The Swiss Confederation or Switzerland is a landlocked federal state in Europe, which borders Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. The country has a strong tradition of political and military neutrality, but also of international co-operation, and is home to many international organisations.
Confoederatio Helvetica (CH), the Latin version of the official name, avoids choosing one of the four official languages. The abbreviation is similarly used; for example, it is used as Switzerland's ccTLD, .ch.
| National motto: Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno|
(English: One for all, all for one)
|Official languages||German, French, Italian, Romansh|
|Capital||Bern 46°57′ N 7°27′ E|
- % water
| Ranked 132nd|
- Total (2003)
| Ranked 92nd|
| GDP (2003) |
US$233 billion (35th) (PPP)
$309 billion (17th) (nominal)
$30,186 (8th) (PPP)
$42,138 (3rd) (nominal)
| Federal Charter|
August 1, 1291
October 24, 1648
|Currency||Swiss franc (CHF)|
| Time zone|
- in summer
| CET (UTC+1)|
|National anthem||Swiss Psalm|
Table of contents
Main article: History of Switzerland
Switzerland is a federation of relatively autonomous cantons, some of which have a history of confederacy that goes back more than 700 years, arguably putting them among the world's oldest surviving republics.
According to the popular legend, in 1291, representatives of the three forest cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden signed the Federal Charter. The charter united the involved parties 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 secured quasi-independence as the Swiss Confederation. The authenticity of the Federal Charter is disputed with many historians agreeing that it is in fact a forgery of the 14th century.
By 1353, the three original cantons had been joined by the cantons of Glarus and Zug and the city states of Lucerne, Zürich and Berne, forming the "Old Federation" of eight states that persisted during much of the 15th century (although Zürich was expelled from the confederation during the 1440s due to a territorial conflict) and led to a significant increase of power and wealth of the federation, in particular due to the victories over Charles the Bold of Burgundy during the 1470s, and the success of the Swiss mercenaries. The traditional listing order of the cantons of Switzerland reflects this state, listing the eight "Old Cantons" first, with the city states preceding the founding cantons, followed by cantons that joined the federation after 1481, in historical order. The Swiss victory in a war against the Swabian League in 1499 amounted to de facto independence from the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1506, pope Julius II engaged the Swiss Guard that continues to serve the Vatican to the present day. The expansion of the federation, and the reputation of invincibility acquired during the earlier wars, suffered a first setback in 1515 with the Swiss defeat in the Battle of Marignano.
The success of Zwingli's Reformation in some cantons led to inter-cantonal wars in 1529 and 1531 (Kappeler Kriege). The conflict between Catholic and Protestant cantons persisted, erupting in further violence at the battles of Villmergen in 1656 and 1712.
Under the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, European countries recognised Switzerland's independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality (ancien régime). In 1798, armies of the French Revolution conquered Switzerland and in 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte imposed a new constitution, largely restoring Swiss autonomy. The Congress of Vienna in 1815 fully re-established Swiss independence and the European powers agreed to permanently recognise the Swiss neutrality. At this time, the territory of Switzerland was increased for the last time, by the new cantons of Valais, Neuchatel and Geneva.
In 1847, a civil war broke out between the Catholic and the Protestant cantons (Sonderbundskrieg). Its immediate cause was a 'special treaty' (Sonderbund) of the Catholic cantons. The war lasted for less than a month, causing fewer than 100 casualties. Apart from small riots, this was the latest armed conflict on Swiss territory.
As a consequence of the civil war, Switzerland adopted a federal constitution in 1848, amending it extensively in 1874 and establishing federal responsibility for defence, trade, and legal matters. Since then, continued political, economic, and social improvement has characterised Swiss history.
Switzerland proclaimed neutrality in World War I and was not involved militarily in the conflict. Neutrality was again proclaimed in World War II, and although a German intervention was both planned and anticipated, this event ultimately never occurred. The massive mobilization of Swiss armed forces under the leadership of General Henri Guisan in opposition to the Nazis is often cited as a leading reason for why Switzerland was able to escape the fate of most other western European states. Modern historical findings such as the research done by the Bergier commission indicate, that the other major reason was gold trading done by Swiss banks. So Switzerland once again managed to escape the war without being a part of major fighting. However, Swiss neutrality was somewhat violated by both Allies and the Axis in respect to airspace. Switzerland shot down both Allied and Axis airplanes.
Women were granted the right to vote in the first cantons in 1971, in the last canton only in 1990. In 1979, parts of the canton of Berne attained independence, forming the new canton of Jura. On April 18, 1999 the Swiss population and the cantons voted in favor of a total revised federal constitution.
In 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations. Switzerland is not a member state of the EU but applied for membership therein in May 1992. Switzerland has not advanced this application since the rejection in a Swiss referendum of the European Economic Area in December 1992. However, Swiss law is gradually being adjusted to that of the EU and the government has signed a number of bilateral agreements with the European Union. It remains an objective of the government to join the European Union. Switzerland (together with Liechtenstein) has been surrounded by EU territory since the joining of Austria in 1995.
Main article: Politics of Switzerland
Switzerland features a system of government unlike any other seen in Europe, or indeed much of the world.
The bicameral Swiss parliament, the Federal Assembly, is the primary seat of power, apart from the Federal Council. 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 citizens may challenge any law voted by federal parliament and through initiatives introduce amendments to the federal constitution, making Switzerland a semi-direct democracy.
The top executive body and collective Head of State 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 (and its administration) has gradually assumed a preeminent role in directing the legislative process as well as executing federal laws. The President of the Confederation is elected from the seven. During a one year term, he assumes special representative functions.
From 1959 to December 2003, the four major parties were represented in the Federal Council according to the "magic formula", proportional to their representation in federal parliament: 2 Christian Democrats (CVP/PDC), 2 from the Social Democrats (SPS/PSS), 2 Free Democrats (FDP/PRD), and 1 from the Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC). This traditional distribution of seats, however, is not backed up by any law, and in the 2003 elections to the Federal Council the CVP/PDC lost their second seat to the SVP/UDC.
The function of the Federal Supreme Court is to hear appeals of cantonal courts or the administrative rulings of the federal administration. The judges are elected by the Federal Assembly for six-year terms.
Main article: Cantons of Switzerland
The Swiss Confederation consists of 26 cantons:
[*] these Cantons are represented by only one councilor in the Council of States.
The population varies between 15,000 (Appenzell Innerrhoden) and 1,253,500 (Zürich), area between 37 km² (Basel-Stadt) and 7,105 km² (Grisons). Cantons are divided in a total of 2,889 municipalities.
Main article: Geography of Switzerland
With an area of 41,000 square kilometers, Switzerland is a small country. The population is around 7.4 million, resulting in a population density of 184 people per km² (roughly comparable to the U. S. state of Maryland).
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 Zürich, Lake Neuchâtel, and Lake Constance and farther down.
Switzerland is made up of the Swiss Alps, Mittelland, and Jura.
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 climate at Switzerland's southern tip.
Main article: Economy of Switzerland
Switzerland is a prosperous and stable modern market economy with a per capita GDP higher than that of the big western European economies. Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association. The Swiss in recent years have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with the European Union's to enhance their international competitiveness. Full EU membership is a long-term objective of the Swiss government. To this end, it has established an Integration Office under the Department of Foreign and Economic Affairs. In order to minimise the negative consequences of Switzerland's isolation from the rest of Europe, Bern and Brussels signed seven agreements, called Bilateral Agreements I, to further liberalise trade ties in 1999 and entering into force 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 is waiting ratification. The second series includes the Schengen treaty and the Dublin Convention. They continue to discuss further areas for cooperation. 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 via bilateral agreements.
Main article: Demographics of Switzerland
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 (64%; yellow) in the north and centre, French (19%; purple) to the west, Italian (8%; green) in the south, and finally Romansh, a Romance language spoken by a small minority (<1%; red) in the southeastern canton of Graubünden. The German spoken here is predominantly a Swiss dialect known as Swiss German, but newspapers and some broadcasts use High German. Most Swiss speak two or more languages 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 sizable 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 consensus state or a consociational state.
Main article: Culture of Switzerland
The culture of Switzerland is influenced by its neighbours, but over the years a distinctive culture with strong regional differences has developed. Traditionally Switzerland is not considered one of the centres of European culture, but this conception might be deceptive.
A number of culturally active Swiss have chosen to move abroad, probably given the limited opportunities in their homeland. At the same time, the neutrality of Switzerland has attracted many creative people from all over the world. In war times the tradition of political asylum helped to attract artists, whilst recently low taxes seem predominant.
Strong regionalism in Switzerland makes it difficult to speak of a homogenous Swiss culture. The influence of German, French and Italian culture on their neighbouring parts and the influence of Anglo-American culture cannot be denied. The Rhaeto-Romanic culture in the eastern mountains of Switzerland is robust.
The tallest building in Switzerland is the Basler Messeturm.
- 2004 in Switzerland
- 2005 in Switzerland
- Communications in Switzerland
- Transportation in Switzerland
- Military of Switzerland
- Education in Switzerland
- Stamps and postal history of Switzerland
- Data codes for Switzerland
- List of cities in Switzerland
- List of Swiss people
- List of Switzerland-related topics
- Enlargement of the European Union
- Third country relationships with the EU
- Travel guide to Switzerland from Wikitravel
- Find in a Library History of Switzerland
- The Federal Authorities
- The Swiss Parliament
- Federal Supreme Court – (in German, French and Italian)
- Ski resorts
- Swiss Statistics – statistics from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office
- Culturelinks.ch – a portal giving access to Swiss culture websites
- Swissworld – an encyclopedic presentation of the country by the Swiss Confederation
- About.ch – another presentation of the country
- Historical Dictionary of Switzerland – (in German, French and Italian)
- Switzerland's news and information platform – maintained by the public Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (in 9 languages)
- Geneva Photos
- Spatial Planning in Switzerland Website of Swiss Federal Office for Spatial Development (land-use planning, transportation, sustainable development)
- http://als.wikipedia.org/wiki/ " title="als:">Alemannic Wikipedia
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