Navigate Up
Sign In
About Switzerland

Switzerland: a multicultural country | Living standards among the highest in the world A tradition of peace and neutrality Federalism and direct democracy | Federal institutions | Useful links

Switzerland: a multicultural country


Located in the heart of Europe and a neighbour to Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein, Switzerland has a population of nearly 8 million people, of which one quarter are foreigners, mainly from the European Community. With a rich multicultural heritage, Switzerland is naturally geared towards foreign trade. Although not a member of the European Union, the country enjoys all the benefits of free trade thanks to bilateral agreements relating to the free movement of people and goods recently established with the EU. Switzerland has four official national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansch. English is commonly spoken in the workplace, thanks in part to the large number of international companies and institutions that are based in the region. Spanish and Portuguese are also spoken by a large proportion of the population. 



Living standards among the highest in the world

Founded in 1291, Switzerland is one of the oldest democracies in the world. Since 1848, it has been a federal state, consisting of 23 cantons - or 26 cantons and half-cantons. Switzerland’s capital is Bern, and its currency the Swiss Franc (CHF). The country has built its reputation and prosperity on technological innovation and services with high added value. Switzerland’s financial system is among the strongest in the world, and the quality of products bearing the ‘Swiss Made’ stamp needs no introduction. Switzerland always ranks highly in top international indicators for innovation, competitiveness, GDP, productivity and levels of education. In contrast, rates of unemployment and crime are among the lowest in the world. 



A tradition of peace and neutrality

Switzerland is very attached to its legendary neutral status and the country nurtures a long humanitarian tradition. The Red Cross, for example, was founded in Geneva by Henry Dunant. A pacifist nation, Switzerland is frequently called upon to mediate during international conflicts. Switzerland is the depositary state of the Geneva Conventions and is home to many international institutions and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) such as the European headquarters of the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO), World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Economic Forum (WEF), and many more. 



Federalism and direct democracy


Under the federal system, Swiss cantons enjoy considerable autonomy, especially in the fields of law, tax and management. Switzerland enjoys political stability and strong social harmony, thanks to the principle of direct democracy, a guarantee of strong counter-power for the people. In addition to local, regional or national elections, the citizen's right of vote is regularly exercised to decide on initiatives and referendums.



Federal institutions


Legislative power is provided by the Federal Assembly, which is the Swiss Parliament. The Assembly consists of two chambers: the upper house or Council of States is composed of 46 members, i.e. 2 representatives from each canton and half-canton. The lower house or National Council is composed of 200 deputies elected by proportional representation.

The executive power, the Federal Council, is composed of seven members elected by the Federal Assembly. The action of these ‘seven wise men/women’ is based on the principle of consensus, to which the Swiss are very attached. The President of the Confederation - a largely representative, ceremonial function - changes every year. The President’s function is fulfilled in turn by each of the Federal Councillors, elected by the Federal Assembly, traditionally in order of seniority. In Switzerland, the separation of powers is guaranteed by the Constitution, and the justice system enjoys full independence.



Useful links


Swiss Confederation


Swiss Parliament


Swiss Portal


Free Trade Agreements