A factfile on Switzerland

17th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

A factfile on Switzerland, which holds legislative elections on Sunday:

GEOGRAPHY: A mountainous country nestled in the heart of the Alps, Switzerland shares borders with France to the west, Germany to the north, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Italy to the south. It covers 41,293 square kilometres (15,943 square miles).

POPULATION: 7,825,243 (World Bank 2010).

CAPITAL: Bern. Geneva hosts the European headquarters of the United Nations as well as numerous intergovernmental organisations and NGOs.

RELIGION: Switzerland's population is made up of 41.8% Roman Catholics, 35.3 percent Protestants and 4.3% Muslims, according to the last census (2000).

LANGUAGE: German, spoken by 64% of the population, French (20%), Italian (6.5%) and Romansch (0.5%) are the four official languages.

HISTORY: Switzerland was born out of an alliance concluded in 1291 between the three cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwald in a bid to escape the feudal ambitions of its neighbours. Over the centuries it added new cantons. The current borders and Switzerland's neutrality were recognised by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. It became a federal state in 1848 and joined the United Nations in September 2002. It has remained outside the European Union and NATO.

POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS: A federal state made up of 23 cantons and six half cantons. The lower house of parliament, the National Council of Switzerland, has 200 deputies and the upper house, the Council of States, has 46. They are elected by universal suffrage every four years. Meeting in the Federal Assembly the two houses elect the collegial government, the Federal Council, which is made up of seven ministers, representing the main parties and linguistic communities. The presidency of the Federal Council changes every year.

Through votes and referendums staged through popular initiatives the Swiss regularly vote on changes to the constitution and legislation.

ECONOMY: As a major financial centre Switzerland is the world leader in managing private fortunes with 28% of the world market and around 3,000 billion Swiss francs (€2,090 billion, $2,875 billion) of foreign assets were deposited in Switzerland in 2008.

Switzerland is also the home of the world's biggest food and nutrition company Nestle and the world's biggest watch maker Swatch.

GDP: $523,772,140,979 (2010, World Bank).

GNI per capita: $70,030 (2010, World Bank).

UNEMPLOYMENT: 4.1% (2010, World Bank).

EXPORTS: Machinery and appliances, chemical and pharmaceutical products, watches.

CURRENCY: the Swiss franc.

ARMED FORCES: A 206,000-strong militia, of which 4,000 are professional soldiers, the rest being civilians who can be called up.

GOVERNMENT WEB SITE: www.admin.ch.

© 2011 AFP

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