The Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 as a defensive alliance among three cantons. In succeeding years, other localities joined the original three. The Swiss Confederation secured its independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. Switzerland's sovereignty and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers, and the country was not involved in either of the two World Wars. The political and economic integration of Europe over the past half century, as well as Switzerland's role in many UN and international organizations, has strengthened Switzerland's ties with its neighbors. However, the country did not officially become a UN member until 2002. Switzerland remains active in many UN and international organizations but retains a strong commitment to neutrality.
party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea
German (official) 63.7%, French (official) 20.4%, Italian (official) 6.5%, Serbo-Croatian 1.5%, Albanian 1.3%, Portuguese 1.2%, Spanish 1.1%, English 1%, Romansch (official) 0.5%, other 2.8% (2000 census) note: German, French, Italian, and Romansch are all national and official languages
name: Bern geographic coordinates: 46 57 N, 7 26 E time difference: UTC+1 (6 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time) daylight saving time: +1hr, begins last Sunday in March; ends last Sunday in October
civil law system influenced by customary law; judicial review of legislative acts, except with respect to federal decrees of general obligatory character; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction with reservations
chief of state: President Pascal COUCHEPIN (since 1 January 2008); Vice President Hans-Rudolf MERZ (since 1 January 2008); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government representing the Federal Council; the Federal Council is the formal chief of state and head of government whose council members, rotating in one-year terms as federal president, represent the Council head of government: President Pascal COUCHEPIN (since 1 January 2008); Vice President Hans-Rudolf MERZ (since 1 January 2008) cabinet: Federal Council or Bundesrat (in German), Conseil Federal (in French), Consiglio Federale (in Italian) elected by the Federal Assembly usually from among its members for a four-year term elections: president and vice president elected by the Federal Assembly from among the members of the Federal Council for a one-year term (they may not serve consecutive terms); election last held on 12 December 2007 (next to be held in December 2008) election results: Pascal COUCHEPIN elected president; percent of Federal Assembly vote - 80.0%; Hans-Rudolf MERZ elected vice president; percent of Federal Assembly vote - 86.5%
bicameral Federal Assembly or Bundesversammlung (in German), Assemblee Federale (in French), Assemblea Federale (in Italian) consists of the Council of States or Standerat (in German), Conseil des Etats (in French), Consiglio degli Stati (in Italian) (46 seats; membership consists of 2 representatives from each canton and 1 from each half canton; to serve four-year terms) and the National Council or Nationalrat (in German), Conseil National (in French), Consiglio Nazionale (in Italian) (200 seats; members are elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation to serve four-year terms) elections: Council of States - last held in most cantons on 19 October 2003 (each canton determines when the next election will be held); National Council - last held on 21 October 2007 (next to be held in October 2011) election results: Council of States - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - CVP 15, FDP 14, SVP 8, SPS 6, other 3; National Council - percent of vote by party - SVP 29%, SPS 19.5%, FDP 15.6%, CVP 14.6%, Greens 9.6%, other 11.7%; seats by party - SVP 62, SPS 43, FDP 31, CVP 31, Green Party 20, other small parties 13; note - seating for the Council of States as of December 2007 is CVP 16, FDP 12, SVP 7, SPS 9, other 2
Green Party (Gruene Partei der Schweiz or Gruene, Parti Ecologiste Suisse or Les Verts, Partito Ecologista Svizzero or I Verdi, Partida Ecologica Svizra or La Verda) [Ruth GENNER]; Christian Democratic People's Party (Christlichdemokratische Volkspartei der Schweiz or CVP, Parti Democrate-Chretien Suisse or PDC, Partito Democratico-Cristiano Popolare Svizzero or PDC, Partida Cristiandemocratica dalla Svizra or PCD) [Christophe DARBELLAY]; Radical Free Democratic Party (Freisinnig-Demokratische Partei der Schweiz or FDP, Parti Radical-Democratique Suisse or PRD, Partitio Liberal-Radicale Svizzero or PLR) [Fulvio PELLI]; Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei der Schweiz or SPS, Parti Socialist Suisse or PSS, Partito Socialista Svizzero or PSS, Partida Socialdemocratica de la Svizra or PSS) [Hans-Juerg FEHR]; Swiss People's Party (Schweizerische Volkspartei or SVP, Union Democratique du Centre or UDC, Unione Democratica de Centro or UDC, Uniun Democratica dal Center or UDC) [Ueli MAURER]; and other minor parties
chief of mission: Ambassador Urs ZISWILER chancery: 2900 Cathedral Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 telephone:  (202) 745-7900 FAX:  (202) 387-2564 consulate(s) general: Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco
Switzerland is a peaceful, prosperous, and stable modern market economy with low unemployment, a highly skilled labor force, and a per capita GDP larger than that of the big Western European economies. The Swiss in recent years have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with the EU's to enhance their international competitiveness. Switzerland remains a safehaven for investors, because it has maintained a degree of bank secrecy and has kept up the franc's long-term external value. Reflecting the anemic economic conditions of Europe, GDP growth stagnated during the 2001-03 period, improved during 2004-05, and jumped to 2.9% in 2006, and 2.6% in 2007. Unemployment has remained at less than half the EU average.
general assessment: highly developed telecommunications infrastructure with excellent domestic and international services domestic: ranked among leading countries for fixed-line teledensity and infrastructure; mobile-cellular subscribership roughly 100 per 100 persons; extensive cable and microwave radio relay networks international: country code - 41; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean)
total: 32 ships (1000 GRT or over) 577,765 GRT/918,974 DWT by type: bulk carrier 13, cargo 8, chemical tanker 4, container 6, specialized tanker 1 registered in other countries: 121 (Antigua and Barbuda 5, Bahamas 2, Cyprus 3, France 3, Indonesia 3, Italy 5, Liberia 11, Malta 22, Marshall Islands 14, Panama 26, Paraguay 1, Portugal 2, Russia 6, Singapore 2, St Vincent and The Grenadines 12, Tonga 1, UK 1, Vanuatu 2) (2007)
19 years of age for male compulsory military service; 17 years of age for voluntary military service; the Swiss Constitution states that "every Swiss male is obliged to do military service"; every Swiss male has to serve for at least 260 days in the armed forces; conscripts receive 18 weeks of mandatory training, followed by seven 3-week intermittent recalls for training over the next 10 years; women are accepted on a voluntary basis but are not conscripted (2005)
a major international financial center vulnerable to the layering and integration stages of money laundering; despite significant legislation and reporting requirements, secrecy rules persist and nonresidents are permitted to conduct business through offshore entities and various intermediaries; transit country for and consumer of South American cocaine, Southwest Asian heroin, and Western European synthetics; domestic cannabis cultivation and limited ecstasy production