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State

Capital

Switzerland

Berne

Suisse/Schweitz/Svizzera

Currency unit

Swiss franc

Connections

EFTA

Habsburgs

Liechtenstein

UN

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

History

Switzerland is a federation on the borderland between German and Latin speaking Europe and in the highest part of the Alps. Unlike most other states it is the result of the coming together of peoples rather than aristocracy or royalty. According to the accepted national legend it was founded when the four forest cantons (counties) formed an alliance in 1291 against their Habsburg overlord. (Some historians dispute this explanation of the event.) Independence of these German speaking cantons was secured in 1394. Later other counties and cities, also formerly part of the Holy Roman Empire, joined, some of them, like Geneva, French speaking; others Italian.

The Swiss inhabited the mountains and until the 19th century were generally very poor. Like many mountainous areas they provided feared mercenary soldiers, especially in Italy. The last reminder of this period is in the ceremonial Swiss Guard kept by the Pope at the Vatican.

The country was occupied by Napoleon who called it the Helvetian Republic. His was the last foreign occupation. The constitution was reformed after Napoleon was defeated.

There are now four national languages spoken, including the indigenous Romansch. The present form of the state was established in 1848. Thus the celebration in 1991 of 700 years of history has something of a mythical character.

Although the major language is a dialect of German, Switzerland was not attacked by Hitler who tried to unite all Germans.

Switzerland is neutral between all other states and was not even a member of the United Nations until 2002. (Membership was last rejected by a referendum in 1986 which was only reversed in 2002, though Geneva contains one of the UN's principle buildings, inherited from the League of Nations). It is also the world headquarters of the International Red Cross, an organization which mitigates the effects of wars; and the usual site for conferences to end international disputes. Some believe that the United Nations, like the League of Nations, ought to move its headquarters to Geneva (especially as the United States has frequently failed to pay its subscription).

Every Swiss citizen is expected to join the army which is organized entirely for defense, that is, it could not operate outside Swiss borders. The last war involving Switzerland was in 1856 when there was a minor civil war partly over religion.

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union and probably could not join without considerable changes to the outlook of the people. It was a member of EFTA and the government hoped to negotiate similar terms with the EC when the other members of EFTA joined the EC. In May 1991 there were reports that the Swiss government was considering application to the EC. A preliminary was membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) - EFTA plus the EC) but this was not passed by referendum after the opposition of the Swiss People's Party.

A source of dispute with the EU is that Switzerland controls some of the main north-south routes through Europe connecting Italy with the north. Like the Austrians the Swiss refuse to allow heavy foreign trucks to use their roads because of the congestion and damage to the forests. They offer a service of piggy-back electric rail transport (Rollende Landstrasse) across the country instead.

In March 2002 a referendum approved membership of the United Nations, despite the opposition of the Swiss People's Party (see Politics).

There are about 20% of immigrants in the country, most not citizens, or likely to become such.

Liechtenstein is not a member of the Confederation but uses the Swiss currency and customs.

Languages

German

French

Italian

Romansch (a Latin derivative found only in Switzerland)

 History

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

Politics

A confederation in which sovereignty is said to reside in the cantons (counties) rather than in the Federal Government. As in California there is a great reliance on referenda, though voter turn out is said to be low because of their frequency.

Have the Swiss discovered the secret of multi-ethnic states? The four languages and two religions have not caused conflict since 1848 (and even then there were other causes).

Dissidents complain that the government is secretive and in the hands of a small group. Also that the Swiss security forces keep records of most of the citizens. The fact that so much of the economy is based on banks whose customers include some of the more dubious citizens of the world is also a cause for concern.

An attractive feature is that the government is so self-effacing that few people outside Switzerland know the names of either the president or prime minister. The government is a coalition of parties, mostly of the Center Right.

However, the rise of a formerly obscure party, the Swiss People's Party, to being the largest party in the Parliament gives rise for concern as it is hostile to immigrants, and suspected of being racist. In the October 2007 elections it increased its vote again. Its leader is a billionaire with a compelling rhetoric.

 History

 Politics

 Green

 Rights

 Climate

Economics

Switzerland is a highly industrialized country, though tourism is a major source of income. Visitors come in the winter to ski and in the summer to walk in the mountains.

Secret banking is an important source of money (suspected to be used by tax dodgers, criminals and dictators).

Several multi-national companies are based in Switzerland, especially in pharmaceuticals and food processing.

Because most of its trade is with members of the European Union Switzerland may be forced to join. However, many of its economic practices are incompatible with membership and would have to be changed. These include measures to prevent foreigners owning Swiss companies. Thus Swiss companies can take over foreign companies according to the normal rules of competitive ownership, but shares in Swiss companies are hedged about with restrictions so that foreigners cannot gain control. Secrecy rules also are suspected to be used to prevent free competition, especially in pharmaceuticals.

Swiss voters have refused to agree to a Value Added Tax which is used throughout the EU. Following their refusal to ratify the EEA agreement, Switzerland may begin to suffer economically by exclusion from European trade.

Following the 2008-9 financial catastrophe Switzerland has come under pressure from the US and other countries to open up its secretive banks to end its function as a tax haven (somewhere people can hide their incomes from their home tax collectors). Will this reduce the country's income from handling this secret money?

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Rights

 Climate

Green/Ecology

The Alps are a new mountain chain, still growing from the clash of the African Plate and Eurasian Plates. This means they have very steep forested sides. As in Nepal, the trees are necessary to prevent landslides. But acid rain and the exhausts from oil driven vehicles are killing the trees. Thus the Swiss are among the most conscious of the need to prevent air pollution and have begun to develop electric vehicles. (But Swiss chemical companies are alleged to be polluting the River Rhine.)

They have enacted regulations to keep heavy road transport out of the country. They also have the most comprehensive electric rail service in Europe which is subsidized to encourage its pollution free transport use. They negotiated a continuation of their ban on heavy truck traffic as a condition of joining the EEA and later the EC. They have agreed to build two new north-south rail tunnels to a size capable of taking the largest trucks from Germany to Italy.

The Swiss use hydroelectricity and nuclear power for a large part of their energy sources.

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

 Climate

Human Rights

Although Switzerland has a record as the world's most complete democracy, its human rights have a dubious reputation. In the 1930s and 1940s there was a campaign to eliminate the Gypsies by forcibly removing their children to be adopted into non-Gypsy families. The treatment of non-Swiss today, as temporary workers and refugees, is also criticized.

The police have a reputation for arresting people for minor matters and keeping secret files on a large proportion of the population. The society has been described as over-complacent and intolerant of actual dissent. There are said to be regulations for matters which in most societies are considered private matters. Commercial offenses are treated harshly.

Climate effects

The retreat of the glaciers caused by Climate Change will reduce the hydro-power. The mountains are held by permafrost so that rising temperatures will cause landslides.

Last revised 5/04/09


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