Land area: 41,300 square kilometers
Population: 7.4 million (20 per cent are foreigners)
GDP: $319.9 billion or SFr433.36 billion
GDP per person: $43,000 or SFr58,816
National languages: German (63.7 per cent), French (20.4 per cent), Italian (6.5 per cent), Romansh (0.5 per cent)
Religions: Roman Catholic (41.8 per cent; 2000), Protestant (35.3 per cent), Muslim (311,000), Jewish (17,900); no religious affiliation (15.4 per cent).
The history of Switzerland has followed a broadly different course from that of its European neighbors, mainly because no ruler since the 14th century was able to claim more than a theoretical control over the small, well - organised and prosperous group of cantons that comprise it. In the period between 1315 and 1388, they inflicted a series of crushing defeats on the armies of the Dukes of Austria, resulting in several other cantons joining the original three in the Swiss Confederation. Their location left them well placed to interfere in the interminable power struggles of the period, and their influence was backed up by the formidable reputation of their army probably the most powerful in Europe at the end of the 15th century.
The Reformation led to a division in Swiss society between the followers of the reformer Zwingli (later, Calvin) and the Catholics. The bitter controversy considerably reduced Swiss influence in Europe and the Confederation was lucky to survive a series of defeats. Swiss independence from the Holy Roman Empire was one of the results of the Peace of Westphalia (1648) that concluded the Thirty Year War, in which Switzerland had suffered badly. In the following 100 years, little progress was made towards a formal union of the cantons and the religious controversy rumbled on; the dominance of the Protestants was not established until after the Second Villmergen War in 1712.
The dramatic events of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire resulted in a confusing period, with much of the country being annexed by France. Independence was restored by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 (which also laid down the principle of the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland) but the repressive policies of the cantons and the lack of any central power continued to work against political unity and economic growth. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the federal government began to be truly effective, although the cantons continued to enjoy wide powers and do so to this day.
Domestic politics since 1945 have been dominated by four political parties the Social Democrats, Radical Democrats, the Swiss Peoples Party and the Christian Democratic Peoples Party, who have consistently governed the country in various coalition combinations. The general election in October 1999 was notable for the substantial gains made by the Swiss People's Party (SVP), which moved sharply to the right during the 1990s and sought to build its electoral position by exploiting fears about the level of foreign immigration into Switzerland. In common with other European far-right parties, the strategy has been fairly successful and the SVP made yet further gains at the most recent poll in October 2003 gaining almost 28 per cent of the vote.
The principal long-term question in Swiss politics has been relations with the European Union, which accounts for 50 per cent of Switzerland's trade. The main popular concerns are the likely erosion of cantonal power (a central feature of the Swiss political system), immigration levels and the loss of the country's cherished neutrality. The division was also apparent from the result of the referendum on Swiss membership of the European Economic Area, a free-trade agreement between the EU and EFTA (of which Switzerland is a member), held in December 1992. Opponents of the pact narrowly won. Among the people, there is a rough division by age: younger people tend to favour closer links with Europe; the older tend to place more value on neutrality. Given Switzerland’s continuing prosperity, economic arguments are rarely heard, although there is a broad acceptance especially in the financial community that the Euro will become a standard feature of commercial life in the near future. In 2001, two years after the inauguration of the Euro, the Swiss people voted again in a referendum to enhance links with the EU while endorsing a promise by the major parties that they would never countenance actually joining the EU. This appears to have put an end to the debate for the time being.
The following year, it was Switzerland’s famed reputation for banking secrecy that came under scrutiny from both the EU and USA, as part of a global crackdown on money laundering and large-scale tax evasion. Again, the Swiss found themselves divided between maintaining a cherished tradition of confidentiality and being a good international citizen.
The weather in Switzerland varies greatly between different places. The highest precipitation is in Rochers de Nave, a mountain near Montreux with approximately 260 cm per year. Precipitation is generally higher in the western part of Switzerland where often clouds come in from the Atlantic coast. Also the parts south of the Alps get quite some rain, Lugano for example receives about 175 cm per year. If the winds blow in clouds from the south, they get blocked at the Alps and drop their water. Usually this causes dry and warm weather north of the Alps, often accompanied with heavy winds and an extremely good view where the mountains appear much closer than they are. This phenomena is known as Foehn ("F?hn"). Many people claim that they get headaches under these conditions.
On the other hand, the valleys Engadin in the very east and Valais in the southwest of Switzerland receive relatively little precipitation. Scoul receives about 70 cm, Staldenried about 53 cm.
The average amount of sunshine per year is approximately 1700 hours. Some villages in the canton Valais claim that they get as much as 2300 hours of sunshine per year.
A traditional source of income in Switzerland is tourism, although nowadays Swiss travelling abroad spend almost as much as foreign tourists coming here.
However, the balance remains positive, and tourism is the third biggest export industry, employing 250,000 people, behind metalworking, engineering, and pharmaceuticals.
There is no region of Switzerland that does not aspire to some form of tourism. The basic subdivisions include mountain resorts, with climbing in summer and skiing in winter, and the many lakeside resorts that offer water sports. Many Swiss cities are in part also resorts, and then there are countless rural areas, not least in the Jura mountains, which offer a less dramatic form of tourism.
Most tourist areas offer or form a combination of events and activities. The large cities are as much lakeside, congress, and museum venues as they are meeting places for business people.Promotion of Switzerland as a destination is the responsibility of Switzerland Tourism In general, Switzerland now faces far more competition from other destinations, while state expenditure on promotion remains relatively modest. Switzerland Tourism is now tapping markets such as India and China, which have increasing numbers of prosperous people.
The Switzerland economy is based on a highly qualified labour force performing highly skilled work. The main areas include microtechnology, hitech, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, as well as banking and insurance know-how.
Most of the people working in Switzerland are employed by small and medium-sized enterprises, which play an extremely important role in the Swiss economy.
GDP: $319.9 billion or SFr 433.36 billion
GDP per person: $43,000 or SFr 58,816
The Federal Constitution lays down the right to education and the obligation to attend school, but it is the cantons that are responsible for schooling.
This means there are currently 26 differing education systems in Switzerland, although there have been calls to harmonise the Swiss educational system.
Most pupils start school at the age of seven, after one or two years of nursery school. They usually stay in school for nine years before going on to higher education or training.Overall, cantons are permitted to take their own independent decisions when it comes to the structure of their education systems, syllabuses and the dates of school holidays.
However, there is a Conference of Cantonal Directors of Public Education,which ensures contact and harmony between the cantons.
Critics point to two main problems with the present system. It is not always easy to transfer between different cantonal systems and the school day is not always compatible with the hours of working parents.
These and other shortcomings are being addressed by a comprehensive list of proposals put forward by the cantonal education directors. They want two years of nursery school and nine years of school for all, as well as binding regulations on the teaching of foreign languages, and all-day schools. Implementation would not be until 2009.
CH: Confoederatio Helvetica
Switzerland in its modern form came into being in 1848. Until that time, Switzerland was not a real state, but a loose alliance of autonomous cantons whose degree of cooperation with each other varied from one period to another. Before 1848 the cantons were free to secede from the confederation if they wanted to.Switzerland’s 1848 constitution made it into a federal state, giving it a central authority that counterbalanced and limited the power of the individual cantons. Some areas, such as foreign policy, are now solely in the hands of the central government. The cantons no longer have the right to secede.
The constitution was designed to balance as fairly as possible the interests of the state as a whole with the interests of the individual cantons.For historical reasons, Switzerland’s official name is still the "Helvetic Confederation" (in Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica) from which the country international abbreviation, CH, is derived. However, this is in fact a misnomer: a confederation is an alliance of autonomous entities. Since 1848 Switzerland has been a federation: a grouping of entities with a central authority.The word Helvetic refers to the Helvetians, one of the many Celtic tribes living in what is now Switzerland at the time of the Roman conquest.