Switzerland, formally called the Swiss Confederation, is a Federal Republic on the European continent. It is made up of 26 cantons, and the City of Bern is the seat of the federal authorities. The country is located in central-western Europe, bordering Italy in the south, France in the west, Germany in the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein in the east. Switzerland has an area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 mi2) and is geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura Mountains, making it a landlocked country. While the Alps occupy most of the territory, Switzerland’s population of about eight million people is concentrated mainly in the Central Plateau, where the largest cities are located: in particular the two cosmopolitan cities and the economic centres of Zurich and Geneva.
The foundation of the former Confederation dates back to the late Middle Ages and is the result of a series of military victories against Austria and Burgundy. Switzerland’s independence from the Holy Roman Empire was officially recognised in the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. It has a history of military neutrality dating back to the Reformation, and has not engaged in international wars since 1815, having only joined the UN in 2002. However, it has an active foreign policy and participates frequently in peace-making efforts throughout the world. Switzerland is not only the birthplace of the Red Cross, but is also home to many international organisations, including the second largest UN office. At the European level, Switzerland is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association, but is not a member of the European Union or the European Economic Area. Nevertheless, it is part of the Schengen area as well as the European single market established with bilateral treaties.
Located at the intersection of German- and Romansh-speaking Europe, the country is divided between 4 linguistic and culturally significant regions: German, French, Italian and Romansh. While the majority of people are German-speaking, the national identity of Switzerland has its roots in a common historical context, with shared ideals including federalism as well as direct democracy and the Alpine symbolism.
According to the IMF, Switzerland is one of the most highly developed countries in the world, having the highest nominal income per adult and the 8th largest gross domestic income per capita. The country is ranked #1 or close to #1 in the world by several performance indicators, which include transparency of government, civil liberties, standard of living, economic competitiveness, as well as human development. Zurich and Geneva are each among the world’s top cities for quality of life, with the former ranking second in the world, according to Mercer.
Stretching over the northern and southern sides of the Alps of west central Europe, Switzerland covers a wide diversity of landscapes as well as climatic zones within a limited area of 41,285 km². A population of 8 million people inhabits Switzerland, which results in an average density of 195 people per km². The more mountainous southern half of the country is much more sparsely populated than the northern half. In the largest canton, Graubünden, which lies entirely in the Alps, the population density drops to 27/km².
It is made up of 3 basic geographical formations: the Swiss Alps in the south, the Swiss Plateau in the west, and the Jura Mountains. The Alps are a high mountain range that runs through the south-central part of the country and account for about 60% of the country’s total area. The majority of the Swiss population lives on the Swiss Plateau. The highlands of the Swiss Alps contain many glaciers, with a total area of 1,063 km2. The headwaters of major rivers, such as the Rhine, Inn, Ticino and Rhone, flow throughout Europe from these valleys. The hydrological network includes the largest freshwater bodies in Central and Western Europe, such as the lakes of Geneva, Bodensee and Maggiore. Switzerland has more than 1500 lakes and contains 6% of Europe’s freshwater. Lakes and glaciers cover about 6% of the country’s surface. The largest lake is Lake Geneva in western Switzerland, which is shared with France. The Rhône is both the main source and the main outlet of Lake Geneva. Lake Constance is the 2nd largest lake in Switzerland. Similar to Lake Geneva, it is located halfway up the Rhine River on the border between Austria and Germany. While the Rhône flows into the Mediterranean near the French Camargue and the Rhine into the North Sea near Rotterdam in the Netherlands, some 1,000 kilometres apart, both sources are only about 22 kilometres apart in the Swiss Alps.
48 of the Swiss mountains are 4,000 m above sea level or higher. At 4,634 m, Monte Rosa is the highest, although the Matterhorn (4,478 m) is often considered the most famous mountain. Both are in the Pennine Alps in the canton of Valais, on the border with Italy. A section of the Lauterbrunnen with 72 waterfalls above a deep glacial valley in the Bernese Alps is famous for the Jungfrau (4,158m), the Eiger and Mönch, and many picturesque valleys in the region. In the southeast, the long Engadine Valley, which includes the St. Moritz region of Graubünden, is also famous, and the highest peak in the neighboring Bernina Alps is Piz Bernina (4,049 m).
The heavily populated northern part of the country, which covers about 30% of the country, is known as the Swiss Plateau. It has larger open and hilly landscapes, partly wooded, partly open pastures, mostly with grazing herds, or vegetable and fruit fields, but it is still hilly. Large lakes are found here and the largest Swiss cities are in this part of the country.
In 2012, Switzerland had a population of just over eight million. Since then, growth has stabilised and, like most European countries, Switzerland faces an ageing population, although annual growth is expected to remain constant until 2035, mainly due to immigration as well as a fertility rate that is close to its replacement level.
In 2012, resident foreigners accounted for 23.3 per cent of the population, one of the highest proportions in the developed world. Most of them (64 %) were from EU or EFTA countries. The largest group was made up of Italians, with 15.6 % of the foreign population, and was followed very closely by Germans (15.2 %), people from Portugal (12.7 %), French immigrants (5.6 %), people from Serbia (5.3 %), people from Turkey (3.8 %), people from Spain (3.7 %) and people from Austria (2 %). Immigrants from Sri Lanka, mainly former Tamil refugees, were the largest group among people of Asian origin (6.3 %).
The 2012 statistics additionally showed that 34.7 % of the permanently living population in Switzerland aged 15 years and older (about 2.33 million) had an immigrant background. One third of this population (853,000) had Swiss citizenship. Four-fifths of people with an immigrant background were immigrants (first generation foreigners and naturalized Swiss by birth), while one-fifth were born in Switzerland (second generation foreigners and naturalized Swiss by birth).
In the 2000s, national and international institutions expressed concern about the perceived rise in xenophobia, particularly in some political campaigns. In its response to a critical report, the Federal Council noted that “racism is unfortunately present in Switzerland”, but stated that the high proportion of foreigners in the country, together with the “‘generally straightforward and smooth process of integration for foreigners’, highlights Switzerland’s open-mindedness.
There is no official state religion in Switzerland, though most cantons ( with the exception of Geneva and Neuchâtel) acknowledge the official churches, which are either the Catholic Church or the Swiss Reformed Church.
Christianity is the predominant religion in Switzerland (about 71% of the resident population and 75% of Swiss citizens), divided between the Catholic Church (38.21% of the population), the Swiss Reformed Church (26.93%), the other Protestant churches (2.89%) and the other Christian denominations (2.79%). Evangelism is becoming more and more active these days.. Immigration has made Islam (4.95 %) and Eastern Orthodoxy (about 2 %) important minority religions. According to a 2015 Gallup International poll, 12 % of the Swiss described themselves as “convinced atheists”.
Other minority Christian denominations in the 2000 census were Neopietism (0.44 %), Pentecostalism (0.28 %, mainly in the Swiss Pentecostal Mission), Methodism (0.13 %), the New Apostolic Church (0.45 %), The Jehovah’s Witnesses (0.28%), some other Protestant denominations (0.20%), Old Catholic Church (0.18%). Non-Christian religions are Hinduism (0.38 per cent), Buddhism (0.29 %), Judaism (0.25 %) and other (0.11 %); 4.3 % gave no information. 21.4 % reported being non-practising in 2012, i.e. not belonging to any church or other religious body (agnostic, atheist or simply not belonging to any official religion).
Historically, the country was roughly balanced between Catholics and Protestants, with a complex patchwork of majorities in most of the country. Geneva converted to Protestantism in 1536, shortly before John Calvin arrived there. It gained international fame as Protestant Rome and became the base for reformers such as Theodore Beza and William Farel. Zurich became another stronghold at the same time, with Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger at its head. One canton, Appenzell, was officially divided into a Catholic and a Protestant part in 1597. The large cities and their cantons (Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich and Basel) used to be predominantly Protestant. Central Switzerland, Valais, Ticino, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Jura and Fribourg are traditionally Catholic. The Swiss constitution of 1848, under the impression of the disputes between the Catholic and Protestant cantons that culminated in the Sonderbund War, deliberately defined a concordance state that allowed Catholics and Protestants to live together peacefullyA 1980 effort to completely separate church and state has been rejected by 78.9 % of all voters. Some traditionally Protestant cantons and cities now have a slight Catholic majority, not because they have seen an increase in membership, quite the contrary, but only since around 1970 has a steadily growing minority not belonged to any church or other religious body.
Switzerland has a stable, prosperous and high-tech economy and enjoys great wealth, ranked as the richest country in the world per capita in several rankings. In 2011, it was the richest country in the world per capita (where “wealth” includes both financial and non-financial assets), while the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2013 showed Switzerland to be the nation with the world’ highest average level of wealth per adult in 2013. Switzerland is the nineteenth largest economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP and the thirty-sixth largest in terms of purchasing power parity. Despite its small size, it is the 20th largest exporter. Switzerland has the highest European score in the Index of Economic Freedom 2010, but also offers a large coverage of public services. It has higher nominal GDP per capita compared to the larger Western and Central European economies and as well as Japan. According to the World Bank and IMF, Switzerland ranks 8th in the world in terms of GDP per capita when adjusted for purchasing power parity.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, Switzerland’s economy is the most competitive in the world, while the EU considers it to be the most innovative country in Europe. For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was by far the richest country in Europe (measured by GDP – per capita). The median household income in Switzerland for 2007 was estimated at $137,094 by purchasing power parity, while the median income was $95,824. Switzerland also has one of the largest fiscal balances as a percentage of GDP in the world.
Switzerland is home to several large multinational corporations. The largest Swiss companies by revenue are Glencore, Gumbol, Nestlé, Novartis, Hoffmann-La Roche, ABB, Mercuria Energy Group and Adecco. Also worth mentioning are UBS AG, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Barry Callebaut, Swiss Re, Tetra Pak, The Swatch Group and Swiss International Air Lines. Switzerland is considered one of the strongest economies in the world.
Switzerland’s most important economic sector is manufacturing. Manufacturing consists mainly of the production of speciality chemicals, health and pharmaceutical products, scientific and precision measuring instruments and musical instruments. Exported services account for one third of exports. The services sector – especially banking and insurance, tourism and international organisations – is another important economic sector for Switzerland.
About 3.8 million people work in Switzerland, and in 2004 about 25 % of the workforce was unionized. Switzerland has a more flexible labour market than neighbouring countries and the unemployment rate is very low. The unemployment rate rose from a low of 1.7% in June 2000 to a high of 4.4% in December 2009. In 2014, the unemployment rate is 3.2%. Population growth through net immigration is quite high at 0.52% of the population in 2004. The proportion of foreign citizens was 21.8% in 2004, about the same as in Australia. GDP per hour worked is the 16th highest in the world, at $49.46 international in 2012.
Switzerland has a predominantly private sector economy and low tax rates compared to the Western world; overall taxation is one of the lowest among developed countries. The slow growth that Switzerland experienced in the 1990s and early 2000s has brought greater support for economic reform and harmonisation with the European Union. Only about 37% of residents actually own their homes, which is one of the lowest homeownership rates in Europe, according to Credit Suisse.
The Swiss federal budget was CHF 62.8 billion in 2010, equivalent to 11.35% of the country’s GDP that year; however, regional (cantonal) and municipal budgets are not counted as part of the federal budget and the total government expenditure ratio is closer to 33.8% of GDP. The main sources of federal revenue are VAT (33%) and direct federal tax (29%) and the main expenditure is in the areas of social affairs and finance & taxes. Federal expenditure has increased from 7% of GDP in 1960 to 9.7% in 1990 and to 10.7% in 2010. While Social Welfare and Finance & Taxation grew from 35% in 1990 to 48.2% in 2010, there was a significant reduction in spending in Agriculture and National Defence; from 26.5% to 12.4% (2015 estimate).
Agri-protectionism – a very rare occurrence in Switzerland’s Free Trade Policy – was a contributing factor to high food prices. The liberalisation of product markets lags behind many EU countries, according to the OECD. Nevertheless, domestic purchasing power is among the best in the world. With the exception of agriculture, the economic and trade barriers between the EU and Switzerland have been minimal, and Switzerland maintains global free trade agreements.