Switzerland

Introduction

Introduction

Switzerland , officially the Swiss Confederation, is a federal republic in Europe. It consists of 26 cantons, and the city of Bern is the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western-Central Europe, and is bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning an area of 41,285 km2(15,940 sq mi). While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately eight million people is concentrated mostly on the plateau, where the largest cities are to be found: among them are the two global cities and economic centres Zürich and Geneva.

The establishment of the Old Swiss Confederacy dates to the late medieval period, resulting 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 country has a history of armed neutrality going back to the Reformation; it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815 and did not join the United Nations until 2002. Nevertheless, it pursues an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world. In addition to being the birthplace of the Red Cross, Switzerland is home to numerous international organisations, including the second largest UN office. On the European level, it is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association, but notably not part of the European Union or the European Economic Area. However, it participates in the Schengen Area and the European Single Market through bilateral treaties.

Spanning the intersection of Germanic and Romance Europe, Switzerland comprises 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, and Alpine symbolism. Due to its linguistic diversity, Switzerland is known by a variety of native names: Schweiz [ˈʃvaɪts](German); Suisse [sɥis(ə)] (French); Svizzera [ˈzvittsera] (Italian); and Svizra[ˈʒviːtsrɐ] or [ˈʒviːtsʁːɐ] (Romansh). On coins and stamps, Latin (frequently shortened to "Helvetia") is used instead of the four living languages.

Switzerland is one of the most developed countries in the world, with the highest nominal wealth per adult and the eighth-highest per capita gross domestic productaccording to the IMF. Switzerland ranks at or near the top globally in several metrics of national performance, including government transparency, civil liberties, quality of life, economic competitiveness, and human development. Zürich and Geneva have each been ranked among the top cities in the world in terms of quality of life, with the former ranked second globally, according to Mercer.


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 kilometres (15,940 sq mi).The population is about 8 million, resulting in an average population densityof around 195 people per square kilometre (500/sq mi). The more mountainous southern half of the country is far more sparsely populated than the northern half. In the largest Canton of Graubünden, lying entirely in the Alps, population density falls to 27 /km² (70 /sq mi).

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-south of the country, comprising about 60% of the country's total area. The majority of the Swiss population live in the Swiss Plateau. Among the high valleys of the Swiss Alps many glaciers are found, totalling an area of 1,063 square kilometres (410 sq mi). From these originate the headwaters of several major rivers, such as the Rhine, Inn, Ticino and Rhône, which flow in the four cardinal directions into the whole of Europe. The hydrographic network includes several of the largest bodies of freshwater in Central and Western Europe, among which are included Lake Geneva (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 stock of fresh water. 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 the 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 kilometres (620 miles) apart, both springs are only about 22 kilometres (14 miles) apart from each other in the Swiss Alps.

48 of Switzerland's mountains are 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) above 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) Eigerand Mönch, and the many picturesque valleys in the region. In the southeast the long Engadin Valley, encompassing the St. Moritzarea in canton of Graubünden, is also well known; the highest peak in the neighbouring Bernina Alps is Piz Bernina (4,049 m or 13,284 ft).

The more populous northern part of the country, comprising 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.


Climate

The climate is temperate, but varies significantly with altitude (in average about 6.5°C every 1000m). There are four clearly defined seasons which bring changes in both temperature and precipitation. Switzerland has cold, cloudy, rainy/snowy winters, and moderate to warm summers with very changeable weather which can change quite quickly; especially on hot summer days and in the mountains; in extreme cases within minutes. In some years you can experience cloudy, rainy, humid summer days, however on other days or even the next year very sunny, or sometimes even hot summer days with only occasional showers. Approximately every third day throughout the entire year is a rainy day with either a short shower, or constantly drizzling rain throughout the whole day. Forecasts for more than five days ahead are unreliable.


Demographics

In 2012, Switzerland's population slightly exceeded eight million. In common with other developed countries, the Swiss population increased rapidly during the industrial era, quadrupling between 1800 and 1990. Growth has since stabilised, and like most of Europe, Switzerland faces an ageing population, albeit with consistent annual growth projected into 2035, due mostly to immigration and a fertility rate close to replacement level.

As of 2012, resident foreigners made up 23.3% of the population, one of the largest proportions in the developed world. Most of these (64%) were from European Union or EFTA countries. Italians were the largest single group of foreigners, with 15.6% of total foreign population, followed closely by Germans(15.2%), immigrants from Portugal (12.7%), France(5.6%), Serbia (5.3%), Turkey (3.8%), Spain (3.7%), and Austria (2%). Immigrants from Sri Lanka, most of them former Tamil refugees, were the largest group among people of Asian origin (6.3%).

Additionally, the figures from 2012 show that 34.7% of the permanent resident population aged 15 or over in Switzerland (around 2.33 million), had an immigrant background. A third of this population (853,000) held Swiss citizenship. Four fifths of persons with an immigration background were themselves immigrants (first generation foreigners and native-born and naturalised Swiss citizens), whereas one fifth were born in Switzerland (second generation foreigners and native-born and naturalised Swiss citizens).

In the 2000s, domestic and international institutions expressed concern about what was perceived as an increase in xenophobia, particularly in some political campaigns. In reply to one critical report, the Federal Council noted that "racism unfortunately is present in Switzerland", but stated that the high proportion of foreign citizens in the country, as well as the generally unproblematic integration of foreigners", underlined Switzerland's openness.

Religion

Switzerland has no official state religion, though most of the cantons (except Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognise official churches, which are either the Catholic Church or 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 (about 71% of resident population and 75% of Swiss citizens), divided between the Catholic Church (38.21% of the population), the Swiss Reformed Church (26.93%), further Protestant churches (2.89%) and other Christian denominations (2.79%). There has been a recent rise in Evangelicalism. Immigration has established Islam (4.95%) and Eastern Orthodoxy (around 2%) as sizeable minority religions. According to a 2015 poll by Gallup International, 12% of Swiss people self-identified as "convinced atheists."

As of the 2000 census other Christian minority communities included Neo-Pietism (0.44%), Pentecostalism (0.28%, mostly incorporated in the Schweizer Pfingstmission), Methodism(0.13%), the New Apostolic Church (0.45%), Jehovah's Witnesses (0.28%), other Protestant denominations (0.20%), the Old Catholic Church (0.18%), other Christian denominations (0.20%). Non-Christian religions are Hinduism (0.38%), Buddhism (0.29%), Judaism (0.25%) and others (0.11%); 4.3% did not make a statement. 21.4% in 2012 declared themselves as unchurched i.e. not affiliated with any church or other religious body (Agnostic, Atheist, or just not related to any official religion).

The country was historically about evenly balanced between Catholic and Protestant, with a complex patchwork of majorities over most of the country. Geneva converted to Protestantism in 1536, just before John Calvin arrived there. It became known internationally as the Protestant Rome, being base for such reformers as Theodore Beza or William Farel. Zürich becameanother stronghold around the same time, with Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger taking the lead there. One canton, Appenzell, was officially divided into Catholic and Protestant sections in 1597. The larger cities and their cantons (Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Zürich and Basel) used to be predominantly Protestant. Central Switzerland, the Valais, the Ticino, Appenzell Innerrhodes, the Jura, and Fribourg are traditionally Catholic. The Swiss Constitutionof 1848, under the recent impression of the clashes of Catholic vs. Protestant cantons that culminated in the Sonderbundskrieg, consciously defines a consociational state, allowing the peaceful co-existence of Catholics and Protestants. A 1980 initiative calling for the complete separation of church and state was rejected by 78.9% of the voters. Some traditionally Protestant cantons and cities nowadays have a slight Catholic majority, not because they were growing in members, quite the contrary, but only because since about 1970 a steadily growing minority became not affiliated with any church or other religious body (21.4% in Switzerland, 2012) especially in traditionally Protestant regions, such as Basel-City (42%), canton of Neuchâtel (38%), canton of Geneva (35%), canton of Vaud (26%), or Zürich city (city: >25%; canton: 23%).


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. In 2011 it was ranked as the wealthiest country in the world in per capita terms (with "wealth" being defined to include both financial and non-financial assets), while the 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report showed that Switzerland was the country with the highest average wealth per adult in 2013. It has the world's nineteenth largest economy by nominal GDP and the thirty-sixth largest by purchasing power parity. It is the twentieth largest exporter, despite its small size. Switzerland has the highest European rating in the Index of Economic Freedom 2010, while also providing large coverage through public services. The nominal per capita GDP is higher than those of the larger Western and Central European economies and Japan. If adjusted for purchasing power parity, Switzerland ranks 8th in the world in terms of GDP per capita, according to the World Bank and IMF (ranked 15th according to the CIA Worldfactbook).

The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland's economy as the most competitive in the world, while ranked by the European Union as Europe's most innovative country. For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin (by GDP – per capita). In 2007 the gross median household income in Switzerland was an estimated 137,094 USD at Purchasing power parity while the median income was 95,824 USD. Switzerland also has one of the world's largest account balances as a percentage of GDP.

Switzerland is home to several large multinational corporations. The largest Swiss companies by revenue are Glencore, Gunvor, Nestlé, Novartis, Hoffmann-La Roche, ABB, Mercuria Energy Group and Adecco. Also, notable are UBS AG, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Barry Callebaut, Swiss Re, 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 organisations – is another important industry for Switzerland.

Around 3.8 million people work in Switzerland; about 25% of employees belonged to a trade union in 2004. Switzerland has a more flexible job market than neighbouring countries and the unemployment rate is very low. The unemployment rate increased from a low of 1.7% in June 2000 to a peak of 4.4% in December 2009. The unemployment rate is 3.2% in 2014. Population growth from net immigration is quite high, at 0.52% of population in 2004. The foreign citizen population was 21.8% in 2004, about the same as in Australia. GDP per hour worked is the world's 16th highest, at 49.46 international dollars in 2012.

Switzerland has an overwhelmingly private sector economy and low tax rates by Western World standards; overall taxation is one of the smallest of developed countries. Switzerland 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 harmonisation with the European Union. According to Credit Suisse, only about 37% of residents own their own homes, one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Europe. Housing and food price levels were 171% and 145% of the EU-25 index in 2007, compared to 113% and 104% in Germany.

The Swiss Federal budget had a size of 62.8 billion Swiss francs in 2010, which is an equivalent 11.35% of the country's GDP in that year; however, the regional (canton) budgets and the budgets of the municipalities are not counted as part of the federal budget and the total rate of government spending is closer to 33.8% of GDP. The main sources of income for the federal government are the value-added tax (33%) and the direct federal tax (29%) and the main expenditure is located in the areas of social welfare and finance & tax. The expenditures of the Swiss Confederation have been growing from 7% of GDP in 1960 to 9.7% in 1990 and to 10.7% in 2010. While the sectors social welfare and finance & tax have been growing from 35% in 1990 to 48.2% in 2010, a significant reduction of expenditures has been occurring in the sectors of agriculture and national defence; from 26.5% in to 12.4% (estimation for the year 2015).

Agricultural protectionism—a rare exception to Switzerland's free trade policies—has contributed to high food prices. Product market liberalisation is lagging behind many EU countries according to the OECD. Nevertheless, domestic purchasing power is one of the best in the world. Apart from agriculture, economic and trade barriers between the European Union and Switzerland are minimal and Switzerland has free trade agreements worldwide. Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

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