When one thinks of Switzerland, things that immediately come to mind are high-precision watches and the Alps mountain range. But beyond these obvious highlights, the country can boast of a multi-cultural and multi-lingual demography as well as offering a high standard of living for its citizens. In many ways, Switzerland is unique among Western European nations. The following passages will present the facts and factors that contributed to the development of the nation.
The decisive political moment in the history Switzerland was in 1848, when the Swiss Federation changed from a Union of States to a Confederation. But democracy and other progressive social changes were slow to come by, for even as late as 1970, women in Switzerland did not have voting franchise. In recent decades, the most significant event came in the form of the nation not joining the European Economic Area (EEA) in a 1992 referendum. From a socio-political perspective, the election in 1999 of Ruth Dreifuss as the president of Bundesrat is significant, for she is the first woman to hold this high office (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2007).
Coming to its geography, Switzerland is one of the smaller countries in Western Europe, with a total spread of 41285 square kilometers. Nearly two thirds of this area is occupied by the Alps. The rest is divided between the Middle land region and the Jura. The Swiss Alps are renowned for their natural beauty and attracts millions of tourists every year. The tourists can choose between numerous resorts which offer spectacular views, specialties of local culinary and skiing facilities. The pristine lake formations within the Alpsare also popular among tourists. Lakes such as Bodensee, Neuenburgersee, Vierwaldstätter See provide boating facilities as well. The geography of Switzerland is such that tourism is an important part of the nation’s economy. Switzerland is also host to thousands of glaciers whose formation dates back to hundreds of thousands of years (Offler, et.al, 1992). As for its climate,
“Switzerland is located in a transition zone. In the west, there is a strong influence of the Atlantic Ocean. Winds bring a lot of moisture into Switzerland and cause rainfall. In the east, there is an almost continental climate, with lower temperatures and less precipitation. On the other hand, the alps – which run from east to west – act as a climatic divide. South of the alps, there is an almost Mediterranean climate, with significantly higher temperatures but also a lot of precipitation.” (www.about.ch/geography, 2009)
Given its liberal banking norms, the country’s banks attract money from all parts of the world. The nation is also fast becoming a financial hub for global corporate events such as the World Economic Forum. The Swiss economy is also dependent on its trade with EU nations. As much as eighty percent of its exports are within this region and ninety percent of its imports were also from the EU region. The ethnic composition of Switzerland is very diverse. Of its total citizenry, 74 percent are of German origin, 20 percent are of French ancestry, and the rest belong Italian, Romansh and other ethnicities. Consequently, German is the predominant language, while French is also widely spoken. Most of the population is affiliated to Christianity, with both Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations finding equal representation (Offler, et.al, 1992).
Switzerland has one of the most advanced public healthcare systems in the world. The system is regulated by the Federal Health Insurance Act, enacted in 1994. All citizens of Switzerland are required to have health insurance coverage, which covers the costs incurred for surgeries, physician consultations, hospitalization charges, pharmacy expenses, etc. The insured individual contributes a reasonable percentage of the total cost of healthcare, whereas the government bears the majority of the costs. Switzerland has, along with the three Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, one of the most efficient and cost effective public healthcare systems in the world. The health outcomes for hospitalized patients are also very impressive (www.unicef.org, 2009).
Although the life expectancy for a Swiss citizen is 82 years, there is concern with respect to infant mortality rates. UNICEF released ranking system places Switzerland at a dismal position of 166. As of 2007, one in twenty Swiss infants die before reaching the age of five. But some steps are already being taken to address this situation. For example, statistics for the year 2007 shows that more than ninety percent of infants under the age of one are immunized against such serious ailments as Tuberculosis, Measles, Hepatitis-B and Polio. Other parameters of health are above par when taken in the context of continental Europe. For example, the entire Swiss population has access to pure drinking water and hygienic sanitation facilities (www.unicef.org, 2009)
Offler, H. S., Bonjour, E. & Potter, G. R. (1992). A Short History of Switzerland. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Switzerland. (2007). In TheColumbiaEncyclopedia (6th ed.).New York:ColumbiaUniversityPress.
The Official UNICEF website, Country Information: Switzerland, retrieved from <http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/switzerland_statistics.html#62> on on 8th June, 2009
The Country of Switzerland, retrieved from <(http://www.about.ch/geography/index.html)> on 8th June, 2009