or representative direct democracy since it is aided by the more commonplace institutions of a parliamentary democracy). The instruments of Swiss direct democracy at the federal level, known as civic rights (Volksrechte, droits civiques), include the right to submit a constitutional initiative and a referendum, both of which may overturn parliamentary decisions.
By calling a federal referendum a group of citizens may challenge a law that has been passed by Parliament, if they can gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days. If so, a national vote is scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority whether to accept or reject the law. Eight cantons together can also call a referendum on a federal law.
Similarly, the federal constitutional initiative allows citizens to put a constitutional amendment to a national vote, if they can get 100,000 voters to sign the proposed amendment within 18 months. Parliament can supplement the proposed amendment with a counter-proposal, with voters having to indicate a preference on the ballot in case both proposals are accepted. Constitutional amendments, whether introduced by initiative or in Parliament, must be accepted by a double majority of both the national popular vote and a majority of the cantonal popular votes.
Cantons of Switzerland
The Swiss Confederation consists of 26 cantons
*These half-cantons are represented by one councillor (instead of two) in the Council of States.
The cantons have a permanent constitutional status and, in comparison with the situation in other countries, a high degree of independence. Under the Federal Constitution, all 26 cantons are equal in status. Each canton has its own constitution, and its own parliament, government and courts. However, there are considerable differences between the individual cantons, most particularly in terms of population and geographical area. Their populations vary between 15,000 (Appenzell Innerrhoden) and 1,253,500 (Zurich), and their area between 37 km2 (14 sq mi) (Basel-Stadt) and 7,105 km2 (2,743 sq mi) (Graubünden). The Cantons comprise a total of 2,485 municipalities. Within Switzerland there are two enclaves: Büsingen belongs to Germany, Campione d'Italia belongs to Italy.
In a referendum held in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg on 11 May 1919 over 80% of those voting supported a proposal that the state should join the Swiss Confederation. However, this was prevented by the opposition of the Austrian Government, the Allies, Swiss liberals and non German-speaking Swiss.
Foreign relations of Switzerland
The Palace of Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva
Traditionally, Switzerland avoids alliances that might entail military, political, or direct economic action and had been neutral since the end of its expansion in 1515. Its policy of neutrality was internationally recognised at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Only in 2002 did Switzerland become a full member of the United Nations and it was the first state to join it by referendum. Switzerland maintains diplomatic relations with almost all countries and historically has served as an intermediary between other states. Switzerland is not a member of the European Union; the Swiss people have consistently rejected membership since the early 1990s.
The monochromatically reversed Swiss flag became the symbol of the Red Cross Movement,founded in 1863 by Henri Dunant.
An unusual number of international institutions have their seats in Switzerland, in part because of its policy of neutrality. Geneva is the birthplace of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Geneva Conventions and, since 2006, hosts the United Nations Human Rights Council. Even though Switzerland is one of the most recent countries to have joined the United Nations, the Palace of Nations in Geneva is the second biggest centre for the United Nations after New York, and Switzerland was a founding member and home to the League of Nations.
Apart from the United Nations headquarters, the Swiss Confederation is host to many UN agencies, like the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and about 200 other international organisations, including the World Trade Organization. The annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos bring together top international business and political leaders from Switzerland and foreign countries to discuss important issues facing the world, including health and the environment.
Furthermore, many sport federations and organisations are located throughout the country, such as the International Basketball Federation, in Geneva, the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations), in Nyon, the FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) and the International Ice Hockey Federation, in Zurich, the International Cycling Union, in Aigle, and the International Olympic Committee, in Lausanne.
Military of Switzerland
A Swiss Air Force F/A-18 Hornet in flight over the Alps
The Swiss Armed Forces, including the Land Forces and the Air Force, are composed of conscripts: professional soldiers constitute only about 5% of the military personnel, and all the rest are conscript male citizens aged from 20 to 34 (in special cases up to 50) years. Being a landlocked country, Switzerland has no navy; however, on lakes bordering neighbouring countries, armed military patrol boats are used. Swiss citizens are prohibited from serving in foreign armies, with the exception of the Swiss Guards of the Vatican.
The structure of the Swiss militia system stipulates that the soldiers keep their Army issued equipment, including all personal weapons, at home. Some organizations and political parties find this practice controversial but mainstream Swiss opinion is in favour of the system. Compulsory military service concerns all male Swiss citizens; women can serve voluntarily. Men usually receive military conscription orders for training at the age of 19. About two thirds of the young Swiss are found suited for service; for those found unsuited, various forms of alternative service exist. Annually, approximately 20,000 persons are trained in recruit centres for a duration from 18 to 21 weeks. The reform "Army XXI" was adopted by popular vote in 2003, it replaced the previous model "Army 95", reducing the effectives from 400,000 to about 200,000. Of those, 120,000 are active in periodic Army training and 80,000 are non-training reserves.
MOWAG Eagle armoured vehicles in a military parade
Overall, three general mobilisations have been declared to ensure the integrity and neutrality of Switzerland. The first one was held on the occasion of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. The second one was decided in response to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. The third mobilisation of the army took place on September 1939 in response to the German attack on Poland; Henri Guisan was elected as the General-in-Chief.
Because of its neutrality policy, the Swiss army does not currently take part in armed conflicts in other countries, but is part of some peacekeeping missions around the world. Since 2000 the armed forces department has also maintained the Onyx intelligence gathering system to monitor satellite communications.
Following the end of the Cold War there have been a number of attempts to curb military activity or even abolish the armed forces altogether. A notable referendum on the subject, launched by an anti-militarist group, was held on 26 November 1989. It was defeated with about two thirds of the voters against the proposal. A similar referendum, called for before, but held shortly after, the September 11 attacks in the US, was defeated by over 78% of voters.
Economy of Switzerland
Switzerland has a stable, prosperous and high-tech economy. In 2011, it was ranked as being the wealthiest country in the world in per capita terms (with 'wealth' being defined to include both financial and non-financial assets). It has the world's nineteenth largest economy by nominal GDP and the thirty-sixth largest by purchasing power parity. It is the twentieth largest exporter and eighteenth largest importer of goods. Switzerland has the highest European rating in the Index of Economic Freedom 2010, while also providing large coverage through public services. The nominal per capita GDP is higher than those of the larger Western and Central European economies and Japan. If adjusted for purchasing power parity, Switzerland ranks 8th in the world in terms of GDP per capita, according to the World Bank and IMF (ranked 15th according to the CIA Worldfactbook).
The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland's economy as the most competitive in the world, while ranked by the European Union as Europe's most innovative country. For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin (by GDP – per capita).In 2005 the median household income in Switzerland was an estimated 95,000 CHF, the equivalent of roughly 100,000 USD (as of December 2010) in nominal terms. Switzerland also has one of the world's largest account balances as a percentage of GDP.
The Greater Zurich Area, home to 1.5 million inhabitants and 150,000 companies, is one of the most important economic centers in the world.
Switzerland is home to several large multinational corporations. The largest Swiss companies by revenue are Glencore, Nestlé, Novartis, Hoffmann-La Roche, ABB and Adecco. Also notable are UBS AG, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Swiss Re, and The Swatch Group. Switzerland is ranked as having one of the most powerful economies in the world.
Switzerland's most important economic sector is manufacturing. Manufacturing consists largely of the production of specialist chemicals, health and pharmaceutical goods, scientific and precision measuring instruments and musical instruments. The largest exported goods are chemicals (34% of exported goods), machines/electronics (20.9%), and precision instruments/watches (16.9%). Exported services amount to a third of exported goods. The services sector – especially banking and insurance, tourism, and international organisations – is another important industry for Switzerland.
Around 3.8 million people work in Switzerland. Switzerland has a more flexible job market than neighboring countries and the unemployment rate is very low. Unemployment rate increased from a low of 1.7% in June 2000 to a peak of 4.4%, as of December 2009. Population growth from net immigration is quite high, at 0.52% of population in 2004. Foreign citizen population is 21.8% as of 2004, about the same as in Australia. GDP per hour worked is the world's 17th highest, at 27.44 international dollars in 2006.
The Engadin Valley. Tourism constitutes an important revenue for the less industrialised alpine regions.
Switzerland has an overwhelmingly private sector economy and low tax rates by the Western World standards; overall taxation is one of the smallest of developed countries. Switzerland is an easy place to do business; Switzerland currently ranks 27th of 178 countries in the Ease of Doing Business Index. The slow growth Switzerland experienced in the 1990s and the early 2000s has brought greater support for economic reforms and harmonisation with the European Union. According to Credit Suisse, only about 37% of residents own their own homes, one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Europe. Housing and food price levels were 171% and 145% of the EU-25 index in 2007, compared to 113% and 104% in Germany.
Agricultural protectionism—a rare exception to Switzerland's free trade policies—has contributed to high food prices. Product market liberalisation is lagging behind many EU countries according to the OECD. Nevertheless, domestic purchasing power is one of the best in the world. Apart from agriculture, economic and trade barriers between the European Union and Switzerland are minimal and Switzerland has free trade agreements worldwide. Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Education in Switzerland and Science and technology in Switzerland
Some of the Swiss scientists who played a key role in their discipline (clockwise):
Leonhard Euler (mathematics)
Louis Agassiz (glaciology)
Auguste Piccard (aeronautics)
Albert Einstein (physics)
Education in Switzerland is very diverse because the constitution of Switzerland delegates the authority for the school system to the cantons. There are both public and private schools, including many private international schools. The minimum age for primary school is about six years in all cantons, but most cantons provide a free "children's school" starting at four or five years old. Primary school continues until grade four, five or six, depending on the school. Traditionally, the first foreign language in school was always one of the other national languages, although recently (2000) English was introduced first in a few cantons.
At the end of primary school (or at the beginning of secondary school), pupils are separated according to their capacities in several (often three) sections. The fastest learners are taught advanced classes to be prepared for further studies and the matura, while students who assimilate a little bit more slowly receive an education more adapted to their needs.
The campus of the ETH Zurich. The institution is usually ranked the top university in continental Europe.
There are 12 universities in Switzerland, ten of which are maintained at cantonal level and usually offer a range of non-technical subjects. The first university in Switzerland was founded in 1460 in Basel (with a faculty of medicine) and has a tradition of chemical and medical research in Switzerland. The biggest university in Switzerland is the University of Zurich with nearly 25,000 students. The two institutes sponsored by the federal government are the ETHZ in Zurich (founded 1855) and the EPFL in Lausanne (founded 1969 as such, formerly an institute associated with the University of Lausanne) which both have an excellent international reputation.
In addition there are various Universities of Applied Sciences. In business and management studies, University of St. Gallen, (HSG) and International Institute for Management Development (IMD) are the leaders within the country and highly regarded internationally. Switzerland has the second highest rate of foreign students in tertiary education, after Australia.
As might befit a country that plays home to innumerable international organizations, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, located in Geneva, is not only continental Europe's oldest graduate school of international and development studies, but also widely believed to be one of its most prestigious.
Many Nobel prizes were awarded to Swiss scientists, for example to the world-famous physicist Albert Einstein in the field of physics who developed his Special relativity while working in Bern. More recently Vladimir Prelog, Heinrich Rohrer, Richard Ernst, Edmond Fischer, Rolf Zinkernagel and Kurt Wüthrich received Nobel prizes in the sciences. In total, 113 Nobel Prize winners in all fields stand in relation to Switzerland and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 9 times to organisations residing in Switzerland.
The LHC tunnel. CERN is the world's largest laboratory and also the birthplace of the World Wide Web.
Geneva and the nearby French department of Ain co-host the world's largest laboratory, CERN, dedicated to particle physics research. Another important research center is the Paul Scherrer Institute. Notable inventions include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the scanning tunneling microscope (Nobel prize) and Velcro. Some technologies enabled the exploration of new worlds such as the pressurized balloon of Auguste Piccard and the Bathyscaphe which permitted Jacques Piccard to reach the deepest point of the world's oceans.
Switzerland Space Agency, the Swiss Space Office, has been involved in various space technologies and programs. In addition it was one of the 10 founders of the European Space Agency in 1975 and is the seventh largest contributor to the ESA budget. In the private sector, several companies are implicated in the space industry such as Oerlikon Space or Maxon Motors who provide spacecraft structures.
Switzerland – European Union relations
Switzerland voted against membership in the European Economic Area in a referendum in December 1992 and has since maintained and developed its relationships with the European Union (EU) and European countries through bilateral agreements. In March 2001, the Swiss people refused in a popular vote to start accession negotiations with the EU. In recent years, the Swiss have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with those of the EU in many ways, in an effort to enhance their international competitiveness. The economy has been growing most recently at around 3% per year. Full EU membership is a long-term objective of some in the Swiss government, but there is considerable popular sentiment against this supported by the conservative SVP party. The western French-speaking areas and the urban regions of the rest of the country tend to be more pro-EU, however with far from any significant share of the population.
The government has established an Integration Office under the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Economic Affairs. To minimise the negative consequences of Switzerland's isolation from the rest of Europe, Bern and Brussels signed seven bilateral agreements to further liberalise trade ties. These agreements were signed in 1999 and took effect in 2001. This first series of bilateral agreements included the free movement of persons. A second series covering nine areas was signed in 2004 and has since been ratified. The second series includes the Schengen Treaty and the Dublin Convention. They continue to discuss further areas for cooperation.
In 2006, Switzerland approved a billion francs supportive investment in the poorer Southern and Central European countries in support of cooperation and positive ties to the EU as a whole. A further referendum will be needed to approve 300 million francs to support Romania and Bulgaria and their recent admission. The Swiss have also been under EU and sometimes international pressure to reduce banking secrecy and to raise tax rates to parity with the EU. Preparatory discussions are being opened in four new areas: opening up the electricity market, participation in the European GNSS project Galileo, cooperating with the European centre for disease prevention and recognising certificates of origin for food products.
On 27 November 2008, the interior and justice ministers of European Union in Brussels announced Switzerland's accession to the Schengen passport-free zone from 12 December 2008. The land border checkpoints will remain in place only for goods movements, but should not run controls on people, though people entering the country had their passports checked until 29 March 2009 if they originated from a Schengen nation.
Energy, infrastructure, and environment
The Gösgen Nuclear Power Plant is one of four nuclear power plants in Switzerland.
Electricity generated in Switzerland is 56% from hydroelectricity and 39% from nuclear power, with 5% of the electricity generated from conventional power sources resulting in a nearly CO2-free electricity-generating network. On 18 May 2003, two anti-nuclear initiatives were turned down: Moratorium Plus, aimed at forbidding the building of new nuclear power plants (41.6% supported and 58.4% opposed),and Electricity Without Nuclear (33.7% supported and 66.3% opposed).
The former ten-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants was the result of a citizens' initiative voted on in 1990 which had passed with 54.5% Yes vs. 45.5% No votes. A new nuclear plant in the Canton of Bern is presently planned. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) is the office responsible for all questions relating to energy supply and energy use within the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC). The agency is supporting the 2000-watt society initiative to cut the nation's energy use by more than half by the year 2050.
On 25 May 2011 the Swiss government announced that it plans to end its use of nuclear energy in the next 2 or 3 decades. "The government has voted for a phaseout because we want to ensure a secure and autonomous supply of energy", Energy Minister Doris Leuthard said that day at a press conference in Bern. "Fukushima showed that the risk of nuclear power is too high, which in turn has also increased the costs of this energy form." The first reactor would reportedly be taken offline in 2019 and the last one in 2034. Parliament will discuss the plan in June 2011, and there could be a referendum as well.
Entrance of the new Lötschberg Base Tunnel, the third-longest railway tunnel in the world, under the old Lötschberg railway line. It is the first completed tunnel of the greater project AlpTransit.
The most dense rail network in Europeof 5,063 km (3,146 mi) carries over 350 million passengers annually. In 2007, each Swiss citizen travelled on average 2,103 km (1,307 mi) by rail, which makes them the keenest rail users. The network is administered mainly by the Federal Railways, except in Graubünden, where the 366 km (227 mi) narrow gauge railway is operated by the Rhaetian Railways and includes some World Heritage lines. The building of new railway base tunnels through the Alps is under way to reduce the time of travel between north and south through the AlpTransit project.
Swiss private-public managed road network is funded by road tolls and vehicle taxes. The Swiss autobahn/autoroute system requires the purchase of a vignette (toll sticker)—which costs 40 Swiss francs—for one calendar year in order to use its roadways, for both passenger cars and trucks. The Swiss autobahn/autoroute network has a total length of 1,638 km (1,018 mi) (as of 2000) and has, by an area of 41,290 km2 (15,940 sq mi), also one of the highest motorway densities in the world. Zurich Airport is Switzerland's largest international flight gateway, which handled 22.8 million passengers in 2010. The other international airports are Geneva Airport (11.8 million passengers), EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg which is located in France, Bern Airport, Lugano Airport, St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport and Sion Airport.
Switzerland has one of the best environmental records among nations in the developed world; it was one of the countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 and ratified it in 2003. With Mexico and the Republic of Korea it forms the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG).The country is heavily active in recycling and anti-littering regulations and is one of the top recyclers in the world, with 66% to 96% of recyclable materials being recycled, depending on the area of the country.
In many places in Switzerland, household garbage disposal is charged for. Garbage (except dangerous items, batteries etc.) is only collected if it is in bags which either have a payment sticker attached, or in official bags with the surcharge paid at the time of purchase. This gives a financial incentive to recycle as much as possible, since recycling is free. Illegal disposal of garbage is not tolerated but usually the enforcement of such laws is limited to violations that involve the unlawful disposal of larger volumes at traffic intersections and public areas. Fines for not paying the disposal fee range from CHF 200–500.
Switzerland also has internationally the most efficient system to recycle old newspapers and cardboard materials. Publicly organized collection by volunteers and economical railway transport logistics started as early as 1865 under the leadership of the notable industrialist Hans Caspar Escher (Escher Wyss AG) when the first modern Swiss paper manufacturing plant was built in Biberist.
Demographics of Switzerland, Swiss (people), and Linguistic geography of Switzerland
Official languages in Switzerland:
German (63.7%; 72.5%)
French (20.4%; 21.0%)
Italian (6.5%; 4.3%)
Romansh (0.5%; 0.6%)
Switzerland lies at the crossroads of several major European cultures that have heavily influenced the country's languages and culture. Switzerland has four official languages: German (63.7% total population share, with foreign residents; 72.5% of residents with Swiss citizenship, in 2000) in the north, east and centre of the country; French (20.4%; 21.0%) to the west; Italian (6.5%; 4.3%) in the south. Romansh (0.5%; 0.6%), a Romance language spoken locally in the southeastern trilingual canton of Graubünden, is designated by the Federal Constitution as a national language along with German, French and Italian , and as official language if the authorities communicate with persons of Romansh language (Article 70), but federal laws and other official acts do not need to be decreed in this language. The federal government is obliged to communicate in the official languages, and in the federal parliament simultaneous translation is provided from and into German, French and Italian.
The German spoken in Switzerland is predominantly a group of Alemannic dialects collectively known as Swiss German, but written communication typically use Swiss Standard German, whilst the majority of radio and TV broadcast is now in Swiss German as well. Similarly, there are some dialects of Franco-Provençal in rural communities in the French speaking part, known as "Suisse romande", called Vaudois, Gruérien, Jurassien, Empro, Fribourgeois, Neuchâtelois, and in the Italian speaking area, Ticinese (a dialect of Lombard). Moreover, the official languages (German, French and Italian) borrow some terms not understood outside of Switzerland, i.e. terms from other languages (German Billettefrom French), from similar term in another language (Italian azione used not as act but as discount from German Aktion). Learning one of the other national languages at school is obligatory for all Swiss, so many Swiss are supposed to be at least bilingual, especially those belonging to minorities.
Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 22% of the population.Most of these (60%) are from European Union or EFTA countries. Italians are the largest single group of foreigners with 17.3% of total foreign population. They are followed by Germans (13.2%), immigrants from Serbia and Montenegro (11.5%) as well as Portugal (11.3%). Immigrants from Sri Lanka, most of them former Tamil refugees, are the largest group among people of Asian origin. In the 2000s, domestic and international institutions have expressed concern about what they perceive as an increase of xenophobia, particularly in some political campaignings. However, the high proportion of foreign citizens in the country, as well as the generally unproblematic integration of foreigners, underlines Switzerland's openness.
Healthcare in Switzerland
Swiss citizens are universally required to buy health insurance from private insurance companies, which in turn are required to accept every applicant. While the cost of the system is among the highest, the system compares well with other European countries in terms of health outcomes, so patients are largely satisfied with it. In 2006 life expectancy at birth was 79 years for men and 84 years for women. It is among the highest in the world. However, spending on health is particularly high, with 11.5% of GDP (2003) and, from 1990, a steady increase is observed, reflecting the high prices of the services provided.With aging populations and new healthcare technologies, health spending will likely continue to rise.
Cities of Switzerland
Between two thirds and three quarters of the population live in urban areas. Switzerland has gone from a largely rural country to an urban one in just 70 years. Since 1935 urban development has claimed as much of the Swiss landscape as it did during the previous 2,000 years. This urban sprawl does not only affect the plateau but also the Jura and the Alpine foothills and there are growing concerns about land use. However from the beginning of the 21st century, the population growth in urban areas is higher than in the countryside.
Switzerland has a dense network of cities, where large, medium and small cities are complementary. The plateau is very densely populated with about 450 people per km2 and the landscape continually shows signs of man's presence. The weight of the largest metropolitan areas, which are Zurich, Geneva–Lausanne, Basel and Bern tend to increase.In international comparison the importance of these urban areas is stronger than their number of inhabitants suggests. In addition the two main centers of Zurich and Geneva are recognized for their particular great quality of life.
Religion in Switzerland
Switzerland has no official state religion, though most of the cantons (except Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognize official churches, which are either the Catholic Church or the (Protestant) Swiss Reformed Church. These churches, and in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish congregations, are financed by official taxation of adherents.
The reformed church of Glarus
As of the 2010 census Christianity is the predominant religion of Switzerland, divided between the Catholic Church (38.8% of the population) and various Protestant denominations (30.9%). Geneva converted to Protestantism in 1536, just before John Calvin arrived there. Immigration has brought Islam (4.5%) and Eastern Orthodoxy (around 2%) as sizeable minority religions. As of the 2000 census other Christian minority communities include Neo-Pietism (0.44%), Pentecostalism (0.28%, mostly incorporated in the Schweizer Pfingstmission), Methodism (0.13%), the New Apostolic Church (0.45%), Jehovah's Witnesses (0.28%), other Protestant denominations (0.20%), the Old Catholic Church (0.18%), other Christian denominations (0.20%). Minor non-Christian minority groups are Hinduism (0.38%), Buddhism (0.29%), Judaism (0.25%) and "other religions" (0.11%). 4.3% did not make a statement. The 2005 Eurobarometer poll found 48% to be theist, 39% expressing belief in "a spirit or life force", 9% atheist and 4% agnostic. Greeley (2003) found that 27% of the population does not believe in a God.
The country is historically about evenly balanced between Catholic and Protestant, with a complex patchwork of majorities over most of the country. One canton, Appenzell, was officially divided into Catholic and Protestant sections in 1597. The larger cities (Bern, Geneva, Zurich and Basel) are predominantly Protestant. Central Switzerland, as well as Ticino, is traditionally Catholic. The Swiss Constitution of 1848, under the recent impression of the clashes of Catholic vs. Protestant cantons that culminated in the Sonderbundskrieg, consciously defines a consociational state, allowing the peaceful co-existence of Catholics and Protestants. A 1980 initiative calling for the complete separation of church and state was rejected by 78.9% of the voters.
Culture of Switzerland
Three of Europe's major languages are official in Switzerland. Swiss culture is characterised by diversity, which is reflected in a wide range of traditional customs. A region may be in some ways strongly culturally connected to the neighbouring country that shares its language, the country itself being rooted in western European culture. The linguistically isolated Romansh culture in Graubünden in eastern Switzerland constitutes an exception, it survives only in the upper valleys of the Rhine and the Inn and strives to maintain its rare linguistic tradition.
Switzerland is home to many notable contributors to literature, art, architecture, music and sciences. In addition the country attracted a number of creative persons during time of unrest or war in Europe.Some 1000 museums are distributed through the country; the number has more than tripled since 1950. Among the most important cultural performances held annually are the Lucerne Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Locarno International Film Festival.
Alpine symbolism has played an essential role in shaping the history of the country and the Swiss national identity. Nowadays some concentrated mountain areas have a strong highly energetic ski resort culture in winter, and a hiking (wandering) or Mountain biking culture in summer. Other areas throughout the year have a recreational culture that caters to tourism, yet the quieter seasons are spring and autumn when there are fewer visitors. A traditional farmer and herder culture also predominates in many areas and small farms are omnipresent outside the cities. Folk art is kept alive in organisations all over the country. In Switzerland it is mostly expressed in music, dance, poetry, wood carving and embroidery. The alphorn, a trumpet-like musical instrument made of wood, has become alongside yodeling and the accordion an epitome of traditional Swiss music.
Literature of Switzerland
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was not only a writer but also an influential philosopher of the eighteenth-century (his statue in Geneva).
As the Confederation, from its foundation in 1291, was almost exclusively composed of German-speaking regions, the earliest forms of literature are in German. In the 18th century French became the fashionable language in Bern and elsewhere, while the influence of the French-speaking allies and subject lands was more marked than before.
Among the classics of Swiss German literature are Jeremias Gotthelf (1797–1854) and Gottfried Keller (1819–1890). The undisputed giants of 20th century Swiss literature are Max Frisch (1911–91) and Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–90), whose repertoire includes Die Physiker (The Physicists) and Das Versprechen (The Pledge), released in 2001 as a Hollywood film..
Prominent French-speaking writers were Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and Germaine de Staël (1766–1817). More recent authors include Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (1878–1947), whose novels describe the lives of peasants and mountain dwellers, set in a harsh environment and Blaise Cendrars (born Frédéric Sauser, 1887–1961).Also Italian and Romansh-speaking authors contributed but in more modest way given their small number.
Probably the most famous Swiss literary creation, Heidi, the story of an orphan girl who lives with her grandfather in the Alps, is one of the most popular children's books ever and has come to be a symbol of Switzerland. Her creator, Johanna Spyri (1827–1901), wrote a number of other books around similar themes.
Media of Switzerland
The freedom of the press and the right to free expression is guaranteed in the federal constitution of Switzerland. The Swiss News Agency (SNA) broadcasts information around-the-clock in three of the four national languages—on politics, economics, society and culture. The SNA supplies almost all Swiss media and a couple dozen foreign media services with its news.
Switzerland has historically boasted the greatest number of newspaper titles published in proportion to its population and size. The most influential newspapers are the German-language Tages-Anzeiger and Neue Zürcher Zeitung NZZ, and the French-language Le Temps, but almost every city has at least one local newspaper. The cultural diversity accounts for a large number of newspapers.
In contrast to the print media, the broadcast media has always been under greater control of the government.The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, whose name was recently changed to SRG SSR idée suisse, is charged with the production and broadcast of radio and television programs. SRG SSR studios are distributed throughout the various language regions. Radio content is produced in six central and four regional studios while the television programs are produced in Geneva, Zurich and Lugano. An extensive cable network also allows most Swiss to access the programs from neighboring countries.
Sport in Switzerland
Ski area over the glaciers of Saas-Fee
Skiing, snowboarding and mountaineering are among the most popular sports in Switzerland, the nature of the country being particularly suited for such activities. Winter sports are practiced by the natives and tourists since the second half of the 19th century with the invention of bobsleigh in St. Moritz. The first world ski championships were held in Mürren (1931) and St. Moritz (1934). The latter town hosted the second Winter Olympic Games in 1928 and the fifth edition in 1948. Among the most successful skiers and world champions are Pirmin Zurbriggen and Didier Cuche.
Spengler Cup in Davos
Many Swiss are fans of football and the national team or 'Nati' is widely supported. Switzerland was the joint host, with Austria, of the Euro 2008 tournament. Many Swiss also follow ice hockey and support one of the 12 clubs in the League A. In April 2009, Switzerland hosted the 2009 IIHF World Championship for the 10th time. The National League A is the most attended league in Europe. The numerous lakes make Switzerland an attractive place for sailing. The largest, Lake Geneva, is the home of the sailing team Alinghi which was the first European team to win the America's Cup in 2003 and which successfully defended the title in 2007. Tennis has become an increasingly popular sport, and Swiss players such as Martina Hingis and Roger Federer have won multiple Grand Slams.
In a eight-year span, Roger Federer has won a record 16 Grand Slam singles titles, making him the most successful men's tennis player ever.
Motorsport racecourses and events were banned in Switzerland following the 1955 Le Mans disaster with exception to events such as Hillclimbing. However, this ban was overturned in June 2007. During this period, the country still produced successful racing drivers such as Clay Regazzoni, Sebastian Buemi, Jo Siffert and successful World Touring Car Championship driver Alain Menu. Switzerland also won the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport in 2007–08 with driver Neel Jani. Swiss motorcycle racer Thomas Lüthi won the 2005 MotoGP World Championship in the 125cc category.
Traditional sports include Swiss wrestling or "Schwingen". It is an old tradition from the rural central cantons and considered the national sport by some. Hornussen is another indigenous Swiss sport, which is like a cross between baseball and golf. Steinstossen is the Swiss variant of stone put, a competition in throwing a heavy stone. Practiced only among the alpine population since prehistoric times, it is recorded to have taken place in Basel in the 13th century. It is also central to the Unspunnenfest, first held in 1805, with its symbol the 83.5 kg stone named Unspunnenstein.
The cuisine of Switzerland is multi-faceted. While some dishes such as fondue, raclette or rösti are omnipresent through the country, each region developed its own gastronomy according to the differences of climate and languages. Traditional Swiss cuisine uses ingredients similar to those in other European countries, as well as unique dairy products and cheeses such as Gruyère or Emmental, produced in the valleys of Gruyères and Emmental. The number of fine-dining establishments is high, particularly in western Switzerland.
Chocolate had been made in Switzerland since the 18th century but it gained its reputation at the end of the 19th century with the invention of modern techniques such as conching and tempering which enabled its production on a high quality level. Also a breakthrough was the invention of milk chocolate in 1875 by Daniel Peter. The Swiss are the world's largest consumers of chocolate.
The most popular alcoholic drink in Switzerland is wine. Switzerland is notable for the variety of grapes grown because of the large variations in terroirs, with their specific mixes of soil, air, altitude and light. Swiss wine is produced mainly in Valais, Vaud (Lavaux), Geneva and Ticino, with a small majority of white wines. Vineyards have been cultivated in Switzerland since the Roman era, even though certain traces can be found of a more ancient origin. The most widespread varieties are the Chasselas (called Fendant in Valais) and Pinot Noir. The Merlot is the main variety produced in Ticino.
Official Name: Swiss Confederation
Area: 41,285 sq. km. (15,941 sq. mi.); about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
Cities: Capital--Bern (population 132,555 ). Other cities--Zurich (380,000), Geneva (190,000), Basel (190,000), Lausanne (127,000).
Terrain: 40% mountains, the remainder hills and plateau. Switzerland straddles the central ranges of the Alps.
Climate: Temperate, varying with altitude and season.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Swiss (singular and plural).
Population (year-end 2010): 7.8 million.
Ethnic groups: Mixed European.
Religions: Roman Catholic 42%, Protestant 33%, Muslim 4.3%, others 5.4%, no religion 11%.
Languages: German 63.7%, French 20.4%, Italian 6.5%, Romansch 0.5%, other 8.9%.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--100%. Literacy--100%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--3.8/1,000. Life expectancy--men 80.2 years, women 84.6 years.
Work force (4.7 million in third quarter 2011): Agriculture and forestry--3.6%. Industry and construction--23.1%. Services sector and government--73.3%.
Type: Federal state.
Independence: The first Swiss Confederation was founded in August 1291 as a defensive alliance among three cantons. The Swiss Confederation established independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499.
Constitution: 1848; extensively amended in 1874; fully revised in 2000.
Branches: Executive--Federal Council, a collegium of seven members, headed by a rotating 1-year presidency. Legislative--Federal Assembly (bicameral: Council of States, 46 members; National Council, 200 members). Judicial--Federal Tribunal.
Administrative subdivisions: 26 cantons (states) with considerable autonomy.
Political parties: Swiss People's Party (SVP), Social Democratic Party (SP), Free Democratic Party (FDP), Christian Democratic Party (CVP), Conservative Democratic Party (BDP), and several smaller parties representing localities or views from extreme left to extreme right.
Suffrage: In federal matters, universal over 18.
GDP (2010): $527.9 billion (467.8 billion Swiss francs [CHF]).
Government expenses (in GDP%, 2010 est.): 34.5% (federal, cantonal, and local).
Annual growth rate (2011): 1.7%.
Unemployment (November 2011): 3.1%.
Per capita income (2010 est.): $67,078.
Avg. inflation rate: 0.3% (2011 est.); -0.9% (2012 est.).
Natural resources: Water power, timber, salt.
Agriculture (1% of GDP): Products--dairy (21%), livestock (25%), grains (4%), fruit and wine (10%), and vegetables (14%). Arable land (1999)--26%.
Industry (est. 29% of GDP): Types--machinery, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, time pieces, precision instruments, textiles and clothing, pigment, transportation equipment.
Services (70% of GDP).
Trade: Merchandise exports (2010)--$195 billion (official exchange rate): food, beverages, and tobacco (4%; +8%); metal and chemical industries (44%; +10%); precision instruments (15%; +18%); watches (8%; +27%); machinery and electronics (22%; +12%); clothing (1.5%; -3%). Major markets--EU, United States, Canada, CIS, India, Brazil, Japan. Merchandise imports (2010)--$176 billion (official exchange rate): consumer goods (38%); equipment (19%); energy (7.1%); raw materials (28%). Major suppliers--EU, U.S., Canada, CIS, South Africa.
Exchange rate (average 2011): $1 U.S. = 0.8861 CHF or SFr.
Switzerland sits at the crossroads of several major European cultures, which have heavily influenced the country's languages and cultural practices. Switzerland has four official languages--German, French, Italian, and Romansch (based on Latin and spoken by a small minority in the Canton Graubunden). The German spoken is predominantly a Swiss dialect, but newspapers and some media broadcasts use High German. Many Swiss speak more than one language. English is widely spoken, especially among the university educated.
More than 75% of the population lives in the central plain, which stretches between the Alps and the Jura Mountains and from Geneva in the southwest to the Rhine River and Lake Constance in the northeast.
According to the Swiss Federal Office of Statistics, the population in Switzerland was 7,787,134 at year-end 2010 (up from 7,785,806 in 2009), of which 22% were resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers. The majority of this growth was attributable to net immigration, largely from the European Union (EU). Roughly 60% of the foreigners residing in Switzerland are from European Union member countries, while another 30% are from non-EU European countries. Almost all Swiss are literate. Switzerland's 12 universities enrolled 206,559 students in the academic year of 2011-2012, of which roughly one-fourth were foreigners. About 30% of the population aged 25-34 holds a diploma of higher learning. In the 2010-2011 academic year, 592 U.S. students were enrolled in Swiss universities.
Switzerland consistently ranks high on quality of life indices, including per capita income, computer and Internet usage, insurance coverage, and quality of available health care. For these and many other reasons, it serves as an excellent test market for businesses hoping to introduce new products into Europe.
Originally inhabited by the Helvetians, or Helvetic Celts, the territory comprising modern Switzerland came under Roman rule during the Gallic wars in the 1st century BC and remained a Roman province until the 4th century AD. Under Roman influence, the population reached a high level of civilization and enjoyed a flourishing commerce. Important cities, such as Geneva, Basel, and Zurich, were linked by military roads that also served as trade arteries between Rome and the northern tribes.
After the decline of the Roman Empire, Switzerland was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and west. Some tribes, such as the Alemanni in central and northeastern Switzerland, and the Burgundians, who ruled western Switzerland, settled there. In 800, the country became part of Charlemagne's empire. It later passed under the dominion of the Holy Roman emperors in the form of small ecclesiastic and temporal holdings subject to imperial sovereignty.
With the opening of a new important north-south trade route across the Alps in the early 13th century, the Empire's rulers began to attach more importance to the remote Swiss mountain valleys, which were granted some degree of autonomy under direct imperial rule. Fearful of the popular disturbances flaring up following the death of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1291, the ruling families from Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden signed a charter to keep public peace and pledging mutual support in upholding autonomous administrative and judicial rule. The anniversary of the charter's signature (August 1, 1291) today is celebrated as Switzerland's National Day.
Between 1315 and 1388 the Swiss Confederates inflicted three crushing defeats on the Habsburgs, whose aspiration to regional dominion clashed with Swiss self-determination. During that period, five other localities (cantons in modern-day parlance) joined the original three in the Swiss Confederation. Buoyed by their feats, the Swiss Confederates continuously expanded their borders by military means and gained formal independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. Routed by the French and Venetians near Milan in 1515, they renounced expansionist policies. By then the Swiss Confederation had become a union of 13 localities with a regularly convening diet administering the subject territories. Swiss mercenaries continued for centuries to serve in other armies; the Swiss Guard of the Pope is a vestige of this tradition.
The Reformation led to a division between the Protestant followers of Zwingli and Calvin in the German and French parts of the country respectively, and the Catholics. Despite two centuries of civil strife, the common interest in the joint subject territories kept the Swiss Confederation from falling apart. The traffic in mercenaries as well as the alienation between the predominantly Protestant Swiss and their Catholic neighbors kept the Swiss Confederation out of the wars of the European powers, which formally recognized Swiss neutrality in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The Swiss remained neutral during the War of the First Coalition against revolutionary France, but Napoleon, nonetheless, invaded and annexed much of the country in 1797-98, replacing the loose confederation with a centrally governed unitary state.
The Congress of Vienna in 1815 re-established the old confederation of sovereign states and enshrined Switzerland's status of permanent armed neutrality in international law. In 1848, after a brief civil war between Protestant liberals seeking a centralized national state and Catholic conservatives clinging to the old order, the majority of Swiss Cantons opted for a Federal State, modeled in part on the U.S. Constitution. The Swiss Constitution established a range of civic liberties and made far-reaching provisions to maintain cantonal autonomy to placate the vanquished Catholic minority. The Swiss amended their Constitution extensively in 1874, establishing federal responsibility for defense, trade, and legal matters, as well as introducing direct democracy by popular referendum. To this day, cantonal autonomy and referendum democracy remain trademarks of the Swiss polity.
Switzerland industrialized rapidly during the 19th century and by 1850 had become the second most industrialized country in Europe after Great Britain. During World War I serious tension developed between the German, French, and Italian-speaking parts of the country, and Switzerland came close to violating its neutrality but managed to stay out of hostilities. Labor unrest culminating in a general strike in 1918 marked the interwar period, but in 1937 employers and the largest trade union concluded a formal agreement to settle disputes peacefully, which governs workplace relations to the present day. During World War II, Switzerland came under heavy pressure from the fascist powers, which after the fall of France in 1940 completely surrounded the country. Some political and economic leaders displayed a mood of appeasement, but a combination of tactical accommodation and demonstrative readiness to defend the country helped Switzerland survive unscathed.
The Cold War enhanced the role of neutral Switzerland and offered the country a way out of its diplomatic isolation after World War II. Economically, Switzerland integrated itself into the American-led Western postwar order, but it remained reluctant to enter supranational bodies. Switzerland did not join the United Nations for many decades, even though Geneva became host to the UN's European headquarters and the country played an active role in many of the UN's specialized agencies. Switzerland also remained aloof in the face of European integration efforts, waiting until 1963 to join the Council of Europe. It still remains outside the European Union. Instead, Switzerland in 1960 helped form the European Free Trade Area, which did not strive for political union. Following the Cold War, Switzerland joined the Bretton Woods institutions in 1992 and finally became a member of the United Nations in 2002.
Switzerland is a federal state composed of 26 cantons (20 are "full" cantons and six "half" cantons for purposes of representation in the federal legislature) that retain attributes of sovereignty, such as fiscal autonomy and the right to manage internal cantonal affairs. Under the 2000 Constitution, cantons hold all powers not specifically delegated to the federation. Switzerland's federal institutions are:
A bicameral legislature--the Federal Assembly;
A collegial executive of seven members--the Federal Council; and
A judiciary consisting of a regular court in Lausanne--the Federal Tribunal--and special military and administrative courts. The Federal Insurance Tribunal is an independent division of the Federal Tribunal that handles social security questions; its seat is in Lucerne. The Federal Criminal Court, located in Bellinzona, is the court of first instance for all criminal cases under federal jurisdiction.
The Constitution provides for separation of the three branches of government.
The Federal Assembly is the primary seat of power, although in practice the executive branch has been increasing its power at the expense of the legislative branch. The Federal Assembly has two houses--the Council of States and the National Council. These two houses have equal powers in all respects, including the right to introduce legislation. Legislation cannot be vetoed by the executive nor reviewed for constitutionality by the judiciary, but all laws (except the budget) can be reviewed by popular referendum before taking effect. The 46 members of the Council of States (two from each canton and one from each half canton) are directly elected in each canton by majority voting. The 200 members of the National Council are directly elected in each canton under a system of proportional representation. Members of both houses serve for 4 years.
The Federal Assembly meets quarterly for 3-week plenary sessions. The parliamentary committees of the two houses, which are often key in shaping legislation, meet behind closed doors, but both majority and minority positions are presented during the plenary sessions. The Federal Assembly is a militia parliament, and members commonly retain their traditional professions. Individual members of parliament have no personal staff.
The Assembly can be legally dissolved only after the adoption of a popular initiative calling for a complete revision of the Constitution. All citizens 18 or older have the right to vote and run for office in national, cantonal, and communal elections unless individually disqualified by the relevant legislature.
A strong emphasis on ballot votes arises out of the traditional Swiss belief that the will of the people is the final national authority. Every constitutional amendment adopted by parliament is automatically brought to the ballot and has to carry a double majority of votes and cantons in order to become effective. The voters themselves may actively seek changes to the Constitution by means of the popular initiative: 100,000 voters may with their signatures request a national vote on a proposed constitutional amendment. New federal legislation also is subject to popular review, under the so-called referendum: 50,000 signatures suffice to call a ballot vote on any federal law adopted by parliament. The Assembly can declare an act to be too urgent to allow time for popular consideration, but this is rare. At any rate, an act passed urgently must have a time limit and is later subject to the same constitutional provisions on popular review as other legislation.
The top executive body is the seven-member cabinet called the Federal Council. The Federal Assembly individually elects the seven Federal Councilors in a joint session of both houses at the opening of a new legislature. Federal Councilors are elected for 4-year terms; there are no term limits and no provision to recall the cabinet or individual members during the legislature. Each year, the Federal Assembly elects from among the seven Federal Councilors a president and vice president, following the principle of seniority. The member who is vice president one year traditionally is elected president the next. Although the Constitution provides that the Federal Assembly chooses and supervises the cabinet, the latter has gradually assumed a preeminent role in directing the legislative process as well as executing federal laws.
Under an arrangement between the four major parties called the "magic formula" which was introduced in 1959 but ended in December 2003, two Federal Councilors (ministers) were elected each from the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats, and the Free Democrats and one from the Swiss People's Party. Starting in 2004, the party composition of the cabinet changed as a consequence of parliamentary election results and other political factors. The current party composition of the cabinet is: two Social Democrats, two Free Democrats, one Christian Democrat, one representative of the Conservative Democratic Party, and one representative of the Swiss People's Party.
The Constitution requires that Federal Councilors act collectively in all matters, not as individual ministers or as representatives of their parties. Each Councilor heads one of seven federal departments and is responsible for preparing legislation pertaining to matters under its jurisdiction. The president, who remains responsible for the department he or she heads, has limited prerogatives and is first among equals.
The administration of justice is primarily a cantonal function. The Federal Tribunal is limited in its jurisdiction. Its principal function is to hear appeals of civil and criminal cases. It also hears complaints of violations of the constitutional rights of citizens and has authority to review cantonal court decisions involving federal law as well as certain administrative rulings of federal departments. However, it has no power to review federal legislation for constitutionality. The Tribunal's 30 full-time and 30 part-time judges are elected by the Federal Assembly for 6-year terms. The Federal Criminal Court is the court of first instance for criminal cases involving organized and white-collar crime, money laundering, and corruption, which are under federal jurisdiction. The Court's 11 judges are elected by the Federal Assembly for 6-year terms.
The cantons regulate local government. The basic unit of local government, which administers a village, town, or city, is the commune or municipality. Citizenship is derived from membership in a commune and can be conferred on non-Swiss by a commune. Cantons are subordinate to federal authority but keep autonomy in implementing federal law.
Principal Government Officials
Federal Council (Swiss Cabinet)
Foreign Affairs--Didier Burkhalter (Free Democrat)
Finance--Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf - President (Conservative Democratic Party)
Home Affairs--Alain Berset (Social Democrat)
Justice and Police--Simonetta Sommaruga (Social Democrat)
Defense, Civil Protection and Sports--Ueli Maurer (Swiss People's Party)
Economic Affairs--Johann Schneider-Ammann (Free Democrat)
Transport, Communications and Energy--Doris Leuthard (Christian Democrat)
Federal Chancellor--Corina Casanova (ex officio)
Ambassador to the United States--Manuel Sager
Switzerland maintains an embassy in the United States at 2900 Cathedral Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008. Consulates General are in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Consulates are in Boston, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburg, Salt Lake City, San Juan, and Seattle.
Switzerland has a stable government and a diverse society. Quadrennial national elections typically produce only marginal changes in party representation. In recent decades, Switzerland has seen a gradual shift in the party landscape. The rightist Swiss People's Party (SVP), which had traditionally been the junior partner in the four-party coalition government, almost tripled its share of the popular vote from 11% in 1987 to a peak of 29% in October 2007, thus overtaking its three major rivals. In the October 2011 elections, the SVP fell back to 26.6%, leading to 60 seats in both houses. The 2011 elections led to 57 seats for the Social Democrats (SP), 44 for the Christian Democrats (CVP), and 41 for the Free Democrats (FDP). The Green Liberals garnered 14 seats and the Conservative Democratic Party (CDP) 10 seats in both houses combined.
On December 12, 2007, the center-left parliamentary caucuses refused to re-elect the SVP's Christoph Blocher (then-Justice Minister) to the Federal Council, and instead elected Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, a SVP cantonal minister from Graubunden. As a result Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf was excluded from the SVP parliamentary caucus and joined the Conservative Democratic Party (CDP). On December 10, 2008, the SVP’s Ueli Maurer was elected to the Federal Council and replaced former Federal Councilor Samuel Schmid (CDP) as defense minister.
The Constitution limits federal influence in the formulation of domestic policy and emphasizes the roles of private enterprise and cantonal government. However, the Confederation has been compelled to enlarge its policymaking powers in recent years to cope with national problems such as education, agriculture, energy, environment, organized crime, and narcotics.
Despite a dearth of natural resources, Switzerland is one of the world's most advanced and prosperous nations. Per capita income is among the highest in the world, as are wages. Trade has been the key to prosperity in Switzerland. The country is dependent upon export markets to generate income while dependent upon imports for raw materials and to expand the range of goods and services available in the country. Switzerland has liberal investment and trade policies, with the exception of agriculture, and a conservative fiscal policy. The Swiss legal system is highly developed; commercial law is well defined; and solid laws and policies protect investments. The Swiss franc is one of the world's soundest currencies, and the country is known for its high standard of banking and financial services. Switzerland is a member of a number of international economic organizations, including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The Swiss economy increased by 2.7% in 2010; its growth was expected to slow to 1.7% for 2011 as a result of various factors such as an appreciating Swiss franc. However, due to successful government debt reduction (imposed by the so-called debt brake), Switzerland is not expected to be impacted by strict austerity measures imposed in other areas of Europe. Switzerland led the rankings of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012, reflecting the country's sound institutional environment, excellent infrastructure, efficient markets, competent macroeconomic management, world-class educational attainment, and high levels of technological innovation, which boost Switzerland's competitiveness in the global economy. The country has a well-developed infrastructure for scientific research. Companies spend generously on research and development (R&D), and intellectual property protection is strong. Business activity benefits from a well-developed institutional framework, characterized by the rule of law, an efficient judicial system, and high levels of transparency and accountability within public institutions. Higher education and training are rapidly growing in importance as engines of productivity growth.
Being a nation that depends on exports for economic growth, and due to the fact that it is so closely linked to the economies of Western Europe and the United States, Switzerland's economy mirrors slowdowns and growth spurts experienced in these countries. During most of the 1990s, the Swiss economy was Western Europe's weakest, with annual GDP growth averaging 0% between 1991 and 1997. Beginning in late 1997, the economy steadily gained momentum until peaking in 2000 with 3% growth in real terms. The economy returned to lackluster growth during 2001-2003, but began growing at or above potential since 2004--2.5% per annum--until the recent global economic crisis, which impacted Switzerland's growth. The year 2008 was marked by a worsening of the financial crisis and the beginning of its spread to the economy as a whole. Long-run economic growth is predicated on structural reforms. In order to maximize its economic potential, Switzerland will need to push through difficult agrarian and competition policy reforms.
The economic upswing had some positive impact on the labor market, which has begun to fade due to the impact of the global financial crisis. Unemployment decreased from 4.1% in December 2003 to 1.5% in 2007, but was at 3.1% in November 2011. One-fourth of the country's full-time workers are unionized. In general, labor/management relations are good, mostly characterized by a willingness on both sides to settle disputes by negotiations rather than by labor action.
Tourism, banking, engineering, and insurance are significant sectors of the economy and heavily influence the country's economic policies. Swiss trading companies have unique marketing expertise in many parts of the world, including Eastern Europe, the Far East, Africa, and the Middle East. Not only does Switzerland have a highly developed tourism infrastructure (making it a good market for tourism-related equipment and services), the Swiss also are intrepid travelers. Per capita, Switzerland is among the countries with the most visitors to the United States every year. In 2010, about 391,000 Swiss citizens came to the United States as tourists. Tourism is the most important U.S. export to Switzerland.
The Swiss economy earns roughly half of its corporate earnings from the export industry. The EU is Switzerland's largest trading partner (59% of exports and 75% of imports in 2010), and economic and trade barriers between them are minimal. After more than 4 years of negotiations, an agreement known as the "Bilaterals I" covering seven sectors (research, public procurement, technical barriers to trade, agriculture, civil aviation, land transport, and the free movement of persons) entered into force on June 1, 2002. Switzerland has so far attempted to mitigate possible adverse effects of non-membership by conforming many of its regulations, standards, and practices to EU directives and norms. Full access to the Swiss market for the original 15 EU member states entered into force in June 2004, ending as a result the "national preference." The Swiss agreed to extend these preferences to the 10 new EU members on September 25, 2005, with restrictions remaining until 2011. A referendum was held in February 2009 on the Bilaterals I and the extension of the free movement of persons to Romania and Bulgaria.
The Swiss Government embarked in July 2001 on a second round of bilateral negotiations with the EU known as "Bilaterals II." Talks focused on customs fraud, environment, statistics, trade in processed agricultural goods, media, the taxation of savings, and police/judicial cooperation (dubbed the Schengen-Dublin accords). Amid a fierce political debate over the essence of Swiss-EU relations and populist warnings against EU workers and criminals entering Switzerland, the Schengen-Dublin package was approved on June 5, 2005 by 54.6% of Swiss voters and entered into force on December 12, 2008. Fears of cheap labor coming from new EU member states have prompted the government to provide for tripartite surveillance committees to ensure that decent wages are enforced. The Swiss federal government remains deeply divided over EU membership as its long-term goal, and in a March 2001 referendum more than 70% of Swiss voters rejected rapid steps toward EU membership. Switzerland nevertheless expressed interest in reaching a third layer of bilateral agreements that would involve energy, the Galileo satellite navigation system, health, and agriculture. But recent harsh criticism by the European Commission against preferential cantonal tax treatment for foreign holdings cooled the political climate with the EU.
The government also agreed on June 25, 2008 to propose an amendment of the Federal Law on Technical Barriers to Trade to permit implementation of the EU “Cassis-de-Dijon” principle. Parliament adopted this provision and it entered into force on July 1, 2010. As adopted, all EU products can be imported into Switzerland without meeting the burdensome Swiss certification and Swiss languages requirements. Given that retail prices in Switzerland are frequently 20%-30% higher than in the EU, the Swiss Government believes that domestic prices could drop by 10% if EU products could be imported through streamlined Swiss procedures, but there are no official figures yet available showing whether such a decrease of prices has actually taken place.
The government has reaffirmed its wish to strengthen ties with other, non-EU trading partners in Asia and America. Exploratory talks on a Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Switzerland failed to result in negotiations, due to Swiss problems with free trade in agriculture, but the two sides did agree to a new framework for economic, trade, and investment discussions. This agreement resulted in the Swiss-U.S. Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum (the "Forum") and is currently assessing areas where the two governments could facilitate greater trade and investment flows.
In 2010, Switzerland ranked 16th among the main U.S. export destinations, and 21st as a source of imports. The United States is the second-largest importer (9.75%) of Swiss goods after Germany (19.55%). In addition, the United States is the largest foreign investor in Switzerland, and conversely, the largest single destination of Swiss foreign investment. It is estimated that 300,000 American jobs depend on approximately $190 billion in Swiss investments in the United States.
Switzerland has a militia army. The armed forces have a small nucleus of about 4,200 professional staff, half of whom are either instructors or staff officers, with the remainder mostly being facility guards. The army has virtually no full-time active combat units but is capable of full mobilization within 72 hours. Women may volunteer to serve in the armed forces and may now join all units, including combat troops; currently 1,050 women are active-duty members of the Swiss military.
In 2011, the Swiss parliament decided to reduce the size of the Swiss army from 190,000 to 100,000 by 2014. The Federal Council also decided the same year to replace the Air Force’s F-5 Tigers with 22 Gripen fighters from Saab, having decided against the Eurofighter and the Rafale. This decision could still become the subject of a referendum.
Switzerland has been a Partnership for Peace (PfP) member since 2006. Switzerland has 220 military personnel deployed in support of KFOR peacekeeping operations in Kosovo.
On September 10, 2002, Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations. Switzerland had previously been involved as party to the Statute of the International Court of Justice and member of most UN specialized agencies, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency. Switzerland has long participated in many UN activities, including the Economic Commission for Europe, UN Environment Program, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UN Conference for Trade and Development, UN Industrial Development Organization, and the Universal Postal Union (UPU). Prior to its formal accession, Switzerland had maintained a permanent observer mission at UN Headquarters since 1948.
Switzerland also is a member of the following international organizations: World Trade Organization, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, European Free Trade Association, Bank for International Settlements, Council of Europe, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In 1992, Swiss voters approved membership in the Bretton Woods organizations but later that year rejected the European Economic Area agreement, which the government viewed as a first step toward EU membership. Switzerland also is an active participant in the major nonproliferation and export control regimes.
The Swiss Constitution declares the preservation of Switzerland's independence and welfare as the supreme objective of Swiss foreign policy. Below this overarching goal, the Constitution sets five specific foreign policy objectives: further the peaceful coexistence of nations; promote respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law; promote Swiss economic interests abroad; alleviate need and poverty in the world; and the preservation of natural resources.
Traditionally, Switzerland has avoided alliances that might entail military, political, or direct economic action, but in recent years the Swiss have broadened the scope of activities in which they feel able to participate without compromising their neutrality. Swiss voters first rejected UN membership by a 3-to-1 margin in 1986 but in March 2002 adopted it, albeit in a very close election, making Switzerland the first country to join the UN based on a popular referendum decision. In similar fashion, the electorate rejected a government proposition to deploy Swiss troops as UN peacekeepers (Blue Helmets) in 1994, but Switzerland joined NATO's Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1996 and 1997, respectively, and deployed Yellow Berets to support the OSCE in Bosnia. In June 2001, Swiss voters approved new legislation providing for the deployment of armed Swiss troops for international peacekeeping missions under UN or OSCE auspices as well as closer international cooperation in military training.
Switzerland maintains diplomatic relations with almost all countries and historically has served as a neutral intermediary and host to major international treaty conferences. Since 1980, Switzerland has represented U.S. interests in Iran. In 2008, Switzerland agreed to represent Russia in Georgia as well as Georgia in Russia. Switzerland played a key role in mediating an agreement, signed in October 2009 in Zurich, to provide a framework for the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey. In 2011, Switzerland facilitated negotiations between Russia and Georgia, leading to Russian membership in the World Trade Organization.
Switzerland (mainly Geneva) is home to many international governmental and nongovernmental organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (whose flag is essentially the Swiss flag with colors reversed--the Red Cross historically being a Swiss organization). One of the first international organizations, the Universal Postal Union, is located in Bern.
Under a series of treaties concluded after World War I, Switzerland assumed some responsibilities for the diplomatic and consular representation of Liechtenstein, the protection of its borders, and the regulation of its customs.
Switzerland is a democratic country subscribing to the fundamental ideals with which the United States also is identified. The country is politically stable with a fundamentally strong economy. It has played an increasingly important role in supporting the spread of democratic institutions and values worldwide, as well as providing humanitarian relief and economic development assistance. U.S. policy toward Switzerland takes these factors into account and endeavors to cooperate with Switzerland to the extent consistent with Swiss neutrality.
Cooperation under the U.S.-Swiss Joint Economic Commission (JEC) has invigorated bilateral ties by recording achievements in a number of areas, including consultations on anti-money laundering efforts, counterterrorism, and pharmaceutical regulatory cooperation; an e-government conference; and the re-establishment of the Fulbright student/cultural exchange program.
The United States and Switzerland signed three new agreements in 2006, creating mechanisms that, in addition to the JEC, deepen our cooperation and improve our relationship: the Enhanced Political Cooperation Framework, the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum, and the revised Operative Working Arrangement on Law Enforcement Cooperation on Counterterrorism. The centerpiece of the Enhanced Political Cooperation Framework is an annual senior-level meeting, the Joint Working Group (JWG).
The first official U.S.-Swiss consular relations were established in the late 1820s. Diplomatic relations were established in 1853. The U.S. ambassador to Switzerland is also accredited to the Principality of Liechtenstein.