41,285 sq. km. (15,941 sq. mi.); about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

Capital--Bern (population about 123,000). Other cities--Zurich (359,000), Geneva (180,000), Basel (164,000), Lausanne (119,000).

40% mountains, the remainder hills and plateau. Switzerland straddles the central ranges of the Alps.

Temperate, varying with altitude and season.

Switzerland sits at the crossroads of several major European cultures, which have heavily influenced the country's languages and cultural practices. Switzerland has four official languages--German, French, Italian, and Romansch (based on Latin and spoken by a small minority in the Canton Graubunden). The German spoken is predominantly a Swiss dialect, but newspapers and some media broadcasts use High German. Many Swiss speak more than one language. English is widely spoken, especially among the university educated.

More than 75% of the population lives in the central plain, which stretches between the Alps and the Jura Mountains and from Geneva in the southwest to the Rhine River and Lake Constance in the northeast. Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 22% of the population.

According to the Swiss Federal Office of Statistics, the population in Switzerland was 7,785,806 at year-end 2009 (up from 7,701,900 in 2008), of which 22% were resident foreigners. The majority of this growth was attributable to net immigration, largely from the European Union (EU). Roughly 60% of the foreigners residing in Switzerland are from European Union member countries, while another 30% are from non-EU European countries. Almost all Swiss are literate. Switzerland's 12 universities enrolled 126,940 students in the academic year of 2009-2010, of which roughly 26% were foreigners. In addition, another 69,676 persons were

studying at technical colleges and 3,604 were in other forms of higher education (e.g., specialized training academies). About 35% of the population aged 25-64 holds a diploma of higher learning. In the 2009-2010 academic year, 553 U.S. students were enrolled in Swiss universities.

Switzerland consistently ranks high on quality of life indices, including per capita income, computer and Internet usage, insurance coverage, and quality of available health care. For these and many other reasons, it serves as an excellent test market for businesses hoping to introduce new products into Europe.

GDP (2009): $494.6 billion (519.2 billion Swiss francs [SFr]). Government expenses (in GDP%, 2008): 38.3% (federal, cantonal, and local). Annual growth rate (2009): -1.9%. Unemployment (October 2010): 3.6%. Per capita income (2009 est.): $63,519. Avg. inflation rate: -0.3% (2009); 1.4% (2010 est.). Natural resources: Water power, timber, salt. Agriculture (1% of GDP): Products--dairy (24%), livestock (26%), grains (4%), fruit and vegetables, potatoes, wine (15%). Arable land (1999): 26%.

Industry (est. 29% of GDP): Types--machinery, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, time pieces, precision instruments, textiles and clothing, pigment, transportation equipment. Services (70% of GDP).

Trade: Merchandise exports (2009)--$173 billion (official exchange rate): food, beverages, and tobacco (3%; +24%); metal and chemical industries (42%; +12%); precision instruments (7%; +8%); watches (8%; +16%); machinery and electronics (21%; +11%); clothing 1.1%; +4%). Major markets--EU, United States, Canada, CIS, India, Brazil, Japan. Merchandise imports (2009)--$156 billion (official exchange rate): consumer goods (38%); equipment (19%); energy (7.1%); raw materials (28%). Major suppliers--EU, U.S., Canada, CIS, South Africa. Exchange rate (November 2010): $1 U.S. = 0.9833 CHF or SFr.

Originally inhabited by the Helvetians, or Helvetic Celts, the territory comprising modern Switzerland came under Roman rule during the Gallic wars in the 1st century BC and remained a Roman province until the 4th century AD. Under Roman influence, the population reached a high level of civilization and enjoyed a flourishing commerce. Important cities, such as Geneva, Basel, and Zurich, were linked by military roads that also served as trade arteries between Rome and the northern tribes.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, Switzerland was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and west. Some tribes, such as the Alemanni in central and northeastern Switzerland, and the Burgundians, who ruled western Switzerland, settled there. In 800, the country became part of Charlemagne's empire. It later passed under the dominion of the Holy Roman emperors in the form of small ecclesiastic and temporal holdings subject to imperial sovereignty.

With the opening of a new important north-south trade route across the Alps in the early 13th century, the Empire's rulers began to attach more importance to the remote Swiss mountain valleys, which were granted some degree of autonomy under direct imperial rule. Fearful of the popular disturbances flaring up following the death of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1291, the ruling families from Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden signed a charter to keep public peace and pledging mutual support in upholding autonomous administrative and judicial rule. The anniversary of the charter's signature (August 1, 1291) today is celebrated as Switzerland's National Day.

Switzerland is a federal state composed of 26 cantons (20 are "full" cantons and six "half" cantons for purposes of representation in the federal legislature) that retain attributes of sovereignty, such as fiscal autonomy and the right to manage internal cantonal affairs. Under the 2000 Constitution, cantons hold all powers not specifically delegated to the federation. Switzerland's federal institutions are:

A bicameral legislature--the Federal Assembly; A collegial executive of seven members--the Federal Council; and A judiciary consisting of a regular court in Lausanne--the Federal Tribunal--and special military and administrative courts. The Federal Insurance Tribunal is an independent division of the Federal Tribunal that handles social security questions; its seat is in Lucerne. The Federal Criminal Court, located in Bellinzona, is the court of first instance for all criminal cases under federal jurisdiction. The Constitution provides for separation of the three branches of government.

The Federal Assembly is the primary seat of power, although in practice the executive branch has been increasing its power at the expense of the legislative branch. The Federal Assembly has two houses--the Council of States and the National Council. These two houses have equal powers in all respects, including the right to introduce legislation. Legislation cannot be vetoed by the executive nor reviewed for constitutionality by the judiciary, but all laws (except the budget) can be reviewed by popular referendum before taking effect.

The 46 members of the Council of States (two from each canton and one from each half canton) are directly elected in each canton by majority voting. The 200 members of the National Council are directly elected in each canton under a system of proportional representation. Members of both houses serve for 4 years.

Switzerland has a stable government and a diverse society. Quadrennial national elections typically produce only marginal changes in party representation. In recent years, Switzerland has seen a gradual shift in the party landscape. The rightist Swiss People's Party (SVP), traditionally the junior partner in the four-party coalition government, almost tripled its share of the popular vote from 11% in 1987 to 22.5% in 1999, to 26.6% in 2003, and finally to 29% in October 2007, thus overtaking its three major rivals. In the 2007 parliamentary elections, the SVP picked up an additional seven seats in the 200-seat National Council (lower house).

This brought the SVP to 62 seats total. The Greens gained more than 2 percentage points and seven seats in the National Council, bringing their total shares to 9.6% and 20 respectively. They also for the first time gained seats in the Council of States (upper house). The Christian Democratic Party (CVP) booked modest gains of 0.2% and three seats, for a total of 14.6% and 31 seats in the National Council. This halted a downward trend that had cost the CVP a seat on the Federal Council to the SVP in 2003. The FDP lost 1.7% and five seats in the National Council, dropping to 15.6% of the votership and 31 seats in the National Council. Total voter turnout was 48%, a gain of 2.8% over the 2003 elections.

Despite a dearth of natural resources, Switzerland is one of the world's most advanced and prosperous nations. Per capita income is among the highest in the world, as are wages. Trade has been the key to prosperity in Switzerland. The country is dependent upon export markets to generate income while dependent upon imports for raw materials and to expand the range of goods and services available in the country. Switzerland has liberal investment and trade policies, with the exception of agriculture, and a conservative fiscal policy.

The Swiss legal system is highly developed; commercial law is well defined; and solid laws and policies protect investments. The Swiss franc is one of the world's soundest currencies, and the country is known for its high standard of banking and financial services. Switzerland is a member of a number of international economic organizations, including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Swiss economy shrank by 1.5% in 2010, as a result of the global economic slowdown. Nevertheless, Switzerland led the rankings of the World Economic Forumís Global Competitiveness Report 2010-2011, reflecting the country's sound institutional environment, excellent infrastructure, efficient markets, competent macroeconomic management, world-class educational attainment, and high levels of technological innovation, which boost Switzerland's competitiveness in the global economy.

The country has a well-developed infrastructure for scientific research. Companies spend generously on research and development (R&D), and intellectual property protection is strong. Business activity benefits from a well-developed institutional framework, characterized by the rule of law, an efficient judicial system, and high levels of transparency and accountability within public institutions. Higher education and training are rapidly growing in importance as engines of productivity growth.

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