Switzerland country profile

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Map of Switzerland

A landlocked, mountainous country, Switzerland's geographical position in central Europe and studied neutrality have given it the access and political stability to become one of the world's wealthiest countries.

Switzerland has for centuries been a neutral state, which means that it cannot take part in armed conflict unless it is attacked. Its forces can only be used for self-defence and internal security.

It joined the United Nations only in 2002. Surrounded by the European Union, it has vacillated between seeking closer engagement with its powerful neighbour and other international organisations, and preferring a more isolationist course.

The people are given a direct say in their own affairs under Switzerland's system of direct democracy, which has no parallel in any other country.

They are invited to the polls several times a year to vote in national or regional referendums and people's initiatives.


Swiss Confederation

Capital: Bern

  • Population 8.3 million

  • Area 41,284 sq km (15,940 sq miles)

  • Major languages German, French, Italian, Romansch

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 81 years (men), 85 years (women)

  • Currency Swiss Franc

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Federal President (rotating): Guy Parmelin

Image source, Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Switzerland is unusual in having a collective head of state, the seven-member Federal Council, which doubles up as the country's cabinet.

The council was set up by the constitution of 1848, which is still in force today.

Members are elected for four-year terms by a joint session of both houses of parliament, although in practice changes in membership are rare, making the Federal Council one of the world's most stable governments.

The election of a new female minister to the Federal Council in September 2010 gave the cabinet a majority of women for the first time in the country's history.

Each year, by tradition, a different member of the council fills the largely ceremonial post of federal president on a rotating basis. The office does not confer the status of head of state, which is held jointly by all the councillors.

Guy Parmelin - the president for 2021 - has been a member of the Federal Council for five years, was vice-president in 2020, and head of the Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research from 2019.

Prior to that he was chief of the Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports, and is a member of the right-wing Swiss People's Party.


Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Numerous international organisations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, have their headquarters in Switzerland

Broadcasting is dominated by the public Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSR), which operates in French, German, Italian and Romansh.

Most of its funding comes from TV licence fee revenues. Voters rejected a proposal to scrap the fee in a 2018 referendum.


Some key dates in the history of Switzerland:

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Switzerland's defence is based on compulsory military service

1291 - Origin of the Swiss confederation when three cantons form an alliance to resist outside control.

1815 - In the wake of the Napoleonic wars, the borders of Switzerland - and the territory's neutrality - are established at the Congress of Vienna.

1939-45 - Switzerland declares neutrality at start of Second World War.

1971 - Women granted right to vote in federal elections.

1998 - Swiss banks agree $1.25bn compensation deal with Holocaust survivors and families.

2002 - Switzerland becomes a member of the UN.

2009 - Switzerland says it will relax its rules on banking secrecy to allow financial institutions to co-operate with international investigations into tax evasion.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Swiss citizens frequently need to vote on controversial issues, such as immigration

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