Languages and Immigration
Switzerland borders several European countries that have had major influence on its culture and languages. Today, there are four official languages in Switzerland: German, French, Italian, and Romansch.
With about 64%, the largest language community is German-speaking followed by French (21%), Italian (6.5%) and Romantsch (0.5%). Romansch is a Romance language that is spoken by a small minority in the canton of Graubünden.
Government services and politics are conducted in all official languages and during parliament sessions, simultaneous interpretation is provided into German, French and Italian.
At school, Swiss children learn one of the official languages besides their mother tongue, so most Swiss people are at least bilingual.
Switzerland is an ethnically diverse country and has become home to many immigrants. About 21% of its population is foreign born or does not have a Swiss passport.
Italians make up the largest immigrant group (18.9% of all immigrants), followed by citizens from former Yugoslavia (21%), Albania, and Sri Lanka.
Foreign Politics and International Institutions
Since 1815, Switzerland has been a neutral country, which means that is does not participate in wars against other nations. Therefore joining the NATO would conflict with Swiss neutrality.
Switzerland is a member of the EFTA, the Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Council, which is an EU-institution), the WTO, and the UNO, but not of the European Union.
In 1992, the Swiss population voted against a membership in the European Economic Area and in 2001, they repeatedly voted against starting accession negotiations with the European Union.
However, Switzerland has more and more integrated into the European market and harmonized its regulations according to European standards in order to stay competitive, to strengthen trade ties and to avoid international isolation.
Several agreements have been signed with the European Union such as the Schengen Treaty, which abolished border control within the European Union and the Dublin Convention, which regulates a common asylum policy within the European Union. In 2002, regulations granting the free movement of persons took effect. Now citizens of the European Union can enter Switzerland and apply for work and Swiss people can move freely and work in most EU-countries.
Switzerland has a long humanitarian traditions and its neutrality has attracted numerous international institutions that now have their seat in the country. The Red Cross was founded in Switzerland; in addition the country is home to UNICEF, WHO (World Health Organization), and WTO (World Trade Organization).