Switzerland – An Overview
Switzerland is a small country located in the very heart of Europe in the Alps region. It is bordered by Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. Switzerland is known for its neutral position in international politics, and it is still not a member of the European Union. It is a multicultural country with four official languages, one of the strongest economies and richest countries in the world, as well as a major tourist destination.
The foundation of the Swiss Confederation (Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica) dates back to 1848, when the existing loose federation of cantons was transformed into a federal state.
A modern constitution was implemented and a central government took over foreign and finance politics for the cantons. The major objective of the constitution was to consolidate the various interests of the cantons with the general interests of the Confederation.
Major concepts of the 1848 constitution include the idea of the state of law, the system of administrative courts, the guarantee of equality and several civil rights and liberties.
The Latin designation “Confederatio Helvetica” was introduced in 1848, and still today, “CH” is the official abbreviation and country code for Switzerland.
General Facts and Political Structure
Switzerland has a surface area of about 41,300 km² and a population of about 7.5 million people. Its population density is 181.4/km².
The Swiss capital and seat of government is Berne (130,000 inhabitants), while the largest city is Zürich (380,000 inhabitants).
The Swiss Confederation consists of 26 federal states, the so-called cantons. Its people, languages and traditions are extremely diverse, that is why Switzerland is often referred to as “nation of will”: Its national identity is not based on a single culture and language, but on a common history and a liberal, democratic and federal tradition.
According to the 1848 constitution, Switzerland is a direct democracy. Based on the civil rights, Swiss citizens have the right to submit a constitutional initiative and hold a referendum in order to challenge and overturn parliament decisions.
Federalism is a distinctive feature of the Swiss political structure; the cantons have constitutional power and assume numerous tasks that do not explicitly correspond to the federal government in the constitution.