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country

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Switzerland

Capital Bern
Continent Europe
Code +41
Currency Swiss franc
Languages Romansh , French , German , Italian , Romansh , French , German , Italian

Description

Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a landlocked country at the confluence of Western, Central, and Southern Europe. It is a federal republic composed of 26 cantons, with federal authorities based in Bern, Switzerland is bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. It is geographically divided among the Swiss Plateau, the Alps, and the Jura, spanning a total area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi) and a land area of 39,997 km2 (15,443 sq mi). Although the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8.5 million is concentrated mostly on the plateau, where the largest cities and economic centers are, among them Zürich, Geneva, Basel, and Lausanne. These cities are home to several offices of international organizations such as the WTO, the WHO, the ILO, the seat of the International Olympic Committee, the headquarters of FIFA, the UN's second-largest office, as well as the main building of the Bank for International Settlements. The main international airports of Switzerland are also located in these cities.

The establishment of the Old Swiss Confederacy in the Late Middle Ages resulted from a series of military successes against Austria and Burgundy. Swiss independence from the Holy Roman Empire was formally recognized in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The Federal Charter of 1291 is considered the founding document of Switzerland, which is celebrated on Swiss National Day. Since the Reformation of the 16th century, Switzerland has maintained a firm policy of armed neutrality; it has not fought an international war since 1815 and did not join the United Nations until 2002. Nevertheless, it pursues an active foreign policy. It is frequently involved in peace-building processes worldwide. Switzerland is the birthplace of the Red Cross, one of the world's oldest and best-known humanitarian organizations. It is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association, but notably not part of the European Union, the European Economic Area, or the Eurozone. However, it participates in the Schengen Area and the European Single Market through bilateral treaties.

Switzerland occupies the crossroads of Germanic and Romance Europe, as reflected in its four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Although the majority of the population are German-speaking, Swiss national identity is rooted in a common historical background, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy, as well as Alpine symbolism.

On coins and stamps, the Latin name, Confoederatio Helvetica – frequently shortened to "Helvetia" – is used instead of the four national languages. A developed country, it has the highest nominal wealth per adult and the eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product; it has been considered a tax haven. It ranks highly on some international metrics, including economic competitiveness and human development. Its cities such as Zürich, Geneva, and Basel rank among the highest in the world in terms of quality of life, albeit with some of the highest costs of living in the world. In 2020, IMD placed Switzerland first in attracting skilled workers. The WEF ranks it the fifth most competitive country globally.

History

Since 1848 the Swiss Confederation has been a federal republic of relatively autonomous cantons, some of which have a history of confederacy that goes back more than 700 years, putting them among the world's oldest surviving republics.

The early history of the region is tied to that of Alpine culture. Switzerland was inhabited by the Helvetii, and it came under Roman rule in the 1st century BC. Gallo-Roman culture was amalgamated with Germanic influence during Late Antiquity, with the eastern part of Switzerland becoming Alemannic territory. The area of Switzerland was incorporated into the Frankish Empire in the 6th century. In the High Middle Ages, the eastern part became part of the Duchy of Swabia within the Holy Roman Empire, while the western part was part of Burgundy.

The Old Swiss Confederacy in the Late Middle Ages (the Eight Cantons) established its independence from the House of Habsburg and the Duchy of Burgundy, and in the Italian Wars gained territory south of the Alps from the Duchy of Milan. The Swiss Reformation divided the Confederacy and resulted in a drawn-out history of internal strife between the Thirteen Cantons in the Early Modern period. In the wake of the French Revolution, Switzerland fell to a French invasion in 1798 and was reformed into the Helvetic Republic, a French client state. Napoleon's Act of Mediation in 1803 restored the status of Switzerland as a Confederation, and after the end of the Napoleonic period, the Swiss Confederation underwent a period of turmoil culminating in a brief civil war in 1847 and the creation of a federal constitution in 1848.

The history of Switzerland since 1848 has been largely one of success and prosperity. Industrialization transformed the traditionally agricultural economy, and Swiss neutrality during the World Wars and the success of the banking industry furthered the ascent of Switzerland to its status as one of the world's most stable economies.

Switzerland signed a free-trade agreement with the European Economic Community in 1972 and has participated in the process of European integration by way of bilateral treaties, but it has notably resisted full accession to the European Union (EU) even though its territory almost completely (except for the microstate Liechtenstein) has been surrounded by EU member states since 1995.

Geography

Extending across the north and south side of the Alps in west-central Europe, Switzerland encompasses a great diversity of landscapes and climates on a limited area of 41,285 square kilometers (15,940 sq mi). The population is about 8.7 million (2020 est.). The average population density in 2019 was 215.2 inhabitants per square kilometer (557/sq mi).: 79  In the largest canton by area, Graubünden, lying entirely in the Alps, population density falls to 28.0 inhabitants per square kilometer (73/sq mi).: 30  In the canton of Zürich, with its large urban capital, the density is 926.8 per square kilometer (2,400/sq mi): 76 

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 Central Plateau, and the Jura mountains on the west. The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central and south of the country, constituting about 60% of the country's total area. The majority of the Swiss population lives in the Swiss Plateau. Among the high valleys of the Swiss Alps, many glaciers are found, totaling an area of 1,063 square kilometers (410 sq mi). From these originate the headwaters of several major rivers, such as the Rhine, Inn, Ticino, and the Rhône, which flow in the four cardinal directions into the whole of Europe. The hydrographic network includes several of the largest bodies of fresh water in Central and Western Europe, among which are included Lake Geneva (also called le Lac Léman in French), Lake Constance (known as Bodensee in German), and Lake Maggiore. Switzerland has more than 1500 lakes and contains 6% of Europe's freshwater stock. Lakes and glaciers cover about 6% of the national territory. The largest lake is Lake Geneva, in western Switzerland shared with France. The Rhône is both the main source and outflow of Lake Geneva. Lake Constance is the second-largest Swiss lake and, like Lake Geneva, an intermediate step by the Rhine at the border to Austria and Germany. While the Rhône flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the French Camargue region and the Rhine flows into the North Sea at Rotterdam in the Netherlands, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) apart, both springs are only about 22 kilometers (14 miles) apart from each other in the Swiss Alps.

Forty-eight of Switzerland's mountains are 4,000 meters (13,000 ft) above the sea in altitude or higher. At 4,634 m (15,203 ft), Monte Rosa is the highest, although the Matterhorn (4,478 m or 14,692 ft) is often regarded as the most famous. Both are located within the Pennine Alps in the canton of Valais, on the border with Italy. The section of the Bernese Alps above the deep glacial Lauterbrunnen valley, containing 72 waterfalls, is well known for the Jungfrau (4,158 m or 13,642 ft) Eiger and Mönch, and the many picturesque valleys in the region. In the southeast the long Engadin Valley, encompassing the St. Moritz area in the canton of Graubünden, is also well known; the highest peak in the neighboring Bernina Alps is Piz Bernina (4,049 m or 13,284 ft)

The more populous northern part of the country, constituting about 30% of the country's total area, is called the Swiss Plateau. 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.

Within Switzerland there are two small enclaves: Büsingen belongs to Germany, Campione d'Italia belongs to Italy. Switzerland has no exclusives in other countries.

Politics

The Federal Constitution adopted in 1848 is the legal foundation of the modern federal state. A new Swiss Constitution was adopted in 1999 but did not introduce notable changes to the federal structure. It outlines the 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 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 and only serve as members of parliament part-time (so-called Milizsystem or citizen legislature). 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.

Economy 

Switzerland has a stable, prosperous, and high-tech economy and enjoys great wealth, being ranked as the wealthiest country in the world per capita in multiple rankings. The country has been ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, while its banking sector has been rated as "one of the most corrupt in the world" paradoxically. It has the world's twentieth largest economy by nominal GDP and the thirty-eighth largest by purchasing power parity. It is the seventeenth-largest exporter. Zürich and Geneva are regarded as global cities, ranked as Alpha and Beta respectively. Basel is the capital of the pharmaceutical industry in Switzerland. With its world-class companies, Novartis and Roche, and many other players, it is also one of the world's most important centers for the life sciences industry.

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. In terms of GDP per capita adjusted for purchasing power, Switzerland was ranked 5th in the world in 2018 by World Bank and estimated at 9th by the IMF in 2020, as well as 11th by the CIA World Factbook in 2017.

The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland's economy as the most competitive in the world, it is ranked by the European Union as Europe's most innovative country and as the most innovative country in the Global Innovation Index in 2020. It is a relatively easy place to do business, currently ranking 20th of 189 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.

For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin (by GDP – per capita). Switzerland also has one of the world's largest account balances as a percentage of GDP. In 2018, the canton of Basel-City had the highest GDP per capita in the country, ahead of the cantons of Zug and Geneva. 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.

Switzerland is home to several large multinational corporations. The largest Swiss companies by revenue are Glencore, Gunvor, Nestlé, Mediterranean Shipping Company, Novartis, Hoffmann-La Roche, ABB, Mercuria Energy Group, and Adecco. Also, notable are UBS AG, Zurich Financial Services, Richemont, Credit Suisse, Barry Callebaut, Swiss Re, Rolex, Tetra Pak, The Swatch Group, and Swiss International Air Lines. 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 exports. The service sector – especially banking and insurance, tourism, and international organizations – is another important industry for Switzerland.

The high valley of Engadine. Tourism constitutes an important revenue for the less industrialized alpine regions.

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 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).

Culture

Three of Europe's major languages are official in Switzerland. Swiss culture is characterized by diversity, which is reflected in a wide range of traditional customs. A region may be in some ways strongly culturally connected to the neighboring 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 several creative persons during times of unrest or war in Europe. Some 1000 museums are distributed throughout the country; the number has more than tripled since 1950. Among the most important cultural performances held annually are the Paléo Festival, Lucerne Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Locarno International Film Festival, and the Art Basel.

Alpine symbolism has played an essential role in shaping the history of the country and the Swiss national identity. Many alpine areas and ski resorts offer winter sports during the colder months as well as hiking (German: das Wandern) or Mountain biking in summer. Other areas throughout the year have a recreational culture that caters to tourism, such as sightseeing, yet the quieter seasons are spring and autumn when there are fewer visitors. A traditional farmer and herder culture also predominate in many areas, and small farms are omnipresent outside the towns. Folk art is kept alive in organizations all over the country. Switzerland 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.

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