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Confoederatio Helvetica
Confédération suisse
Confederazione Svizzera
Confederaziun svizra
Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft
Flag of Switzerland Coat of Arms of Switzerland
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
Motto: (none)
Anthem: Swiss Psalm
Location of Switzerland
Capital Bern (federal capital)
46°57′ N 7°27′ E
Largest city Zurich
Official languages German, French, Italian, Romansh
Government Federal republic
Moritz Leuenberger (Vice Pres. 2005)
Pascal Couchepin
Joseph Deiss
Samuel Schmid (Pres. 2005)
Micheline Calmy-Rey
Christoph Blocher
Hans-Rudolf Merz
- Declared
- Recognised
Federal state
Federal Charter
August 1, 1291
October 24, 1648
 • Total
 • Water (%)
41,285 km² (132nd)
 • 2003 est.
 • 2000 census
 • Density
7,399,100 (92nd)
181/km² (44th)
 • Total
 • Per capita
2003 estimate
$233 billion (35th)
$30,186 (8th)
Currency Swiss franc (CHF)
Time zone
 • Summer (DST)
Internet TLD .ch
Calling code +41

The Swiss Confederation or Switzerland (Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica) is a landlocked federal republic in Europe, bordering 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 organizations.

Confoederatio Helvetica, is the Latin official name. The use of Latin avoids choosing one of the four official languages. The abbreviation (CH) is similarly used; for example, it is used as Switzerland's ccTLD, .ch. The Latin title Confoederatio Helvetica means Helvetic Confederation. The titles commonly used in French, Italian and Romansh translate as Swiss Confederation, while the German name of Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft translates roughly as "Swiss Commonwealth of the Covenant".



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.

1548 view of Zug
1548 view of Zug

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, the armies of the French Revolution conquered Switzerland and imposed a new unified constitution. This centralised the government of the country and effectively abolished the cantons.

The new regime was known as the Helvetic Republic and was highly unpopular. It had been imposed by a foreign invading army, had destroyed centuries of tradition, including the right to worship, and had made Switzerland nothing more than a French satellite state. Uprisings were common and only the presence of French troops kept them from succeeding. The brutal French suppression of the Nidwalden revolt in September was especially infamous.

When war broke out between France and other countries Switzerland found itself being invaded by other outside forces from Austria and Russia.

The Swiss were divided mainly between "Republicans" who were in favour of a centralised government, and "Federalists" who wanted to restore autonomy to the cantons. The violent conflict between both sides was never-ending.

In Paris in 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte organised a meeting of the leading Swiss politicians from both sides. The result was the Act of Mediation which largely restored Swiss autonomy and introduced a Confederation of 19 Cantons.

From then on much of Swiss politics would be about preserving the cantons' right to self-rule and the need for a central government.

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. In 1891, the constitution was revised with unusually strong elements of direct democracy, which remains unique even today. Since then, continued political, economic, and social improvement has characterised Swiss history.

In 1920, Switzerland joined the League of Nations, and in 1963 the Council of Europe.

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, it ultimately didn't occur. The massive mobilization of Swiss armed forces under the leadership of General Henri Guisan is often cited as a decisive factor that the German invasion was never initiated. Modern historical findings, such as the research done by the Bergier commission, indicate that another major factor was the continued trade by Swiss banks with Nazi Germany.

The Grossmünster of Zurich during Christmas Season
The Grossmünster of Zurich during Christmas Season

Women were granted the right to vote in the first cantons in 1959, at the federal level in 1971, in the last canton, Appenzell Innerrhoden, 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 favour of a completely revised federal constitution.

In 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations, leaving the Vatican as the last widely recognized state without full UN membership. 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, by 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. Switzerland (together with Liechtenstein) has been surrounded by the EU since Austria's membership in 1995. On June 5, 2005, Swiss voters agreed, by a 55% majority, to join the Schengen treaty, a result that was welcomed by EU commentators as a sign of goodwill by a Switzerland that is traditionally perceived as isolationist.


Main article: Politics of Switzerland

House of Parliament in Bern
House of Parliament in Bern

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.

Under the 1999 constitution, cantons hold all powers not specifically delegated to the federation.

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 pre-eminent role in directing the legislative process as well as executing federal laws. The President of the Confederation is elected from the seven to assume special representative functions for a one-year term.

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.

See also:

Direct democracy

Switzerland features a system of government not seen at the national level on any other place on earth: Direct democracy.

Any citizen may challenge a law that has been passed by parliament. If he is able to gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days, a national vote has to be scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority whether to accept or reject the law.

Also, any citizen may seek a decision on an amendment they want to make to the constitution. For such an amendment initiative to be organized, the signatures of 100,000 voters must be collected within 18 months. Such a popular initiative may be formulated as a general proposal or - much more often - be put forward as a precise new text whose wording can no longer be changed by parliament and the government. After a successful vote gathering, the federal council may create a counterproposal to the proposed amendment and put it to vote on the same day. Such counterproposals are usually a compromise between the status quo and the wording of the initiative. Voters will again decide in a national vote whether to accept the initiative amendment, the counterproposal put forward by the government or both. If both are accepted, one has to additionally signal a preference. Initiatives have to be accepted by a double majority of both the popular votes and a majority of the states.

Energy politics

The energy generated in Switzerland comprises around 40 percent nuclear power and 60 percent from hydroelectricity.

On May 18, 2003, two referenda regarding the future of nuclear power in Switzerland were held. The referendum Electricity without nuclear asked for a decision on a nuclear power phase-out and Moratorium Plus asked about an extension an existing law forbidding the building of new nuclear power plants. Both were turned down: Moratorium Plus by a margin of 41.6% for and 58.4% opposed, and Electricity Without Nuclear by a margin of 33.7% for and 66.3% opposed. The former ten-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants was the result of a citizens' initiative voted on in 1990 which had passed with 54.5% Yes vs. 45.5% No votes (see Nuclear power phase-out#Switzerland for details).

Cantons (states)

Main article: Cantons of Switzerland

Wintertime view of Sent, in the eastern canton of Graubünden
Wintertime view of Sent, in the eastern canton of Graubünden

The Swiss Confederation consists of 26 cantons:

    [*] these Cantons are represented by only one councillor in the Council of States.

    Their populations vary between 15,000 (Appenzell Innerrhoden) and 1,253,500 (Zürich), and their area between 37 km² (Basel-Stadt) and 7,105 km² (Grisons). The Cantons comprise a total of 2,889 municipalities.

    The following are enclaves within Switzerland: Büsingen is territory of Germany, Campione d'Italia is territory of Italy.


    Main article: Geography of Switzerland

    Map of Switzerland (overview)
    Map of Switzerland (overview)

    With an area of 41,000 km², Switzerland is a small country. The population is around 7.4 million, resulting in a population density of 184 people per km².

    Switzerland comprises three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps, the Swiss plateau, and the Jura mountains.The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central-south of the country. Among 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.

    Map of Switzerland (detailed)
    Map of Switzerland (detailed)

    The northern, more populous part of the country is more open, but can still be mountainous, for example, in the Jura Mountains, a smaller range in the northwest. The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly between the localities, from harsh conditions on the high mountains to the often pleasant Mediterranean climate at Switzerland's southern tip.

    A zoomable map of Switzerland is available at either www.swissinfo-geo.org or www.swissgeo.ch; a zoomable satellite picture is at map.search.ch.

    See also: Swisstopo topographical survey, List of lakes of Switzerland, List of rivers of Switzerland, List of mountain passes in Switzerland.


    Main article: Economy of Switzerland

    Switzerland is a prosperous and stable modern market economy, with a per capita GDP that is higher than those of the big western European economies. For much of the 20th century Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin. However since the early 1990s it has suffered from slow growth, and as of 2005 it had fallen to fourth among European states with populations above one million in terms of Gross Domestic Product per capita at purchasing power parity, behind Ireland, Denmark and Norway (see list). Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association.

    In recent years, the Swiss have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with those of the European Union, in an effort to enhance their international competitiveness, but this has not produced strong growth. Full EU membership is a long-term objective of the Swiss government, but there is considerable popular sentiment against this. To this end, it has established an Integration Office under the Department of Foreign and Economic Affairs. 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 awaits ratification. The second series includes the Schengen treaty and the Dublin Convention. They continue to discuss further areas for cooperation. Preparatory discussions are being opened on four new areas: opening up the electricity market, participation in the European GPS system Galileo, cooperating with the European centre for disease prevention and recognising certificates of origin for food products. 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 through bilateral agreements.


    Main article: Demographics of Switzerland

    The languages of Switzerland: German (63.7%), French (19.2%), Italian (7.6%), Romansh (0.6%)
    The languages of Switzerland:
    German (63.7%),
    French (19.2%),
    Italian (7.6%),
    Romansh (0.6%)

    Switzerland sits at the crossroads of several major European cultures that have heavily influenced the country's languages and culture. Switzerland has three nationwide official languages (German (64%) in the north and centre, French (19%) to the west, and Italian (8%) in the south), plus a fourth national language that is considered official locally (Romansh, a Romance language spoken by a small minority (< 1%) in the southeastern canton of Graubünden and in parts of Ticino). The federal government is obliged to communicate in the three official languages. In the federal parliament, German, French and Italian are the official languages and simultaneous translation is provided. The German spoken in Switzerland is predominantly a group of dialects that are almost unintelligible to Germans and are collectively known as Swiss German, but written communication and broadcasts typically use standard German. Swiss French and Swiss Italian differ far less from their counterparts in France and Italy, respectively. Learning one of the other national languages at school is obligatory for all Swiss, so most Swiss are at least bilingual. English is considered by some as a Swiss lingua franca, and most Swiss people have some command of English; many Swiss documents and websites are available in English. Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 20% of the population.

    The most popular religion in Switzerland is Roman Catholicism (43% of the population). There are various Protestant denominations (35%), while immigration has brought Islam (4%) and Eastern Orthodoxy (2%) as sizeable minority religions. The stability and prosperity of Switzerland, combined with a linguistically diverse population, has led some to describe the country as a consensus, or consociational state.


    Main article: Culture of Switzerland

    Folkloric dance demonstration in Lausanne
    Folkloric dance demonstration in Lausanne

    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 homogeneous 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 Swiss are noted for their banks, their chocolate, their cheese, their pocket knives, their watches (particularly the famous Rolex), their private boarding schools and their strengths in engineering and the sciences.

    The tallest building in Switzerland is the Basler Messeturm.

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