Map of Switzerland
The Swiss Confederation is a small
landlocked federal state in central Europe,
with neighbours Germany, France, Italy,
Austria and Liechtenstein.
The country has a strong tradition of political
and military neutrality, but also of
international co-operation, as it is home
to many international organisations.
It is also known as Confoederatio Helvetica (CH),
Latin for Swiss Confederation.
Official languages; German, French,
Largest City; Zurich
President of the
Area; 41'285 km²
Independence; Eternal Alliance
- Declared August 1, 1291
- Recognised October 24, 1648,
Federal state 1848
Currency; Swiss Franc (CHF)
Time zone; UTC +1
National anthem; Swiss Psalm
Internet TLD; .CH
Phone Calling Code; 41
In 1291, representatives of the three forest
cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden
signed the Eternal Alliance.
This united them in the struggle against
"foreign" rule by the Habsburgs, who then
held the German imperial throne
of the Holy Roman Empire.
At the Battle of Morgarten in 1315, the
Swiss defeated the Habsburg army and
as the Swiss Confederation.
Under the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648,
European countries recognised Switzerland's
independence from the Holy
Roman Empire and its neutrality.
In 1798, armies of the French Revolution
The Congress of Vienna of 1815 re-established
Swiss independence and the European
powers agreed to permanently
recognise Swiss neutrality.
Switzerland adopted a federal constitution
in 1848, amending it extensively in
1874 and establishing federal responsibility
for defense, trade, and legal matters.
Since then, continued political, economic,
and social improvement has
characterised Swiss history.
The Swiss are known for their historic
neutrality and did not participate
in either world war.
In 2002 Switzerland finally became
a full member of the United Nations.
Under the 1999 constitution, cantons hold
all powers not specifically
delegated to the federation.
The bicameral Swiss parliament, the
Federal Assembly, is the
primary seat of power.
Both houses, the Council of States and
the National Council, have equal powers
in all respects, including the right
to introduce legislation.
The 46 members of the Council of States
(two from each canton and one from former
half cantons) are directly elected in each
canton, whereas the 200 members of the
National Council are elected directly
under a system of proportional representation.
Members of both houses serve for 4 years.
Through referenda people may challenge any
law voted by federal parliament and through
initiatives introduce amendments of the federal
constitution, making Switzerland a
The top executive body is the Federal
Council, a collegial body of seven members.
Although the constitution provides
that the Assembly elects and supervises
the members of the Council, the
latter has gradually assumed a pre-eminent
role in directing the legislative
process as well as executing federal
The President of the Confederation
is elected from the seven.
During a one year term, he assumes
special representative functions.
The function of the Federal Supreme
Courts is to hear appeals of cantonal
courts or the administrative rulings
of the federal administration.
The judges are elected by the
Federal Assembly for 6-year terms.
The Swiss Confederation consists
of 26 cantons. Some of the Cantons
are represented by only one councillor
in the Council of States.
Cantons are divided in a total
of 2'889 municipalities.
The Swiss landscape is characterised
by the Alps, a high mountain range
running across the
central-south of the country.
Amongst the high peaks of the Swiss Alps,
the highest of which is the Dufour
Peak at 4'634 m, are found countless
valleys, some with glaciers.
From these the headwaters of several
major European rivers such as the Rhine,
the Rhône, the Inn, the Aare or the Ticino,
flow down into lakes such as Lake Geneva,
Lake Zurich, Lake Neuchâtel, and
Lake Constance and farther down.
The northern, more populous part of the
country is more open, but can still be
fairly mountainous such as with the Jura
Mountains, a smaller range in the northwest.
The Swiss climate is generally temperate,
but it can vary greatly locally, from the
harsh conditions on the high mountains to
the pleasant mediterranean clime
at Switzerland's southern tip.
Switzerland is a prosperous and stable modern
market economy with a per capita GDP higher
than that of the big western
The Swiss in recent years have brought
their economic practices largely into
conformity with the European Union's to
enhance their international competitiveness.
Although the Swiss are not pursuing full
EU membership in the near term,
in 1999 Bern and Brussels signed agreements
to further liberalise trade ties.
They continue to discuss further
areas for co-operation.
Switzerland is however a member of the
European Free Trade Association.
Switzerland remains a safe haven for
investors, because it has maintained a
degree of bank secrecy and has kept up
the franc's long-term external value.
The GDP growth rate dipped to 1.6% in 2001,
and the government projects that it
will slow further to 1.3% in 2002.
sits at the cross-roads of several
major European cultures, which have
heavily influenced the country's
languages and cultural practices.
Switzerland has four official languages:
German (64%) in the north and centre,
French (19%) to the west, Italian
(8%) in the south, and finally Romansh,
a Romance language spoken by a small
minority (less 1%) in the south-eastern
The German spoken here is predominantly
a Swiss dialect known as Swiss German,
but newspapers and some
broadcasts use High German.
Many Swiss speak more than one language
and resident foreigners and temporary
foreign workers make up
about 20% of the population.
The largest religion in Switzerland
is Roman Catholicism, to which some
43% of the population adhere.
Various Protestant faiths number
some 35% of the population, and
immigration has established Islam
(4%) and Eastern Orthodoxy (2%)
as sizeable minority religions.
The remainder belongs to very small
minorities or is unaffiliated.
The stability and prosperity of
Switzerland, combined with a
linguistically and religiously
diverse population has led some to
describe the country as
a consociational state.
The Swiss are noted for their banks,
their chocolate, their cheese, their
watches, and their private boarding schools.
This information updated & correct in December 2003. E. & O.E.
All text is available under the terms of the
GNU Free Documentation License.
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