Switzerland's constitution is one of the oldest in the world, written in 1848. There are three main governing bodies existing on the federal level: a legislative bicameral parliament, an executive Federal Council, and a judicial Federal Court.
The Federal Council acts as the head of state. A President of the Confederation is elected annually but only acts in a chairing and representative role. Switzerland is a direct democracy, as citizens can vote in referendums to challenge laws and introduce amendments.
Cantons of Switzerland.
- Appenzell Innerrhoden
- Appenzell Ausserrhoden
- St. Gallen
|This text is based on Switzerland from Wikipedia, licensed under CC-BY-SA.|
Extending across the north and south side of the Alps in west-central Europe, Switzerland encompasses a great diversity of landscapes and climates on a limited area. The more mountainous southern half of the country is far more sparsely populated than the northern half.
Switzerland lies between latitudes 45° and 48° N, and longitudes 5° and 11° E. It contains three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps to the south, the Swiss plateau or middleland, and the Jura mountains on the north. The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central-south of the country, comprising about 60% of the country's total area. Among the high valleys of the Swiss Alps many glaciers are found, totalling an area of 1,063 square kilometres. From these originate the headwaters of several major rivers, such as the Rhine, Inn, Ticino and Rhone, which flow in the four cardinal directions into the whole of Europe. The hydrographic network includes several of the largest bodies of freshwater in Central and Western Europe, among which are included Lake Geneva, Lake Constance and Lake Maggiore. Switzerland has more than 1500 lakes, and contains 6% of Europe's stock of fresh water. Lakes and glaciers cover about 6% of the national territory.
The more populous northern part of the country, comprising about 30% of the country's total area, is called the Middle Land. It has greater open and hilly landscapes, partly forested, partly open pastures, usually with grazing herds, or vegetables and fruit fields, but it is still hilly. There are large lakes found here and the biggest Swiss cities are in this area of the country. The largest lake is Lake Geneva (also called Lac Léman in French), in western Switzerland. The Rhone River is both the main input and output of Lake Geneva.
The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly between the localities, from glacial conditions on the mountaintops to the often pleasant near Mediterranean climate at Switzerland's southern tip. There are some valley areas in the southern part of Switzerland where some cold-hardy palm trees are found. Summers tend to be warm and humid at times with periodic rainfall so they are ideal for pastures and grazing. The less humid winters in the mountains may see long intervals of stable conditions for weeks, while the lower lands tend to suffer from inversion, during these periods, thus seeing no sun for weeks.
A weather phenomenon known as the föhn can occur at all times of the year and is characterised by an unexpectedly warm wind, bringing air of very low relative humidity to the north of the Alps during rainfall periods on the southern face of the Alps. This works both ways across the alps but is more efficient if blowing from the south due to the steeper step for oncoming wind from the south. Valleys running south to north trigger the best effect.
The driest conditions persist in all inner alpine valleys that receive less rain because arriving clouds lose a lot of their content while crossing the mountains before reaching these areas. Large alpine areas such as Graubünden remain drier than pre-alpine areas and as in the main valley of the Valais wine grapes are grown there.
The wettest conditions persist in the high Alps and in the Ticino canton which has much sun yet heavy bursts of rain from time to time. Precipitation tends to be spread moderately throughout the year with a peak in summer. Autumn is the driest season, winter receives less precipitation than summer, yet the weather patterns in Switzerland are not in a stable climate system and can be variable from year to year with no strict and predictable periods.
Switzerland's ecosystems can be particularly fragile, because of the many delicate valleys separated by high mountains, often forming unique ecologies. The mountainous regions themselves are also vulnerable, with a rich range of plants not found at other altitudes, and experience some pressure from visitors and grazing. The climatic, geological and topographical conditions of the alpine region make for a very fragile ecosystem that is particularly sensitive to climate change.
Switzerland is the wealthiest country per capita (amongst nations of significant size) in terms of financial and non-financial assets, with high economic freedom, disproportionately large numbers of exports, and is home to many large transnational corporations. Manufacture of chemicals, medical supplies, scientific and musical instruments all provide income for the country. It also has a large and well-developed services sector.
Unemployment is very low, at 0.4%.The job market is highly flexible and many foreign citizens work in the country. Taxes are amongst the lowest in Europe.
Many notable contributors to art, literature, and music have come from Switzerland. Its citizens have been responsible for many scientific advancements and it has a large number of museums.
Switzerland has a treaty-enforced policy of neutrality towards the rest of the world.