Switzerland, officially called Swiss Confederation retains its Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica, from the Latin word Helvetier. It is the name given to the group of people living in the area that became Switzerland. The country retained it and its abbreviation CH, which is still used in car plates and the country’s Internet address. Due to the four main languages spoken in Switzerland, the country has also has four formal names in each language. It is called Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft in German. In Italian, it is called Confederazione Svizzera, Confederaziun Svizra in Romansch and Confédération Suisse if you want to say it in French. Switzerland is a federal republic with direct democracy and directorial system. Its capital city is Bern.
:: Background of Switzerland ::
A Celtic tribe known as Helvetians came to Switzerland around 500 B.C. and settled near a lake in Neuchâtel in western Switzerland. The country came under the rule of the Romans during the first century B.C. up to the 4th century A.D. The civilization and commerce flourished under Roman rule and military roads were created to link key cities like Basel, Zurich and Geneva and paved the way for trade between the tribes and Rome.
Germany invaded Switzerland when the Roman Empire begun to decline. Alamannen (German) tribes settled in the northeastern and central parts of Switzerland while the Burgundians (French) ruled the western parts. The country was annexed to Charlemagne’s empire in year 800 and again came under the rule of the Roman emperors. The settling of different tribes in different localities in Switzerland accounts for the language difference in the different regions of the country.
In this Country Profile
As new trade routes opened across the northern and southern sections across the Alps in the 13th century, the Roman emperors acknowledged the importance of the Swiss mountain valleys and granted autonomy of a lesser degree to the regions, which will still be under the direct rule of the emperor of Rome. At that time, there were already established ruling families, such as the Unterwalden, Schwyz and Uri and they signed a charter on August 1, 1291 to keep the peace and pledged their support for their autonomy following the death of the Roman emperor in 1291. Up to this day the anniversary of the signing of the charter is celebrated as a National Day in Switzerland.
The determination of the confederates to remain peaceful and autonomous strengthened their unity to defeat enemies who wanted to conquer the localities or cantons, as these are called now. And soon, other cantons joined the federation and continued to expand their military borders until they were able to gain complete independence from the Roman Empire by 1499. Their expansion was stopped by the Venetians and the French forces in 1515 but by then they already had formed a confederation composed of 13 localities and had been conducting regular diet conventions for administration. However, the reformation efforts divided the followers of different religions, leading to internal strifes, although the common interest of the Confederation prevailed and prevented the union from disintegrating. Switzerland remained neutral while the rest of Europe was engaged in wars. The Treaty of Westphalia signed in 1648 formally recognized this neutrality. However, it was not effective against Napoleon who was able to invade and annex a major part of the country to France for over a year between 1797 and 1798 and replaced the confederation with a centrally-governed single state.
The old confederation was re-established by virtue of the Congress of Vienna signed in 1815, and granted the permanent armed neutrality status of Switzerland in international law. Protestant liberals and conservative Catholics staged a civil war to decide which form of government to install around 1848 however the majority vote was for a Federal State, following the model of the Constitution of the United States, and retained cantonal or local autonomy in deference to the Catholics and introduced referendum democracy which is still enforced to this day.
Switzerland became highly industrialized and was in second place across Europe by 1850. Internal tensions among the Italian, German and French-speaking sections of Switzerland broke out and almost put the country’s neutrality to the test but it remained steadfast, and helped in relieving other internal strifes due to labor unrests in 1918. A large trade union was established in 1937 to resolve the issues and remains the governing body until today. The pressure from fascist powers during World War II again placed Switzerland’s neutral stance to the test but somehow they prevailed to keep that intact due to tactical accommodation and their unified demonstration to defend their country in case of foreign invasion.
During the Cold War, Switzerland’s neutrality its diplomatic isolation by their economic integration with the post-war order led by the United States. It was reluctant to join the United Nations after the war although Geneva became the host for the United Nations’ headquarters in Europe and supported many of the UN agencies’ efforts. It only joined the Council of Europe in 1963. It is still not part of the European Union but it helped form the European Free Trade Area in 1960. It joined the Bretton Woods institutions in 1992 and formally joined the United Nations only in 2002. The Bretton Woods system is an international monetary regulation system that obligates each member country to adopt a monetary policy that ties a member country’s exchange rate to the United States dollar. It also formulated the ability of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to temporary bridge the imbalances of debt payments. The IMF was established by Bretton Woods as well as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is now under the World Bank group.
:: Geography of Switzerland ::
Switzerland lies in the crossroads of southern and northern Europe, landlocked by France, Italy, Germany and Austria. This rugged and scenic country has the highest elevations among the Alpine mountain ranges.
Switzerland is a landlocked country located east of France and north of Italy in Central Europe. Its geographic coordinates are 47° 00’ 00” North latitude and 8° 00’ 00” East longitude.
The country has a total landmass of 41,290 square meters, composed of 39,770 square kilometers of land and 1,580 square meters of land underwater. Switzerland is a bit smaller than two times the size of New Jersey in the United States.
With the country being landlocked, Switzerland has a long land boundary, totaling 1,852 kilometers. On its north side, Switzerland shares a border with Germany for 334 kilometers. On the eastern side, Austria borders Switzerland for 164 kilometers. France shares its border in the western side for 573 kilometers while Italy shares borders with Switzerland on its southern side for 740 kilometers. The western and southern parts of Switzerland also share a border with Liechtenstein for 41 kilometers.
Coastline and Maritime Claims
Due to Switzerland being a landlocked country, it does not have coastline nor does it have any maritime claims.
Switzerland in located in the Alpine region of Europe, with numerous Alps present in the whole country. Therefore the climate varies depending on the altitude but it is generally temperate. The winter months are characterized with cloudy, cold, rainy or snowy conditions. Summers vary from cool to warm and can also have cloudy skies. Some parts of the country may also experience humid summers and get occasional rainfall.
About 60% of Switzerland is covered by the Alps, mostly located in the southern part of the country while the Jura mountain range is located in the northwest, covering about 30% of the land. The remaining 10 percent comprise the central plains or the Swiss plateau, not exactly flat land but a combination of flat areas and hilly portions where large lakes can be found. Basically the Alps are not habitable except for those regions that are being utilized as ski resort areas. The Jura region is sparsely inhabited although it is world-renown for their musical boxes, particularly the Sainte-Croix area. The Jura, meaning forest mountain is a mountain range that divides the Rhone River and the Rhine River.
As characterized by its mountainous terrain, even Switzerland’s lowest elevation, Lake Maggiore, the largest lake in Switzerland located in the canton of Ticino in the southern part of the country is still 195 meters above sea level. Lake Maggiore is part of the larger body of water that originates from Italy. With several Alpine peaks, there are several tall mountains in the country, with Dufourspitze or Monte Rosa located in the canton of Valais, being the tallest at 4,634 meters.Dufourspitze is part of the Pennine Alps, and is the second tallest mountain in the Alps and in Western Europe, next to Mont Blanc.
Switzerland has very limited natural resources. There are just a few deposits of manganese and iron in the Jura area although there are no deposits of coal. Some minerals worthy of commercial exploitation are salt, sand, lime, gravel and clay. Marble is also present. The mountains yield a variety of commercial grade timber. Its lack of mineral resources in made up by is hydropower potential.
Typical of its Alpine terrain, only 9.91% of the total land area is arable, with 0.58% planted with permanent crops. The rest is mostly covered by mountains. Soil condition is poor although farming innovations lead to higher yields of wheat, maize, barley, rye, oat, potatoes and sugar beets. There are about 37,000 acres reserved for vineyards.
Flash floods, landslides and avalanches are the natural hazards that an Alpine region like Switzerland face annually.
Current Environmental Issues
Switzerland currently faces modern-day environmental issues such as and open-air burning and vehicles’ emissions polluting the air. It also faces water pollution caused by the increased reliance on chemical-based agricultural fertilizers, as well as loss of biodiversity and acid rain.
International Environmental Agreements
The agreement on law of the sea has been signed but has yet to be ratified by Switzerland. The country has also entered into several environmental agreements including hazardous wastes, marine life conservation, marine dumping, ship pollution, wetlands, whaling and ozone layer protection. It has also entered agreements concerning tropical timber 83 and 94, air pollution-sulphur 85 and 94, air pollution-persistent organic pollutants, air pollution-nitrogen oxides, air pollution-volatile organic compounds, and agreements on air pollution in general. It is also concerned with the Antarctic Treaty, climate change and climate change-Kyoto protocol, desertification, biodiversity, environmental modification and endangered species.
:: People of Switzerland ::
Citizens of Switzerland are called Swiss, and the term is used in singular and plural form. It is also used as an adjective to denote their nationality.
As of the middle of 2010, the population in Switzerland is 7,800,000 according to the data published by the Population Reference Bureau, based on the World Population Data Sheet. The population growth rate, based on estimates done for 2011, is 0.21%. Net migration, according to the 2010 data is 5 per 1,000 inhabitants.
The bulk of the population of Switzerland is in the 15 to 64 age range at 67.8%, with the males slightly edging the females. Males number 2,612,557 while the females are not really that behind with 2,569,318. The younger age group belonging to the zero to 14 years age bracket is even lower than those that belong to the 65 years and over age bracket. The younger set is at 15.2%, with 602,894 males and 560,175 females. The older generation account for 17% of the population, with 543,074 males, overtaken by the females with 751,943 based on 2011 estimates.
According to 2011 estimates, the median age for females in Switzerland stands at 42.8 years, while the males are younger, at 40.6 years. Out of the total population, the median age is placed at 41.7 years.
Birth and Death Rates
Based on the data included in the World Population Data sheet, the birth rate per 1,000 population is 10, while the death rate is 8 per 1,000 population, as of 2010 and remains current in 2011.
The average sex ratio of the total population is 0.97 males for every female. At birth, it is 1.054 males for very female, going up slightly in the under-15 years age range, with 1.08 males for every female. The figure goes down slightly at the 15 to 64 age group, with 1.02 males for every female. It decreases further in the 65 years and over age bracket, with only 0.72 male for every female in Switzerland.
Infant Mortality Rate
There is more male infant deaths for every 1,000 live births in Switzerland. It is placed at 4.53 deaths, while for the females the statistic is quite lower, with only 3.6 deaths for every 1,000 live births. With the total population, the average is 4.08 deaths for every 1,000 male or female live births.
Life Expectancy at Birth
The citizens of Switzerland live long lives, with the average life expectancy at birth at 81.07 for the entire population. Between genders, the women live up to 84.05 years according to 2011 estimates while the men live to an average of 78.24 years.
Total Fertility Rate
According to the estimates done in 2011, the fertility rate stands at 1.46 children born for every woman of child-bearing age in Switzerland.
HIV / AIDS
HIV/AIDS is a social and health issue in Switzerland where it is estimated that the disease is prevalent in 0.4% of adults aged 15 to 49, with about 18,000 adults living with HIV/AIDS. Deaths associated with the disease are estimated in 2009 to be less than 100.
The majority of the population in Switzerland is of German ethnicity, placed at 65%. The rest of the population is made up of 18% French, 18% Italian and 1% Romansch. There is also about 6% other ethnic groups in Switzerland, mostly composed of foreign workers.
The population of Switzerland is predominantly Roman Catholic, with 41.8%. The Protestant religion is followed by 35.3% of the population while the Muslims number about 4.3%. The Orthodox religion has about 1.8% following while other Christian religions are practiced by 0.4%. A minority follow other unspecified religions.
Switzerland has four official and national languages, spoken in different parts of the country. The majority or 63.7% speaks German. French speakers comprise 20.4% of the population. Another official language, Italian is spoken by 6.5% while Romansch is spoken by a minority or about 0.5% of the native Swiss. Other languages spoken are Serbo-Croatian with 1.5% speakers, Albanian, with 1.3% speakers, Portuguese with 1.2% and Spanish with 1.1%. English is a minority language in Switzerland, spoken by a least just 1% of the population.
Literacy is very high I Switzerland with about 99% of the population age 15 years and over able to read and write. Schooling on the average is 16 years, with the males staying in school one year longer than the females.