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Geography and Landscape

Geography

Switzerland (officially: German: Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft; Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica [CH]; French: Confédération suisse; Italian: Confederazione svizzera; Raetoromanian: Confederaziun helvetica, or Svizra for short) is a federal state in Central Europe, bordering Austria, Germany, Italy, France and Liechtenstein.

Switzerland Satellite photo
Photo: ESA / Belspo – produced by VITO, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO

Switzerland obviously has no seaports, the nearest port is Genoa in Italy at 250 km. Switzerland is a fraction larger than the Netherlands in terms of surface area. The highest point is the Dufourspitze (4634 m) in the canton of Valais. The lowest place is Ascona in Ticino at 196 meters. Other famous mountains in Switzerland are the Matterhorn, the Jungfrau and the Eiger.

Landscape

Sixty percent of the landscape is occupied by the Alps, a high mountain range that stretches from the southwest to the northeast. The valleys of rivers such as the Rhône and the Rhine cut lengthwise through the Alpine massif. The average altitude of the Alps is about 1700 meters. About a hundred peaks are around 4000 meters high. About 3000 km2 of the Alps is covered by glaciers and eternal snow.

The largest glacier is the Grosse Aletsch Glacier with an area of 115 km2. Glaciers generally do not occur below 2000 meters. Up to an altitude of 2000 meters, the Alps are largely covered with forests.

Aletsch Glacier, the largest in SwitzerlandPhoto:Cristina Del Biaggio CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Ten percent of the landscape is occupied by the Jura Mountains in northwestern Switzerland. The Jura is a middle mountain range with richly covered slopes and mountain ridges that vary in height from 700 meters to 1600 meters. Thirty percent of the landscape is occupied by the Swiss plateau (Mittelland). It is a hilly area between the Jura and the Alps, with an average height of ± 600 meters. Most of the major cities are located in this area. Most of the agricultural lands are also located in the Mittelland, forests are much less to be found.

Waterfall of SchaffhausenPhoto:Bettyakkemaai Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Many rivers such as the Rhine, the Rhône, the Aare and the Ticino cross Switzerland. The longest river is the Rhine with a catchment area of 375 kilometers, of which 5% is navigable. All Alpine rivers flow through large lakes; this regulates the water level and purifies the river of debris and silt.

Switzerland also has more than 1000 waterfalls and about 1600 lakes. The largest waterfall in Europe is located at Schaffhausen. The largest lake is Lake Geneva (582 km2). Other well-known lakes are Lake Constance and Lake Maggiore.

Climate and Weather

There is a wide variety of climate types in Switzerland. From polar climate-like in the high mountains above the snow line to almost subtropical in the southern alpine valleys. In general Switzerland has a transitional climate, from sea to land climate. The shape of the landscape has a major influence on the climate. North of the Alps a Central European climate occurs, south of the Alps a Mediterranean climate type. It can even be said that every part of Switzerland has its own climate. For example, the north face of a mountain may have dry steppe vegetation, while the south face is covered with dense forests. Another striking example is Sion, which has an average annual rainfall of almost 600 mm. Thirty kilometers away, Rochers de Naye mountain receives an average of 2600 mm of precipitation per year.

Köppen climate types of SwitzerlandPhoto:Adam Peterson Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

The weather has an unstable character, also because depressions often linger between the mountains. Switzerland is quite rich in rainfall. The Alps and Jura force the humid westerly winds to rise and provide quite a lot of precipitation, which falls most often on the French side of the Jura and on the western and northern edges of the Alps. As a result, on the high plateau behind the Jura and in many Alpine valleys, areas in the rain shadow, much less precipitation falls. The driest climate in Switzerland prevails in the Rhone Valley. Weather conditions can change quickly. For example, the temperature can drop very quickly, especially above 2000 meters. In winter, the phenomenon of temperature reversal occurs when heavier cold air is in the valleys and on the high plains and causes heavy fogging there, while in the higher parts the solar radiation creates higher temperatures.

Many areas in Switzerland are covered with snow in winter. The great lakes moderate the temperature on the Swiss Plateau in both winter and summer.

Plants and Animals

Plants

Forests and meadows SwitzerlandPhoto:Norbert Nagel Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Swiss mountain slopes are richly covered with forests. Riparian forests occur along the rivers. The trees in the Mittelland mainly consist of beech and spruce, supplemented with lime, summer oak, maples and ash. On the slopes of the Jura, there is a lot of mixed forest with beeches and maples in the lower regions and silver and Norway spruces in the higher parts. The tree line, which strongly depends on the local climate, starts between 1800 and 2800 meters. The mountain pine and larch grow just below the tree line. Special is the arve or stone pine, which can sometimes be hundreds of years old. The transition from forests to alpine meadows (Matten) is formed by shrubby vegetation. Blueberry, bearberry, mountain pine, green alder and alpine rose grow here.

Primroses, anemones, orchids, many gentian species and edelweiss grow among the grass on the alpine meadows above the tree line.

Edelweiss Switzerland
Photo: Michael Schmid, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Austria no changes made

These and many other varieties ensure that in spring and early summer the alpine meadows show an unparalleled floral splendor. Lichens grow even higher on the rocks and pillow plants in the rocky crevices. At an altitude of more than 4000 meters, the icy crinkle occurs on the Finsteraarhorn. Magnolias, palms and cypresses are found in Ticino. Environmental pollution and winter sports have led to erosion and a soil losing its vegetation. The alpine meadows are particularly at risk.

Animals

A large number of animals live in and around streams, rivers and lakes: mammals, fish, amphibians and birds. Grayling, brown trout and bullhead are found in fast-flowing rivers. The dipper is a common sight along these rivers. Barbel, bindweed and gudgeon occur in calm, flowing water. In stagnant or slow flowing water we find bream, eel, pike and river perch. In 2016 it was announced that Salvelinus profundus (German: Tiefwassersaibling), declared extinct in 2008 by the Internationale Naturschutzunion, had been found again in Lake Constance. This fish species lives at a depth of about 80 meters, making it one of the few freshwater species that live at such a great depth.

Many roe deer and to a lesser extent red deer are found in the Swiss forests. Wild cats, foxes, badgers, wild boars and pine martens can be seen in the forests of the Jura and the Pre-Alps. Vipers and emerald lizards are quite common. Forest birds include crossbill, many species of woodpeckers and owls (including eagle owl). Birds of prey such as buzzard, hawk, tree falcon, sparrowhawk and honey buzzard float above the forests in search of prey. The nutcracker lives near the tree line. Hazel grouse, capercaillie and black grouse also live around the tree line.

Capercaillie, Switzerland
Photo: David Palmer, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

In the high mountains, the alpine marmot (Murmeltier) lives in underground castles. Chamois live on the border of the alpine meadows and rocky slopes. Capricorns occur even higher. The snowshoe hare also lives here, in summer with brown fur, in winter with white fur. The ptarmigan is special, which can withstand very low temperatures, icy wind and snow. In Italian Switzerland, the animal world has a Northern-Italian-Mediterranean character with a blind mole, Italian hedgehog, Italian sparrow, emerald lizard and small scorpions.

Alpine Marmot, Switzerland
Photo: trldp, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

Birds that are common in the Alps are the golden eagle, the snowfinch, the alpine chough, the rock pipit and the rock creeper. Amphibians such as the brown frog, toad and alpine salamander occur to great heights. Large predators such as brown bear, wolf and lynx have long ago been exterminated. Of the many protected areas, the Swiss National Park (founded 1914) in the Engadin, Graubünden, is world famous; this national park is also a center of scientific research.

Switzerland National Park
Photo: Hansueli Krapf, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

History

Earliest History and Roman Times

Roman bridge in Ticino, SwitzerlandPhoto:Glcastellanos99 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Switzerland was already inhabited by hunters in caves about 10,000 years before Christ. In the Jura, objects have been found that indicate this. About 8000 BC, people spread across the plains created after the melting of the glaciers. Approx. 6000 BC peoples from the Middle East settled in Switzerland.

They founded primitive settlements and made a living from agriculture. Before that, they cleared forests and land was reclaimed. The important Tène culture arose in the Iron Age, ca.800 BC. For example, the first coins came into circulation in the Tène period. The people from this culture lived, among other things, in stilt houses. One of the Celtic tribes that spread across Switzerland from southern Germany was the Helvetes. Their spread was halted by Julius Caesar in 58 BC. From 15 BC the Helvetes were definitively subdued and the Roman province of Helvetia was a fact. From the camps of the Romans gradually emerged large cities that were inhabited by both Romans and Celts. Until the 3rd century people lived peacefully side by side in a reasonable prosperity. In the 4th and 5th centuries, raids by Germanic tribes from the north caused the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Middle Ages

Habitsburg, medieval castle of the Habsburgs in SwitzerlandPhoto:Roland Zumbühl Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

In the end, the Burgundian tribe managed to settle around Lake Geneva. After this, the Burgundians in western Switzerland founded a kingdom where the language of communication was Latin. The Alemanni, another Germanic tribe, settled in the north and east of Switzerland. Here we also see the origin of the language border arise. In 534, the territory of the Burgundians and Alemanni was conquered by the Merovingian Frankish family under the leadership of King Clovis. The Christianization of the area was also tackled energetically. In the 7th century, the Merovingians were succeeded by the Carolingians, of which Charlemagne was the best known monarch. His empire stretched from the Baltic to the Pyrenees.

After the treaty of Verdun in 843, the empire was divided into: West Francia (= now France), East Francia (= now Germany) and Middle Francia, to which present-day Switzerland largely belonged. After the death of King Lothair, Middle Francia was divided between Louis the German of East Francia and Charles the Bald of West Francia. At the end of the 9th century, the kingdom of High Burgundy was created, which included Western Switzerland and Savoy. However, the German emperor incorporated it back into the Holy Roman Empire in 1032. However, the power of the German emperor was limited by the feudal system. In the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the Duke of Savoy became increasingly powerful; in the east of Switzerland, two powerful families ruled: the Zähringers and the Kyburgers. In the meantime, the Habsburgs gained more and more power in neighboring Austria and the German-speaking part of Switzerland. With the extinction of the Kyburg family, their possessions passed to the Habsburgs without a fight. The Habsburgs appointed Austrian governors and this caused many conflicts.

Wilhelm Tell SwitzerlandPhoto:public domain

The true or false story of Wilhelm Tell also plays a role during this time. He refused to greet the hat of the Austrian governor Gessler and as punishment had to shoot an apple on the head of his son. He succeeded, but he was still imprisoned by Governor Gessler. However, Tell managed to escape and then shot Gessler. This is said to have triggered a major uprising near Lake Lucerne.

Swiss Confederation

Federal letter from 1201, SwitzerlandPhoto:Public domain

After the death of Emperor Rudolf I of Habsburg in 1291, several cantons united on August 1, 1291. This alliance laid the foundation for the later Swiss state, the "Confederation". Even today, August 1 is the most important national holiday in Switzerland. The covenant meant, among other things, that an attack on one of them would be interpreted as an attack on all. They also no longer wanted foreign interference in internal affairs. The covenant grew ever closer, to the anger of the Habsburgs. This led to the Battle of Morgarten in 1315, where an army of the Habsburgs was devastatingly defeated.

After this a new alliance was made, the "Ewige Bund". In the 14th century, more cantons joined the Confederation. Especially the connection of Zurich was a thorn in the side of the Habsburgs. This in turn led to two battles, both of which were lost by the Habsburgs. At that time, the Swiss territory was also attacked by Savoy and the revived Duchy of Burgundy. The new Burgundy continued to expand, but misguided the Swiss Confederation. The army of Burgundian Charles the Bold was defeated twice in one year and with the death of Charles the Bold in 1477 the Burgundian empire finally collapsed. At the end of the 15th century, disagreements arose in the Confederation caused by the contradictions between the cities and the rural areas. Civil war could hardly be avoided. The hermit Klaus von der Flüe played an important role in this and has since been called “Father of the Fatherland”. For a long time, Wallis remained a battlefield between Savoy and the bishops of Sion. Central figures in this were Walter and Jörg Supersaxo and the Valais theology student Schiner. Supersaxo supported France in its role as a European power, Schiner supported the alliance between the Pope's Rome and the German Empire.

Arrest Jörg Supersaxo SwitzerlandPhoto:Public domain

In 1513 Milan was conquered from the French, Schiner was made cardinal and Tircino and Locarno were incorporated into the Confederation. Alliances were also entered into with Geneva and Graubünden. In 1515 the Swiss were crushed by the French. This led to a peace treaty with France that would last “forever”, and stipulated that the Confederacy would never again seek to expand territory. This treaty would form the basis for Switzerland's policy of neutrality that has lasted for centuries. The time of the Reformation did not leave Switzerland untouched either. The authority, rituals and customs of the Catholic Church were rejected by the Reformers. Again, there was a contrast between the cities and the countryside. The inhabitants of the cities liked the ideas of the Reformation, the rural areas felt threatened by it. The well-known reformist Zwingli also wanted to reorganize the Confederation. This led to a religious war at Kappel in 1531 in which Zwingli died and the Catholics won. Another reformer, the Frenchman Calvin, settled in Geneva, which broke away from Savoy in 1530 and formed an independent republic. Calvin became known for the extremely strict way of life he prescribed.

The Counter-Reformation started around 1550 and until the beginning of the eighteenth century the conflicts between the Catholic and Protestant cantons dominated the history of Switzerland. The 30-year war ended with the “Peace of Westphalia”. In this treaty, Switzerland was first mentioned as a European nation and its independence from the German Empire was recognized. Meanwhile, conflicts between farmers and townspeople continued. In 1653 this cost thousands of farmers their lives. Two years later, a major conflict ensued between the Protestant canton of Bern and the Catholic canton of Lucerne. Until the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Protestants were unable to beat the Catholics. Until the Catholics lost the Battle of Villmergen and then were forced to finally divide political power fairly between the Catholic and Protestant cantons at the Peace of Aarau.

Confederation

Sonderbund SwitzerlandPhoto:Public domain

The situation changed with the French revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. The French occupied Switzerland and in 1798 formed the Helvetic Republic, a centralized state after French example. However, the French failed to get a grip on the stubborn Swiss and in 1803 the occupation troops were withdrawn. Six new cantons then joined the Confederation and nationally applicable laws were passed. However, at the Congress of Vienna (1814/1815), a decentralized state with self-governing cantons was restored. There was great confusion about how to proceed. Radical youth, liberals, aristocrats, and the differences in language and religion did not make things any easier. The Catholics united in a special alliance: the Sonderbund. The Protestants tried to prevent this, but failed.

Another war broke out and was won by the Protestant cantons led by Dufour in 1847. A new constitution was drawn up in 1848. In this, the federal parliament was given many powers, almost all religions were given equal rights and a federal court was established. It was also very important that the mutual relationships were restored and stabilized. As a result, industrialization continued strongly in the 19th century. Tourism was on the rise, roads, railways and the first tunnels were built. Banking also became increasingly important.

20th century

Closing session of the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in 1926Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-02454 CC-BY-SA 3.0 no changes made

Switzerland remained neutral in the First World War. Nevertheless, the First World War did have an impact and consequences for Switzerland. The opinions of the French-speaking and German-speaking Swiss naturally clashed again. The Germans and the Allies, in turn, did not trust the Swiss very much. As a result, trade largely came to a standstill. In addition, tens of thousands of refugees came to Switzerland, causing a shortage of goods, food and labor. In 1920 Switzerland became a member of the League of Nations. This lasted until the mid-1930s when Switzerland became completely neutral again. In the Second World War Switzerland remained neutral again, but continued to trade with the Axis powers.

After the Second World War, Switzerland became politically isolated because it had not joined the Allies. The country also suffered from many strikes. Political isolation diminished with the role in the Korean War. From that time on, Switzerland would much more often play a mediating role between warring parties. Due to the strong growth of the economy, industry and banking, prosperity increased very quickly after the war.

UN headquarters in Geneva, SwitzerlandPhoto:Filzstift in het publieke domein

Switzerland's neutral position has made Geneva the seat of many international organizations such as the United Nations, Scouting, WHO, ILO, League of Nations and Red Cross. Important issues in post-war Switzerland were: women's suffrage (only in 1971) and the equality of men and women (only in 981); the pursuit of secession in the Jura, which in 1978 led to the canton of Jura, split from the canton of Bern; gigantic riots by young people in the 1980s against the establishment. Furthermore, political scandals and the ideological upheaval in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s undermined the self-confidence of the Swiss. The question of whether or not to remain neutral was a major issue in these types of issues. Membership of the European Union also remained and remains a point of contention. Many politicians are in favor, but the people voted in 1992 against joining the European Economic Area (EEA). It is also significant that the elections for the Nationalrat in 1995 were won by the SPS strongly represented in the French-speaking part (before accession to the EU) and the SVP strongly represented in the German-speaking part (against accession to the EU).

In the second half of the 1990s, Switzerland was seriously discredited. And especially the banking system during the war years. In 1996 an investigation was conducted into the bank accounts of the victims of the Holocaust. The British Foreign Office found in a report that Switzerland had returned only a small portion of the gold stolen from Jews and German-occupied states. In July 1997, a number of Swiss banks published the names of foreigners who held a bank account with those institutions during World War II.

21st century

In March 2001, the Swiss people again voted against accession to the European Union in a referendum. According to the official result, 77% of voters are against a speedy start of negotiations on joining the European Union. After more than five decades, Swiss voters did vote on March 3, 2002 to join the rest of the world as a member of the United Nations. It turned out that 55% had voted for and 45% against accession. The necessary majority of the cantons (12-11) also voted in favor. Until now, Switzerland had observer status at the United Nations in the General Assembly of the United Nations. In 1986, 75% of the voters voted against membership. On September 10, 2002, Switzerland became the 190th member of the Peoples Organization immediately after the opening of the 57th United Nations General Assembly.

At the end of 2003 a political landslide took place in Switzerland due to the election victory of the national-conservative SVP led by Christoph Blocher.

Christoph Blocher SwitzerlandPhoto:International Students’ Committee CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Since 1959, the federal government has been constituted by the unwritten rule that all major parties participate in a broad coalition. Two of the seven members of the Federal Council were Liberal Democrats (FDP / PRD), two Christian Democrats (CVP / PDC), two Social Democrats (SPS / PS) and one member of the National Conservative Party (SVP / UDC). In principle, this distribution key was fixed and was not sensitive to election results. Furthermore, the Federal government consisted of four German speakers, two French speakers and one Italian-speaking member. Blocher, however, demanded two seats (which also accrue to the SVP on the basis of the vote distribution) and threatened opposition if these were not awarded to the SVP.

The threat of an opposition was so unheard of that, during the vote on December 10, 2003, Parliament yielded to the SVP and included an additional member of this party in the new cabinet. This happened at the expense of one place for the CVP. The election of Blocher (SVP) and the right-wing liberal Merz (FDP) marked a shift to the right. Slimming down of the government apparatus, limiting the role of the state with the emphasis on citizens' own responsibility, reorganizing the state budget and restructuring social security systems are receiving more attention. From a foreign policy point of view, the prospect of EU membership has become even further lost. Negotiations on Bilateral II were successfully concluded in October 2004. It was approved on June 5, 2005.

Swiss National Bank in ZurichPhoto:Myriam Thyes Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Central to the Bilateral II agreements is cooperation in the field of asylum and migration, and tax fraud. During the negotiations, some EU member states wanted Switzerland to give up banking secrecy. Instead, the Savings Directive will also apply to Switzerland. This means that the interest income from Swiss savings of EU citizens will be taxed and that the vast majority of this money will be passed on to the relevant EU member states. This agreement entered into force on July 1, 2005. In the October 2007 elections, the SVP receives 29% of the vote, making it the largest political party. In December 2007 the SVP left the coalition, but in December 2008 the party rejoined the government. In January 2009, Switzerland's economy was officially in recession as a result of the credit crisis. In November 2009 Swiss voters banned the building of minarets in a referendum. In May 2011, in the aftermath of the Fukishima nuclear disaster, Switzerland launched plans to become independent from nuclear energy. In 2012 and 2013, the immigration theme is hot in Switzerland. Initially these are underprivileged immigrants. In February 2014 Switzerland caused a sensation by also setting quotas for residents of the EU. This decision is seriously affecting relations between Switzerland and the EU. In January 2015, the Swiss Franc is decoupled from the Euro. This causes an increase in the Franc and possible damage to the tourism sector. In June 2016, the provision of a basic income will be agreed in a referendum. In February 2017 it was decided by referendum that obtaining citizenship would be easier for third-generation immigrants. In a referendum in May 2017 it was decided to say goodbye to nuclear energy in due course.

Simonetta Sommaruga, SwitzerlandPhoto:JUSO Schweiz Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

Simonetta Sommaruga will become president in January 2020, a position that changes annually.

Population

Well-known SwissPhoto:MadGeographer Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Switzerland has 8,236,303 inhabitants in 2017, many of whom are Swiss citizens. The rest are foreigners, mainly employees from Italy, Spain, Croatia, Bosnia, Germany and Turkey. They often work on a contract basis in Switzerland. In 2017, the number of foreigners was nearly 2.3 million. Foreigners have always been of great importance to the Swiss economy and contributed to the rapid rise of Switzerland's prosperity after World War II. Many intellectuals and refugees also came to the always neutral Switzerland. A referendum recently decided to limit the number of foreigners.

An average of 199 inhabitants live per km2. In the Alps this is 30 per km2 and on the Swiss Plateau more than 250 per km2. About 74% of the population lives in urban areas. These large differences are of course a result of the landscape of Switzerland.

The largest cities are Zurich (1.37 million inhabitants), Basel, Geneva, the capital Bern, Lausanne and Winterthur.

The average life expectancy is 82.6 years, men 80.3 and women 85.1 years. (2017)

Language

Language map SwitzerlandPhoto:Marco Zanoli Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

The four main languages of Switzerland are German (65%), French (18%), Italian (10%) and Raeto-Roman (1%). Most of the population is bilingual. The Swiss Constitution of 1938 stipulates that all languages are officially and legally equal. Most of the German-speaking Swiss also speak Schwyzerdütsch, a variant of German and very difficult to understand.

Most cantons have one official language. Only in the canton of Graubünden do they speak German, Italian and Raeto-Romance. French is the predominant language in the cantons of Vaud, Neuchâtel and Geneva. In Ticino it is Italian. In Bern, Friborg and Valais German and French. German / Schwyzerdütsch is the official language in the other cantons. Quadrilingualism arose when, after migration around the 6th century, the Burgundians and Alemanni spread the French language in the west and the German language in the east. Until then, Latin was spoken in “Helvetia”. That Latin goes back to Roman rule. The Alemanni and with it the German language failed to reach those areas. Thus a kind of folk Latin developed that grew into an independent language that was recognized as the fourth official language in 1938. The number of dialects in all languages, especially in the German-speaking part, is very large.

Religion

Zwingli, SwitzerlandPhoto:CEphoto, Uwe Aranas CrC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Christianity spread across Swiss territory early on through Gaul and Northern Italy. This happened mainly through the Romans and through merchants. The actual Christianization took place mainly in the early Middle Ages by the nobility, the clergy, Irish monks and monasteries. A well-known figure is Zwingli, an admirer of Erasmus, who started the Reformation from Switzerland in the 16th century.

Calvijn, SwitzerlandPhoto:Public domain

Calvin, who resides in Switzerland, was also an important church reformer. It was also he who managed to unify the Reformed churches. The Catholic and Reformed cantons often fought (1531 and as late as 1847). Since 1848 all religions in Switzerland have the same rights. At present, 47.6% are Roman Catholic, 44.3% Protestant, 0.3% Old Catholic, and 0.3% Jewish. The Roman Catholic Church in Switzerland is not a separate church province, but has six dioceses directly dependent on the Holy See. Geneva is home to the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran, Reformed and Methodist World Unions.

Society

State structure

Parliament building SwitzerlandPhoto:Floofy Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

Switzerland is a democratic federal state and has consisted of 23 cantons and 3 semi-cantons since 1976. Switzerland has been a republic since 1848. The cantons have their own government and parliament, the “Kantonsrat”, their own constitution and their own jurisdiction. Its members are immediately elected for four years. Universal suffrage from the age of 18 has only existed in Switzerland since 3 March 1991. Active and passive women's suffrage was not introduced at the federal level until 1971. On cantonal resp. at municipal level it has only been implemented gradually; in 1990 it was introduced in the last canton (Appenzell). The Bundesversammlung, the legislative power, consists of two chambers: the Nationalrat (second chamber) and the Ständerat (first chamber). The Nationalrat (200 members) has one elected representative per 30,000 inhabitants, and each canton has at least one seat. The Ständerat has two members from each canton, a total of 46. The Bundesversammlung elects the members of the Bundesrat, comparable to the Dutch cabinet. The seven members each run a ministry and are responsible for nationally important matters such as foreign policy, defense, finance and judicial legislation. One of the seven members is President of the Bundesrat for a year and also President of the Federal Republic.

Result EU referendum SwitzerlandPhoto:Paasikivi Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

The Swiss people can request a referendum on federal laws and general union decisions and are even obliged to do so in the case of constitutional changes. One also has the right of initiative, a request for constitutional amendments. Only in 1971 did women receive universal suffrage.

Switzerland CantonsPhoto:Poulpy Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported no changes made

Administrative division

The large cantons are divided into districts (Amtsbezirke) and consist of a number of municipalities. Each district is headed by a prefect (Regierungsstatthalter), who represents the cantonal government. The nearly 3000 municipalities play an important role in Swiss democracy. In many areas the municipality decides; in the event of a difference of opinion, the cantonal government takes action. Typical of this important role is that a foreigner who wants to acquire Swiss nationality must first be accepted as a citizen in a municipality; if that is the case, he will receive a pass as a citizen of a canton. For the current political situation see chapter history.

Education

University of Zurich, SwitzerlandPhoto:CEphoto, Uwe Aranas CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The state only provides general guidelines that the quality of education must at least meet. Education is actually arranged at the cantonal level in the first instance. In many cases, especially with regard to primary education, educational matters are arranged by the municipalities and also paid to a large extent by the municipalities. Primary education is free in all cantons. Compulsory education has existed in all cantons since 1874, but the compulsory school age may differ per canton. Each canton has its own rules and laws regarding all forms of education. Education is compulsory throughout the country, which varies from eight to ten years. Lessons are given in the four official languages and at the 'Volksschulen' learning at least two of the official languages is compulsory. Secondary education lasts three to five years and consists of vocational education, pre-higher education and pre-university education. There are seven universities: in Basel, Bern, Zurich and St. Gallen (all German-speaking) and in Friborg, Geneva, Neuchâtel and Lausanne (all French-speaking).

Higher education also includes two technical colleges in Zurich and Lausanne, a university of applied sciences and social sciences in St. Gallen and a theological faculty in Lucerne. Switzerland also has many special professional training courses, such as hotel vocational schools, art academies, conservatories, etc., and many private schools and boarding schools. These are often visited by foreigners.

Economy

General

Image Roger Federer on a Swiss FrancPhoto:CharisTra Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

Switzerland is a prosperous and modern market economy with low unemployment, a highly educated workforce, and a GDP per capita that is among the highest in the world ($ 62,100 in 2017). The economy benefits from a highly developed services sector, led by financial services and an industry specializing in technology and knowledge-based manufacturing. Economic and political stability, transparent legal system, good infrastructure, efficient capital markets and low corporate taxation have made Switzerland one of the most competitive economies in the world. The fate of the Swiss economy is closely linked to that of its neighboring countries in the eurozone, which buy half of all Swiss exports. The global financial crisis of 2008 and the resulting economic downturn in 2009 brought export demand to a halt and triggered a mild recession. The Swiss economy started to recover in 2010. The independent SNB has maintained its zero interest rate policy and implemented important market interventions to prevent the Swiss franc from becoming too strong. Despite this, the strength of the franc has caused Swiss exports to become less competitive and growth to slow to less than 2% per year during 2011-13. In 2017, growth was 1.7%. Switzerland has also reformed banking secrecy under increasing pressure from neighboring countries, the EU, the US and international institutions. The government has negotiated its double taxation agreements with numerous countries, including the US, and is considering the option of imposing taxes on foreigners' bank deposits. These steps will have a lasting impact on Switzerland's long history of banking secrecy.

Industry

Prototypes Swatch watches, SwitzerlandPhoto:Max92 fr Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Switzerland itself has no significant raw materials. That is why imported raw materials are processed into high-quality industrial products, especially in equipment and machine construction, almost all of which are destined for export. Major products are agricultural machinery, locomotives, aircraft parts, printing presses and diesel engines. Other important industries are the graphics and metallurgical industry. Switzerland has been known since the 16th century for its watch and clock industry and later the related manufacture of measuring and control equipment. After a collapsing market due to competition from countries in the Far East (especially Japan), things have been going in the right direction since the introduction of the Swatch watch in 1983.

The chemical industry, specializing in particular in high-quality pharmaceuticals, is an important industry. The number of employees in the industry has risen sharply. The main industrial centers are Zurich, Winterthur, Basel, Bern, Baden, St. Gallen, and Geneva.

Agriculture, livestock and forestry

Emmenthaler, SwitzerlandPhoto:StaraBlazkova Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Only a small part of the area of Switzerland is suitable for agriculture, but thanks to very modern agricultural techniques, Switzerland can provide much of its need for food itself. 3.3% of the working population is still employed in agriculture. Swiss agriculture, mainly located on the Swiss Plateau, mainly produces sugar beets, fodder crops, grains, vegetables, apples and pears. Switzerland is primarily a livestock country. Dairy, milk and chocolate products are an important export product. Well-known cheeses are Gruyère and Emmental cheese.

Wine production amounts to approximately 3 million hectoliters per year and is mainly for domestic use. The largest wine regions are in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. 25% of Switzerland is covered with forest. The wood is used for house building and as an energy product. Fearful of erosion, a young specimen must be planted for every tree that is cut.

Banking

Swiss National BankPhoto:Marc-Lautenbacher CCAttribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

Due to the neutrality policy and strict banking secrecy, banking and insurance was and still is another important pillar of the Swiss economy. Zurich is the center of these activities. In addition to all Swiss banks and insurance companies, all major foreign banks are also located here. Most banks are located at Paradeplatz.

The central bank is the Schweizerische Nationalbank, whose headquarters are divided into a division in Zurich and one in Bern. The central bank is responsible for, among other things, the circulation of banknotes and supervises the other banking system, which supervision is more limited than in most other countries.

The cantonal banks, which are often owned by the cantons, are typical of Swiss banking. Their activities are therefore limited to the territory of their canton.

Trade

Export SwitzerlandPhoto:AJG Simoes, CA Hidalgo CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Foreign trade is very important to the Swiss economy. The main export products are: pharmaceuticals, chemicals, clocks, watches, measuring and regulating equipment, machinery and technical equipment. The main buyers are the EU countries (mainly Germany) and the United States. The total value of exports was $ 313.5 billion in 2017.

Imported are: machines, vehicles, iron and steel products, foodstuffs. Main suppliers are the EU countries, the United States and China. The total value of the imports was $ 264.5 billion in 2017.

Traffic

Gotthard tunnel SwitzerlandPhoto:Grzegorz Swiech Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported no chnges made

Due to its location, Switzerland is an important transit country for both passenger and freight transport. The road network is therefore in excellent condition. The many tunnels are important for good traffic flow.

In 1980, the Saint Gotthard car tunnel, then the longest in the world, was opened. In 2007, Switzerland gained a rail tunnel through the Alps: the Lötschberg tunnel. At 35 kilometers, the tunnel is the longest railway tunnel in the world after the Channel Tunnel (55) and the Japanese Seikan Tunnel (54).

The railway network, which is almost entirely electrified, is largely operated by the Swiss Federal Railways and for local transport there are many smaller bus and rail companies. The occupancy rate is the highest in Europe and, after Japan, even in the world.

Shipping traffic, especially on the many lakes, is maintained by state shipping companies and partly by private shipping companies and is of great importance for tourist traffic. Switzerland also has a considerable fleet of vessels for navigation on the Rhine. Despite having no ports, Switzerland still has a merchant fleet, which has its home port in foreign ports.

The national airline is Swiss International Air Lines. Zurich, Bern, Basel and Geneva have international airports. Tourism is one of the main sources of income and a significant employer.

Holidays and Sightseeing

Alps, SwitzerlandPhoto:Dirk Beyer Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Switzerland has a long experience of mass tourism, which is also reflected in the fact that numerous famous hotel vocational schools are located in the country. The Alps are of course Switzerland's biggest draw. In the winter season there are plenty of ski, snowboard and cross-country skiing options. Due to the high altitude and the many glaciers, the season is long and guaranteed snow.

In summer, hiking is the favorite activity of the tourists. There are more than 50,000 km of hiking trails. There are excellent water sports options in the many lakes. Basel, Lucerne, Bernand Zurich are cities with a good cultural offer.

Münster Cathedral in Bern, SwitzerlandPhoto:Andrew Bossi Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic no changes made

In Bern you can visit the gothic Münster cathedral built between 1421 and 1893. The stained glass windows and rich carvings immediately catch the eye when you visit the Münster cathedral. The Münster cathedral also houses one of the few sculpture collections that survived the Iconoclasm in Bern. The images depicting the Day of Judgment attract many visitors.

Zurich, SwitzerlandPhoto:MadGeographer Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Zurich is known for its Altstadt, besides the lake. This includes the Gothic Basilica Fraumünster with three naves and stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall. On the other side of the river you can see the Grossmünster with its two towers. Another point of interest is the Town Hall, which is a fine example of the late Renaissance architectural style from the seventeenth century.

Jungfraujoch station, SwitzerlandPhoto:Mike Lehmann Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Switzerland also has the highest train station in the world. Jungfraujoch station offers one of the most spectacular views in Switzerland. Via a nine-kilometer-long rack railway across the north face of the Eiger you reach this highest train station in Europe, at 3,454 meters.

Lake Geneva, SwitzerlandPhoto:Dmitry A. Mottl Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

Lake Geneva is one of the largest and most famous lakes in Europe. Lake Geneva has an area of nearly six hundred square kilometers and a maximum depth of 310 meters. The lake is surrounded by beautiful Swiss mountain landscapes. The lake's most striking landmark is the Jet d'Eau, a famous fountain that spouts over 140 meters high.

The Rhine Falls is the largest waterfall in Europe and is located near Schaffhausen, Switzerland, in the Rhine, close to the border with Germany. The Rhine Falls is approximately 150 meters wide and 23 meters high. This spectacular waterfall is a major tourist attraction. You can sail with a boat right in front of the waterfall.

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Sources

Dominicus, J. / Zwitserland
Gottmer

Lamme, M. / Zwitserland
Kosmos-Z&K

Lannoo’s autoboek Zwitserland
Lannoo

Mandos, M. / West- en Midden-Zwitserland
ANWB

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated August 2021
Copyright: Team Landenweb