Facts about Switzerland

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The Castle of Chillon on Lake Geneva, SwitzerlandThe Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 as a defensive alliance among three cantons. In succeeding years, other localities joined the original three. The Swiss Confederation secured its independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. A constitution of 1848, subsequently modified in 1874, replaced the confederation with a centralized federal government. Switzerland's sovereignty and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers, and the country was not involved in either of the two World Wars. The political and economic integration of Europe over the past half century, as well as Switzerland's role in many UN and international organizations, has strengthened Switzerland's ties with its neighbors. However, the country did not officially become a UN member until 2002. Switzerland remains active in many UN and international organizations but retains a strong commitment to neutrality.

Geography of Switzerland

Central Europe, east of France, north of Italy
47 00 N, 8 00 E
total: 41,290 sq km
water: 1,520 sq km
land: 39,770 sq km
Area comparative:
slightly less than twice the size of New Jersey
Land boundaries:
total: 1,852 km
border countries: Austria 164 km, France 573 km, Italy 740 km, Liechtenstein 41 km, Germany 334 km
0 km (landlocked)
temperate, but varies with altitude; cold, cloudy, rainy/snowy winters; cool to warm, cloudy, humid summers with occasional showers
mostly mountains (Alps in south, Jura in northwest) with a central plateau of rolling hills, plains, and large lakes
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Lake Maggiore 195 m
highest point: Dufourspitze 4,634 m
Natural resources:
hydropower potential, timber, salt
Natural hazards:
avalanches, landslides, flash floods
Environment current issues:
air pollution from vehicle emissions and open-air burning; acid rain; water pollution from increased use of agricultural fertilizers; loss of biodiversity
Geography - note:
landlocked; crossroads of northern and southern Europe; along with southeastern France, northern Italy, and southwestern Austria, has the highest elevations in the Alps

Population of Switzerland

7,581,520 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 16.3% (male 637,585/female 591,297)
15-64 years: 68.1% (male 2,585,062/female 2,539,345)
65 years and over: 15.6% (male 480,198/female 690,447)
Median age:
40.1 years
Growth rate:
Infant mortality:
4.34 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 80.51 years
male: 77.69 years
female: 83.48 years
Fertility rate:
1.43 children born/woman
noun: Swiss (singular and plural)
adjective: Swiss
Ethnic groups:
German 65%, French 18%, Italian 10%, Romansch 1%, other 6%
Roman Catholic 41.8%, Protestant 35.3%, Orthodox 1.8%, other Christian 0.4%, Muslim 4.3%, other 1%, unspecified 4.3%, none 11.1%
German (official) 63.7%, French (official) 20.4%, Italian (official) 6.5%, Serbo-Croatian 1.5%, Albanian 1.3%, Portuguese 1.2%, Spanish 1.1%, English 1%, Romansch 0.5%, other 2.8%
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%


Country name:
conventional long form: Swiss Confederation
conventional short form: Switzerland
local short form: Schweiz (German), Suisse (French), Svizzera (Italian)
local long form: Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (German), Confederation Suisse (French), Confederazione Svizzera (Italian)
Government type:
federal republic
Administrative divisions:
26 cantons (cantons, singular - canton in French; cantoni, singular - cantone in Italian; kantone, singular - kanton in German)
1 August 1291 (Founding of the Swiss Confederation)
National holiday:
Founding of the Swiss Confederation, 1 August (1291)
revision of Constitution of 1874 approved by the Federal Parliament 18 December 1998; adopted by referendum 18 April 1999; officially entered into force 1 January 2000
Legal system:
civil law system influenced by customary law; judicial review of legislative acts, except with respect to federal decrees of general obligatory character; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations
18 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: President Pascal COUCHEPIN (since 1 January 2008); Vice President Hans-Rudolf MERZ (since 1 January 2008); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government representing the Federal Council; the Federal Council is the formal chief of state and head of government whose council members, rotating in one-year terms as federal president, represent the Council
head of government: President Pascal COUCHEPIN (since 1 January 2008); Vice President Hans-Rudolf MERZ (since 1 January 2008)
cabinet: Federal Council or Bundesrat (in German), Conseil Federal (in French), Consiglio Federale (in Italian) elected by the Federal Assembly usually from among its members for a four-year term
elections: president and vice president elected by the Federal Assembly from among the members of the Federal Council for a one-year term (they may not serve consecutive terms).
Legislative branch:
bicameral Federal Assembly or Bundesversammlung (in German), Assemblee Federale (in French), Assemblea Federale (in Italian) consists of the Council of States or Standerat (in German), Conseil des Etats (in French), Consiglio degli Stati (in Italian) (46 seats - consists of two representatives from each canton and one from each half canton; members serve four-year terms) and the National Council or Nationalrat (in German), Conseil National (in French), Consiglio Nazionale (in Italian) (200 seats - members are elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation to serve four-year terms)
Judicial branch:
Federal Supreme Court (judges elected for six-year terms by the Federal Assembly)


Switzerland is a peaceful, prosperous, and stable modern market economy with low unemployment, a highly skilled labor force, and a per capita GDP larger than that of the big Western European economies. The Swiss in recent years have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with the EU's to enhance their international competitiveness. Switzerland remains a safehaven for investors, because it has maintained a degree of bank secrecy and has kept up the franc's long-term external value. Reflecting the anemic economic conditions of Europe, GDP growth stagnated during the 2001-03 period, improved during 2004-05, and jumped to 2.9% in 2006, and 2.6% in 2007. Unemployment has remained at less than half the EU average.

$303.2 billion (2007 est.)
GDP growth rate:
GDP per capita:
GDP composition by sector:
agriculture: 1.5%
industry: 34%
services: 64.5%
Inflation rate:
Labor force:
3.8 million
Labor force - by occupation:
services 69.1%, industry 26.3%, agriculture 4.6%
revenues: $138.1 billion
expenditures: $143.6 billion
Electricity production by source:
fossil fuel: 1.3%
hydro: 59.5%
other: 2%
nuclear: 37.1%
machinery, chemicals, watches, textiles, precision instruments, tourism
grains, fruits, vegetables; meat, eggs
machinery, chemicals, metals, watches, agricultural products
Export partners:
Germany 20.6%, US 9.5%, France 9.1%, Italy 8.2%, UK 5.1% (2005)
machinery, chemicals, vehicles, metals; agricultural products, textiles
Import partners:
Germany 27%, Italy 10.5%, France 9.8%, US 7.8%, UK 6.4%, Russia 5.4%, Austria 4.6% (2005)
Swiss franc (CHF)

SOURCES: The CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State, Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress

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