Switzerland Fact File
Official name Swiss Confederation
Form of government Federal republic with two legislative bodies (Council of States and National Council)
Area 41,290 sq km (15,942 sq miles)
Time zone GMT + 1 hour
Projected population 2015 7,863,000
Population density 176.8 per sq km (458.0 per sq mile)
Life expectancy 79.9
Infant mortality (per 1,000) 4.4
Official languages German, French, Italian, Romansch
Other languages Spanish Literacy rate 99 %
Religions Roman Catholic 46.1 %, Protestant 40c Muslim 2.2%, Jewish 0.3% other 11.4%
Ethnic groups German-speaking Swiss 65%, French-speaking Swiss 18%, Italian-speaking Swiss 10%, Romansch 1%, other 6%
Currency Swiss franc
Economy Services 62 %, industry 34 %, agriculture 4%
GNP per capita US$ 31,700
Climate Temperate, varying with altitude; generally cold winters and warm, wet summers
Highest point Dufourspitze 4,634 m (15,203 ft)
Map reference Pages 288, 291, 294
Alandlocked country in central Europe, Switzerland shares borders with Italy to its south and southeast, France to its west, Germany to its north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to its east. This small nation has enjoyed a generally peaceful independence for more than 450 years, despite the conflicts that have often raged around it. Modern Switzerland dates back to the late thirteenth century when three German districts, or cantons, combined to form a federation. A century later other cantons had joined the federation, which survived as a unit despite linguistic differences and often intense and violent conflicts between Catholics and emerging Protestant groups. Although part of the Holy Roman Empire, and effectively under Habsburg domination, the Swiss cantons remained neutral during the Thirty Years War of 1618-48, at the end of which they were formally granted independence. In 1798 French revolutionary armies invaded Switzerland and declared it to be a centralized Helvetic Republic, named after Helvetia, the Roman province that had existed there in Roman times. In 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna declared Switzerland to be independent once more, as well as permanently neutral, and added two more cantons—Valais and the previously separate republic of Geneva.
The country has maintained this military neutrality ever since and its stance has been respected by its neighbors throughout numerous conflicts, including the First and Second World Wars. Religious tensions flared briefly in 1847, when the Catholic cantons seceded. The following year, however, a new constitution, inspired by that of the United States, re-established the former federation and defined Switzerland as a republic with a strong central government but with considerable powers still vested in indi-
vidual cantons. In 1874 a new constitution was adopted which essentially confirmed this division of power. Switzerland's central government, which controls foreign policy, railway and postal services, and the mint, consists of an elected bicameral parliament, with a president and vice president elected by the Federal Assembly from among the members of the Federal Council for a one-year term. Women were granted the vote only in 1971, and in some regions of the Appen-zell canton they still don't have suffrage.
Physical features and land use Switzerland
Mountains dominate the Swiss landscape making it Europe's most mountainous country. They cover seven-tenths of the land area. The rest of the country consists of an elevated central plateau on which the majority of the population lives and which is the center of the country's agricultural, industrial, and economic activity. This area is bordered by a number of large lakes and drained by the River Aare, which rises in Lake Neuchatel and flows northward into the Rhine, which constitutes Switzerland's border with Germany and part of Austria. Lake Neuchatel is overlooked by the lightly wooded Jura Mountains, which separate Switzerland from France. More than half of Switzerland is covered by the peaks and glaciers of the Alps, which sweep across the south of the country. The most spectacular sections are in the Pennine Alps along the southwestern frontier with Italy. Both the Rhone and the Rhine Rivers originate in this alpine region and drain it in opposite directions, flowing respectively through the two largest lakes in the country, which are Lake Geneva in the far southwest, and Lake Constance in the far northeast.
About one-quarter of Switzerland consists of forests, which are found mainly in the valleys and on the lower slopes. Cypresses and figs are prominent among the tree species. About one-tenth of the land is arable. Crop cultivation is concentrated in the area immediately to the east and southeast of the Jura and in the valleys of the Rhone and Rhine Rivers. Wheat, potatoes, and sugar beet are the main crops. The principal agricultural activity, however, is dairy farming, although pig raising is also significant. Switzerland produces less than half its food needs.
Switzerland is not well endowed with mineral resources. Most of the country's electricity is generated by hydropower, but a significant amount is provided by the country's five nuclear power plants. A sixth nuclear plant was planned but was cancelled in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.
Industry, commerce, and culture Switzerland
Switzerland has for centuries been a world leader in the production of precision instruments such as clocks and watches. Other industries which are vital to the country's prosperity include heavy engineering, textile manufacture, clothing, chemicals and food processing. Swiss chocolate, sought after the world over because of its high quality, is also a major contributor to the national economy. Tourism, centered mainly on the Alps, attracts more than 12 million visitors annually.
Banking is highly developed and is one of the country's key industries. Switzerland attracts almost half the world's foreign investment capital and is the base of numerous multinational companies.
Although the country is divided geographically among its predominantly German-, Italian- and French-speaking populations, Switzerland is now a unified nation and its people have a strong sense of common purpose. This is attributable in large measure to Switzerland's status as one of the world's most stable and prosperous countries, with a very high per capita income.