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Switzerland

Related subjects Europe; European Countries

Confoederatio Helvetica (Latin)
Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (German)
Confédération suisse (French)
Confederazione Svizzera (Italian)
Confederaziun svizra (Romansh)
Swiss Confederation
Flag of Switzerland Coat of arms of Switzerland
Flag Coat of arms
Motto:  Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (Latin)
"One for all, all for one"
Anthem: " Swiss Psalm"
Location of Switzerland
Location of  Switzerland  (orange)

on the European continent  (white)

Capital Berne
Largest city Zürich
Official languages German,
French,
Italian,
Romansh
Demonym Swiss
Government Direct democracy
Federal parliamentary republic
 -  Federal Council M. Leuenberger
P. Couchepin ( Pres. 08)
S. Schmid
M. Calmy-Rey
H.-R. Merz ( V P 08)
D. Leuthard
E. Widmer-Schlumpf
Independence
 -  Foundation date 1 August 1291 
 -  de facto 22 September 1499 
 -  Recognized 24 October 1648 
 -  Restored 7 August 1815 
 -  Federal state 12 September 1848 
Area
 -  Total 41,285 km² ( 135th)
15,940  sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 4.2
Population
 -  2007 estimate 7,591,400 ( 95th)
 -  2000 census 7,288,010 
 -  Density 181.4/km² ( 61st)
479.8/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2007 estimate
 -  Total $296.2 billion ( 38th)
 -  Per capita $38,706 ( 6th)
GDP (nominal) 2007 estimate
 -  Total $423 billion ( 19th)
 -  Per capita $58,054 ( 7th)
Gini (2000) 33.7 (medium
HDI (2007) 0.955 (high) ( 7th)
Currency Swiss franc ( CHF)
Time zone CET ( UTC+1)
 -  Summer ( DST) CEST ( UTC+2)
Internet TLD .ch
Calling code +41

Switzerland (English pronunciation: [ˈswɪt.sə(ɹ).lənd]; German: Schweiz, French: Suisse, Italian: Svizzera, Romansh: Svizra), officially the Swiss Confederation (Confoederatio Helvetica in Latin, hence its ISO country codes CH and CHE), is a landlocked alpine country of roughly 7.6 million people in Western Europe with an area of 41,285 km². Switzerland is a federal republic consisting of 26 states called cantons. Berne is the seat of the federal authorities, while the country's economic centres are its two global cities, Geneva and especially Zürich. Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world.

It is bordered by Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. Switzerland has a long history of neutrality — it has not been at war since 1815 — and hosts many international organizations, including the Red Cross, the World Trade Organization and one of the U.N.'s two European offices. Switzerland is multilingual and has four national languages German, French, Italian and Romansh. The country's formal name is Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft in German, Confédération suisse in French, Confederazione Svizzera in Italian and Confederaziun svizra in Romansh. The establishment of Switzerland is traditionally dated to August 1, 1291; the first of August is the national holiday.

Switzerland's name is pronounced as [ ʃvaɪts] in German, [sɥiːs] in French, [ˈzvit̪.t̪sera] in Italian and [ˈsvi.zra] in Romansch.

History

Early history

The earliest known tribes of the area were members of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures. The La Tène culture developed and flourished during the late Iron Age from around 450BC, 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 15 BC, Tiberius I, 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 fourth century AD, the western extents of modern day Switzerland was part of the territory of the Kings of the Burgundiuns. The Alemanni settled the Swiss plateau in the fifth century AD and the valleys of the Alps in the eighth century AD, 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 sixth century, following Clovis I's victory over the Alemanni at Tolbiac in 504 AD, and later Frankish domination of the Burgundians.

By 561 AD, the Merovingian King Guntram, Clovis I's grandson, had inherited the Frankish Kingdom of Burgundy, which stretched East nearly as far as the Rhine. East of this, the Alamanni were ruled under a nominal dukedom within Frankia, as the Franks filled the vacuum caused by the declining Western reach of Roman Byzantium. By this time Frankia was beginning to form the tripartite character that would characterise the rest of its history. The territories were subdivided into Neustria in the West (referred to simply as Frankia at the time; the name Neustria did not appear in writing until some 80 years later), Austrasia in the North East and Burgundy.

Throughout the rest of the sixth and early seventh centuries AD the Swiss regions continued under Frankish hegemony, with the Franks largely occupied with infighting about issues of succession amongst the Frankish sub-kingdoms (whose Kings were close blood relatives). In 632 AD, following the death of Chlothar II, the entire Frankish realm was briefly united under Dagobert, who is described as the last Merovingian king able to exercise real power. Under Dagobert, the Austrasians agitated for self governance as a means of countering the influence of the Neustrians, who dominated royal court. Dagobert was forced by the strong Austrasian aristocracy to appoint his infant son, Sigebert III, as sub-king of Austrasia in 633 AD. The weakness of the realm became clear, and this led to those subjucated by the Franks considering the risks and benefits of rebellion. After Sigebert III suffered a military defeat at the hands of Radulf, King of Thuringia in 640 AD, the Alemanni also revolted against Frankish rule. The period of Allemani independence that followed lasted more or less continuously until the middle of the eighth century AD.

Mayors of the Palace had been appointed by the Frankish Kings as court officials since the early seventh century AD to act as mediators between the king and the people. However following Dagobert's death in 639 AD, with infants on the throne in both Neustria ( Clovis II - a babe in arms in 639 AD) and Austrasia ( Sigebert III - about four years old in 639 AD), these court appointees assumed greater power, eventually to such an extent that they ended the rule of the Merovingian monarchs, and took over the Frankish throne themselves. The first step was taken by the Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, Grimoald I, who convinced the childless Sigebert III to adopt his own son, Childebert as heir to the throne.

Meanwhile in the Neustrian palace, the Mayors of the Palace, Erchinoald, and his successor, Ebroin, were likewise increasing their hold on power behind Clovis II, and his successor Chlothar III. Ebroin reunited the Frankish kingdom by defeating and removing Childebert (and Grimoald) from Austrasia in 661 AD.

Chlothar III's younger brother, Childeric II, was then installed as King of the Austrasians, and together they ruled the empire. When Chlothar III died in 673 AD, Childeric II became king of the entire realm, ruling from Austrasia, until he was assassinated two years later by members of the Neustrian elite. After his death, Theuderic III, son of Clovis II, ascended to the throne, ruling from Neustria. He and his Mayor of the Palace, Berthar, declared war on Austrasia, which was ruled by Dagobert II, son of Sigebert III, and Pepin of Heristal ( Pepin II), the Arnulfing Mayor of Austrasia. Theuderic and Berthar were defeated by Peppin at the Battle of Tertry in 687 AD, where after Peppin was appointed the sole Mayor of all Frankia, nominating himself as Duke and Prince of all the Franks. Peppin was the product of the marriage of two very powerful houses; that of the Pippinids and the Arnulfings. His success at Tertry was to mark the end of Merovingian power.

Peppin again tasted military success in his campaign to bring the Frisians, of Europe's north coast, back under Frankish control. Between 709 AD and 712 AD he fought a similar campaign against the Alemanni, including those within the borders of present day Switzerland, and succeeded in re-imposing Frankish rule, the first since the Alemannian revolt of 640 AD. However Frankish control of this and other outlying areas was again lost when a Frankish civil war of succession followed Peppin's death in 714 AD.

The war was a continuation of the ageless Neustrian/Austrasian rivalry. Peppin's illegitimate son, Charles Martel (who was the son of Peppin's mistress Alpaida), had been proclaimed Mayor of Austrasia by the Austraian nobility in defiance of Peppin's widow, Plectrude, who preferred that her 8 year old grandson, Theudoald, be appointed. Neustria invaded Austrasia under Chilperic II who had been appointed by the Neustrians without the agreement of the rest of the Frankish peoples. The turning point of the war came at the Battle of Ambleve, when Charles Martel, using brilliant and unconventional tactics, defeated combined Neustrian and Frisian forces under Chilperic II and Mayor Ragenfrid. Charles struck when The Neustrians were marching home after triumphing at Cologne over Plectrude and the child Theudoald.

By 717 AD, Charles had confirmed his supremacy, with victory over the Neustians at the Battle of Vincy, thereby marking the beginning of Carolingian rule over the Frankish empire.

After 718 AD, Charles, who was a brilliant commander, embarked upon a series of wars to strengthen Frankish dominion over Western Europe. This included bringing the Alemannians back under Frankish hegemony, and even, in the 720s AD, forcing some Alemannian elements to participate in his wars against their Eastern neighbours, the Bavarians.

Alemannia, however, remained restless, with Duke Lantfrid in the late 720s AD, expressing independence by issuing revisions of the laws of the Alemans. Charles invaded again in 730 AD and subjugated the Alemannis by force.

Charles is perhaps best known for stopping the Arab advance into Western Europe at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD, in a military stand that arguably halted Islamic expansionism into the European homeland.

When Charles died in 741 AD, the dominion over Frankia was divided between his two sons from his first marriage; namely Peppin the Short and Carloman. Carloman was given Austrasia, Alemannia and Thuringen, while Peppen took control of Neustria, Provence and Burgundy (including present day Western Switzerland).

By 743 AD, Carloman was vowing to impose a greater degree of control over Alemannia, and this resulted ultimately in the arrest, trial and execution of several thousand Alemanni nobleman at the Blood court at Cannstatt in 746 AD.

Carloman retired to a monastery in 747 AD, leaving Peppin to assume the Frankish crown (after a vote of nobles) in 751 AD. Peppen further strengthened his position by forming an alliance, in 754 AD, with Pope Stephen II, who then came all the way to Paris to anoint him King in a ceremony at St Denis's Basilica. In return Peppin subdued the Lombards and donated the Exarchate of Ravenna and captured territory around Rome to the church. This was a turning point in the history of the Roman Catholic Church and Western Europe, as it foreshadowed later events under Charlemagne leading to the formation of the Holy Roman Empire. It is claimed that Pope Stephen II tabled the forged Donation of Constantine during his negotiations with Peppin. The Donation is a falsified imperial order purported to have been issued by Constantine to gift to Pope Sylvester I and all his successors dominion over not only the Western Roman empire, but also all of Judea, Greece, Asia, Thrace and Rome.

Upon Peppen's death in 768 AD, the Frankish empire was passed to his sons Charles and Carloman I. Carloman withdrew to a monastery and died shortly afterwards, leaving Charles, later known as the legendary Charlemagne, the sole ruler of the Franks. Charles expanded Frankish sovereignty to include the Saxons, Bavarians, and the Lombards in Northern Italy and he expanded the empire into today's Austria and parts of Croatia. He offered the Papacy the promise of enduring Frankish protection, and he patronized monastic centers of learning.

Charles therefore emerged as the leader of Western Christendom

By 1200 AD, the Swiss plateau comprised the dominions of the houses of Savoy, Zähringer, Habsburg and Kyburg. When the Kyburg dynasty fell in 1264 AD, the Habsburgs under King Rudolph I (Emperor in 1273) extended its territory to the eastern Swiss plateau.

The house dominions that existed around AD 1200:      Savoy      Zähringer      Habsburg      Kyburg
The house dominions that existed around AD 1200:
      Savoy       Zähringer       Habsburg       Kyburg

Old Swiss Confederacy

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.

A view of Zug in 1548.
A view of Zug in 1548.

By 1353 the three original cantons had joined with the cantons of Glarus and Zug and the Lucerne, Zürich and Berne city states to form the "Old Confederacy" of eight states that existed until the end of the fifteenth century. The expansion lead 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.

Federal charter of 1291
Federal charter of 1291

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 wars in 1529 and 1531 (Kappeler Kriege). It wasn't until more than one hundred years after these internal wars that, in 1648, under the Treaty of Westphalia, European countries recognised Switzerland's independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality (ancien régime).

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.

Napoleonic era

The Act of Mediation was Napoleon's attempt at a compromise between the Ancien Régime and a Republic.
The Act of Mediation was Napoleon's attempt at a compromise between the Ancien Régime and a Republic.

In 1798 the armies of the French Revolution conquered Switzerland and imposed a new unified constitution. This centralised the government of the country and effectively abolished the cantons. 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 of 1798 is an example of the suppressing 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. 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. The treaty marked the last time that Switzerland fought in an international conflict. The treaty also allowed Switzerland to increase its territory, with the admission of the cantons of Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva – this was also the last time Switzerland's territory expanded.

Federal state

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 between some of the Catholic and most of the other cantons in 1847 (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 made all Swiss understand 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 interest were merged. Credit to those who favored the power of the cantons (the Sonderbund Kantone), the national assembly was divided among an upper house (the Swiss Council of States) and a lower house (the National Council of Switzerland). Thus, the interests of the Federationalists were accounted for. Switzerland adopted a federal constitution and the use of referenda (mandatory for any amendment of this constitution) in 1848. This constitution provided for a central authority while leaving the cantons the right to self-government on local issues. In 1850 the Swiss franc became the Swiss single currency. The constitution was amended extensively in 1874 in order to take into account the rise in population and the Industrial Revolution. It introduced the facultative referendum for laws at the federal level. It also established federal responsibility for defence, trade, and legal matters.

In 1891, the constitution was revised with unusually strong elements of direct democracy, which remain unique even today. Since then, continued political, economic, and social improvement has characterised Swiss history.

Modern history

The Zmutt Valley and the Mischabelhörner (or Mischabel) mountains in the canton of Valais.  The image is from a photochrom postcard (circa 1890).
The Zmutt Valley and the Mischabelhörner (or Mischabel) mountains in the canton of Valais. The image is from a photochrom postcard (circa 1890).

Switzerland was not invaded during either of the World Wars. During World War I, Switzerland was home to Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (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, and in 1963 the Council of Europe.

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, economic concessions to Germany, and good fortune as larger events during the war delayed an invasion. Attempts by Switzerland's small Nazi party to cause an Anschluss with Germany failed miserably. The Swiss press vigorously criticised the Third Reich, often infuriating its leadership. 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 a strategy of organised long-term attrition and withdrawal to strong, well-stockpiled positions high in the Alps known as the Réduit. 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, 104,000 of which were foreign troops, interned according to the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers outlined in the Hague Conventions. 60,000 of the refugees were civilians escaping persecution by the Nazis. Of these, 26,000 to 27,000 were Jews. However, strict immigration and asylum policies as well as the financial relationships with Nazi Germany raised controversy. 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 the Swiss towns of Schaffhausen (killing 40 people), Stein am Rhein, Vals, Rafz (18 killed), and notoriously on 4 March 1945 both Basel and Zürich were bombed.

The Grossmünster cathedral and waterfront in modern day Zürich.
The Grossmünster cathedral and waterfront in modern day Zürich.

Women were granted the right to vote in the first Swiss cantons in 1959, at the federal level in 1971, and after resistance, in the last canton Appenzell Innerrhoden in 1990. After suffrage at the federal level women quickly rose in political significance, with the first woman on the seven member high council being Elisabeth Kopp from 1984–1989. The first female president was Ruth Dreifuss, elected in 1998 to become president during 1999. (The Swiss president is elected every year from those among the seven member high council). The second female president is Micheline Calmy-Rey who held the 2007 Swiss high office. She is originally from the French-speaking western area of canton Valais (Wallis in German). She is presently joined on the seven member cabinet/high council by two other women, Doris Leuthard, from the canton of Aargau and Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, from the canton of Graubünden.

In 1979 areas from inside the previous borders in the canton of Bern attained independence from the Bernese, forming the new canton of Jura. On April 18, 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 as the last widely recognized 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, with a mixed reaction to these 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, neutral, or isolationist.

Politics

The Federal Palace in the canton of Berne is the name of the building in which the Federal Assembly of Switzerland (federal parliament) and the Swiss Federal Council (executive) are housed.
The Federal Palace in the canton of Berne is the name of the building in which the Federal Assembly of Switzerland (federal parliament) and the Swiss Federal Council (executive) are housed.

The Federal Constitution adopted in 1848 is the legal foundation of the modern federal state. 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, and divides the powers between the Confederation and the cantons and defines federal jurisdictions and authorities. There are three main governing bodies on the federal level: the bicameral parliament (legislative), the Federal Council (executive) and the Federal Court (judicial).

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, 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, for a one-year term, in order to chair the government and assume representative functions. However, the president is a primus inter pares with no additional powers, and remains the head of a department of 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: currently there are 1 Christian Democrat (CVP/PDC), 2 Social Democrats (SPS/PSS), 2 Liberal Democrats (FDP/PRD), and 2 representatives of the Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC) in the government. This traditional distribution of seats is called the "magic formula", and is not backed up by any law. The original distribution of 2 CVP/PDC, 2 SPS/PSS, 2 FDP/PRD and 1 SVP/UDC lasted from 1959 to 2003, until the CVP/PDC lost their second seat to the SVP/UDC, which had become the strongest party in Switzerland's legislative following the 2003 parliamentary elections.

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.

Direct democracy

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 democracy since it is added by the more commonplace institutions of a parliamentary democracy). The instruments of Swiss direct democracy at the federal level, known as civil 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

Valais
Ticino
Graubünden
(Grisons)
Geneva
Vaud
Neuchâtel
Jura
Berne
Thurgau
Zurich
Aargau
Lucerne
Solothurn
Basel-Land
Schaffhausen
Uri
Schwyz
Glarus
St. Gallen
Appenzell Innerrhoden
Appenzell Ausserrhoden
Obwalden
Nidwalden
Zug
Fribourg
Basel-City
Cantons of Switzerland
The Zytglogge clock tower in the Kramgasse, Berne.
The Zytglogge clock tower in the Kramgasse, Berne.
A detailed map of Switzerland.
A detailed map of Switzerland.

The Swiss Confederation consists of 26 cantons:

  • Aargau
  • Appenzell Innerrhoden*
  • Appenzell Ausserrhoden*
  • Basel-Stadt*
  • Basel-Landschaft*
  • Bern
  • Fribourg
  • Genève
  • Glarus
  • Graubünden
  • Jura
  • Lucerne
  • Neuchâtel
  • Nidwalden*
  • Obwalden*
  • Schaffhausen
  • Schwyz
  • Solothurn
  • St. Gallen
  • Thurgau
  • Ticino
  • Uri
  • Valais
  • Vaud
  • Zug
  • Zürich

*These cantons, called half-cantons, are represented by one councillor (instead of two) in the Council of States and only count half (instead of one) in national votes on constitutional amendments.

Their populations vary between 15,000 (Appenzell Innerrhoden) and 1,253,500 (Zürich), and their area between 37 km² (Basel-Stadt) and 7,105 km² (Graubünden). The Cantons comprise a total of 2,889 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, the Swiss-Italians (persons of Swiss nationality who live in Italian Switzerland – see map) and the Romands (Swiss nationals living in the French-speaking regions of Switzerland – see map).

International institutions in Switzerland

An unusual number of international institutions have their seats in Switzerland, in part due to its policy of neutrality. The Red Cross was founded there in 1863 and still has its institutional centre in the country. Switzerland is not a member of the European Union; the Swiss people rejected membership in a referendum in the early 1990s. Switzerland is one of the most recent countries to have joined the United Nations, in 2002, even though Geneva is the second biggest centre for the United Nations after New York, and Switzerland was a founding member of the League of Nations.

Geography

A winter view of Sent in the canton of Graubünden.
A winter view of Sent in the canton of Graubünden.
The Matterhorn (or Cervino) near the Swiss village of Zermatt in the canton of Valais.
The Matterhorn (or Cervino) near the Swiss village of Zermatt in the canton of Valais.

With an area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940  sq mi), Switzerland is a relatively small country. The population is about 7.5 million, resulting in an average population density of 182 people per square kilometer (472/sq mi). However, the more mountainous southern half of the country is far more sparsely populated than this average, while the northern half has a somewhat greater density, as it comprises more hospitable hilly terrain, partly forested and partly cleared, as well as several large lakes.

Switzerland comprises three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps, the Swiss plateau or "middleland", and the Jura mountains along the northwestern border with France. 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 peaks of the Swiss Alps, the highest of which is the Dufourspitze at 4,634 metres (15,203  ft), countless valleys are found, many with waterfalls and glaciers. From these the headwaters of several major European rivers such as the Rhine, Rhône, Inn, Aare, and Ticino flow finally into the largest Swiss lakes such as Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), Lake Zürich, Lake Neuchâtel, and Lake Constance.

The most famous mountain is the Matterhorn (4,478 m) in Valais and Pennine Alps bordering Italy. The highest mountain, the Dufourspitze (4,634 m) of Monte Rosa, is close to the Matterhorn. The section of the Bernese Alps above the deep glacial Lauterbrunnen Valley containing 72 waterfalls is also well known for the Jungfrau (4,158 m), Mönch, Eiger group of peaks, 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).

Morcote in the warmer southern canton of Ticino.
Morcote in the warmer southern canton of Ticino.
The canton of Schwyz in the center of Switzerland.
The canton of Schwyz in the centre of Switzerland.

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. This region, particularly the west, is also referred to as the "Seeland" (the land of lakes) and the largest lake is Lake Geneva (also called Lac Léman), in the West of Switzerland. The Rhone River is the main tributary to Lac Léman.

The Swiss National Park in the canton of Graubünden.
The Swiss National Park in the canton of Graubünden.
A sunset in the Swiss Alps. View from Bettmeralp, Valais.
A sunset in the Swiss Alps. View from Bettmeralp, Valais.

The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly between the localities, from glacial conditions on the mountaintops to the often pleasant 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 winters in the mountains alternate with sun and snow, while the lower lands tend to be more cloudy and foggy in winter. A weather phenomenon known as the Föhn can occur at all times of the year, even in winter, and is characterized by a wind with warm Mediterranean air crossing the Alps from Italy. The driest conditions persist in the southern valleys of the Wallis/Valais above which valuable saffron is harvested and many wine grapes are grown, Graubünden also tends to be drier in climate and slightly colder, yet with plentiful snow in winter. 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. The east tends to be colder than the west of Switzerland, yet anywhere up high in the mountains can experience a cold spell at any time of the year. Precipitation tends to be spread moderately throughout the year, with minor variations across the seasons depending on locale. Autumn frequently tends to be the driest season, yet the weather patterns in Switzerland can be highly variable from year to year, and difficult to predict.

Switzerland's eco-systems can be particularly vulnerable, due to 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 tree line in the mountains of Switzerland has advanced down 1000 ft over the years, largely due to the increasing absence of herding and grazing pressures.

Economy

Greater Zürich area, home to 1.5 million employees and 150,000 companies, has taken top position in some life quality surveys..
Greater Zürich area, home to 1.5 million employees and 150,000 companies, has taken top position in some life quality surveys..

Switzerland has a stable, modern, and some of the most capitalist economies in the world. It has the 2nd highest European rating after Ireland in the Index of Economic Freedom 2008. The nominal per capita GDP is higher than those of the larger western European economies and Japan, ranking 6th behind Luxembourg, Norway, Qatar, Iceland and Ireland. If adjusted for purchasing power parity it ranks 15th. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland's economy as the second most competitive in the world. For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin. In 2005 the median household income in Switzerland was an estimated 95,000 CHF, the equivalent of roughly 55,000 USD in purchasing power parity, which is similar to wealthy American states like California and Vermont.

Cheese making and dairying is an old extraordinary Swiss industry.
Cheese making and dairying is an old extraordinary Swiss industry.

Switzerland is home to several large multinational corporations. The largest Swiss companies by revenue are Glencore, Nestlé, Novartis, Roche, ABB and Adecco. Also notable are UBS AG, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Swiss Re, and The Swatch Group. Switzerland is ranked as one of the most powerful economies in the world.

Chemicals, health and pharmaceutical, instruments, real estate, banking and insurance, tourism, and international organizations are important industries in Switzerland. 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.

Around 3.8 million people work in Switzerland. Switzerland has more flexible job market than in neighboring countries and unemployment rate is very low. Unemployment rate increased from a low of 1.7% in June 2000 to a peak of 3.9% in September 2004. Partly due to the economic upturn which started in mid-2003, the unemployment rate is currently 2.8% as of February 2008. 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.

Switzerland has overwhelmingly private sector economy and low tax rates by Western standards; overall taxation is one of the smallest of developed countries. Switzerland is an easy place to do business; Switzerland ranks 16th 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 harmonization with the European Union. According to Credit Suisse, only about 37 percent 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 liberalization is lagging behind many EU countries according to 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.

Science, technology, and education

The Einstein Museum in Berne. Albert Einstein formulated the special theory of relativity in 1905, while living in Berne.
The Einstein Museum in Berne. Albert Einstein formulated the special theory of relativity in 1905, while living in Berne.

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. Typically children choose their school depending on whether they want to speak French, German or Italian. Primary school continues until grade four or five, depending on the school. 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 first university in Switzerland was founded in 1460 in Basel, with a faculty of medicine. This place has a long tradition of chemical and medical research in Switzerland. Other large universities are the ETHZ in Zürich and the EPFL in Lausanne. There are 14 Universities in Switzerland, 10 of which are maintained at cantonal level and usually offer a range of non-technical subjects. Switzerland has the second highest rate of foreign students in tertiary education, after Australia.

Many Nobel prizes were awarded to Swiss scientists, for example to the world-famous physicist Albert Einstein or more recently to Heinrich Rohrer also in the field of physics. Geneva host the world's largest particle physics laboratory, the CERN. An other important research centre is the Paul Scherrer Institute which belongs to the ETHZ.

Switzerland and the European Union

In recent years, the Swiss have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with those of the European Union 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.

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. Switzerland most recently (2006) approved a billion francs supportive investment in the poorer eastern 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 European Union. 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. Switzerland voted against membership in the European Economic Area in December 1992 and has since maintained and developed its relationships with the European Union and European countries through bilateral agreements. In March 2001, the Swiss people refused in a popular vote to start accession negotiations with the EU.

Infrastructure and environment

The Leibstadt Nuclear Power Plant is located in the canton of Aargau.
The Leibstadt Nuclear Power Plant is located in the canton of Aargau.

Electricity generated in Switzerland is 53% from hydroelectricity and 42% from nuclear power, with 5% of the electricity generated from conventional power sources (thermal etc.) 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. See also SwissEnergy.

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 (as of 2000) and has, by an area of 41,290 km², also the one of the highest motorway densities in the world. Zürich Airport, managed by Unique Airport, is Switzerland's largest international flight gateway, which handled 20.7 million passengers in 2007. The second largest Geneva Cointrin International Airport handled 10.8 million passengers and the third largest EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg 4.3 million passengers, both airports being shared with France.

Switzerland is heavily active in recycling and anti-littering regulations and is one of the top recyclers in the world with 66% to 96% of the different recyclable materials being recycled. In many places in Switzerland, household rubbish disposal is charged for. Garbage (except dangerous items, batteries etc.) will only be collected if it is in bags which either have a payment sticker attached, or in official bags with the surcharge paid when the bags are purchased. This gives a financial incentive to recycle as much as possible, since recycling is free. Swiss health officials and police often open up garbage for which the disposal charge has not been paid. They search for evidence such as old bills which connect the bag to the household/person they originated from. Fines for not paying the disposal fee range from CHF 200–500.

Demographics

Official languages in Switzerland:       Swiss German (62.7%; 72.5%)        French (20.4%; 21.0%)        Italian (6.5%; 4.3%)        Romansh (0.5%; 0,6% )
Official languages in Switzerland:       Swiss German (62.7%; 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, a Romance language spoken locally by a small minority (0.5%; 0.6%) in the southeastern canton of Graubünden, is designated by the Federal Constitution as a national language along with German, French and Italian (Article 4 of the Constitution), 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 (nowadays) 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). Also the official languages (German, French and Italian) borrow some terms not understood outside of Switzerland, i.e. terms from other languages (German Billette from 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 most Swiss are supposed to be at least bilingual.

Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 21% of the population. Most of these are from European Union or EFTA countries. Italians are the largest single group of foreigners with 18,9% of total foreign population, while people from the various nations of former Yugoslavia make up 21%, there are also many ethnic Albanians. 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 in Switzerland, particularly in the political campaigning of the right-wing populist Swiss People's Party.

Religion

Cathedral Notre-Dame de Lausanne in the canton of Vaud.
Cathedral Notre-Dame de Lausanne in the canton of Vaud.

Switzerland has no official state religion, though most of the cantons (except Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognise official churches, in all cases including the Catholic Church and the Swiss Reformed Church. These churches, and in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish congregations, are financed by official taxation of adherents.

Christianity is the predominant religion of Switzerland, divided between various Protestant denominations (42.5% of the population) and the Catholic Church (41%). Immigration has brought Islam (4.3%, predominantly Albanians mostly from Kosovo) and Eastern Orthodoxy (1.8%) as sizeable minority religions. The 2005 Eurobarometer poll found 48% to be theist, 39% expressing belief in "a spirit or life force", 9% atheist and 4% agnostic.

Notre Dame de Valère in the canton of Valais.
Notre Dame de Valère in the canton of Valais.

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, Zürich and Basel) are predominantly Protestant. Central Switzerland, as well as the 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 clearly rejected, with only 21.1% voting in support.

Culture

The culture of Switzerland is influenced by its neighbours and its international sentiment, but over the years a distinctive culture with some regional differences and an independent streak has developed. In particular, French-speaking regions have tended to orient themselves slightly more on French culture and tend to be more pro EU. In general, the Swiss are known for their long standing humanitarian tradition as Switzerland is the birth place of the Red Cross Movement and hosts the United Nations Human Rights Council. Swiss German speaking areas may perhaps be seen more oriented on German culture, although German-speaking Swiss people identify strictly as Swiss because of the difference between High German, and the Swiss German dialects. Italian-speaking areas can have more of an Italian culture. A region may be in some ways strongly culturally connected to the neighbouring country that shares its language. The linguistically isolated Romansh culture in the eastern mountains of Switzerland is also robust and strives to maintain its rare linguistic tradition. Switzerland's entry to the Eurovision Song Contest of 1989 was in Romansh.

Many mountain areas have a strong highly energetic ski town culture in winter, and a hiking (wandering) culture in summer. Some 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 and a higher ratio of Swiss. A traditional farmer and herder culture also predominates in many areas, and this connection to the land and agriculture is a strong glue holding all the Swiss together. Even though now most do not actually farm themselves, the small farms are omnipresent outside the cities, and urban Swiss often keep garden plots or window boxes with geraniums amongst other flowers.

Sport

A game of Hornussen.
A game of Hornussen.

Like many European nations the Swiss are big fans of football and the national team or ' Nati' is widely supported. Switzerland's most well known football clubs include Grasshoppers Zurich, Servette FC and Basel. Switzerland was also the joint venue with Austria in the Euro 2008 football tournament, although the Swiss team dropped out before the Quarter Finals.

Many Swiss also follow hockey and support one of the 12 clubs in the league A. In 2006, supporters in the PostFinance Arena set a new european record for average attendance, with an average of 15,994 in 22 home games. Switzerland will host the 2009 IIHF World Championships for the 10th time.

Over the last few years several Swiss tennis players, like Roger Federer and Martina Hingis, have been multiple Grand Slam singles champions. One of the world's best current ice skaters is Swiss Stéphane Lambiel. Switzerland is also the home of the successful sailing team Alinghi.

Other sports where the Swiss have been successful include fencing ( Marcel Fischer), whitewater slalom (Ronnie Dürrenmatt – canoe, Mathias Röthenmund – kayak), ice hockey (Swiss National League), beach volleyball ( Sascha Heyer, Markus Egger, Paul and Martin Laciga), and skiing (Bernhard Russi, Pirmin Zurbriggen, Didier Cuche).

Motorsport racecourses were banned in Switzerland following the 1955 Le Mans disaster, however the country has produced successful racers such as Clay Regazzoni and Jo Siffert, and leading drivers such as Michael Schumacher, Kimi Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sébastien Loeb all live there , albeit mainly for tax purposes.

Local

Swiss wrestling or " Schwingen" is an old tradition from the rural central cantons and considered the national sport.

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 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 Unspunnenstein.

Floorball is a new sport in Switzerland that grows every year in popularity. A main factor is the professional league called Nationalliga A that draws many famous players from other countries.

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