Switzerland

Average altitude 1700 m (5576 ft.). The Alps determine the climate and vegetation,
providing a continental watershed. While the Alps contribute enormously to the Swiss
identity, economic activity is concentrated in the Plateau.
Two thirds of the country is covered by mountains, ice, rocks, forests and alpine
meadows. 11 per cent of the population live in the mountain regions.

If you travel across the Plateau, from Lake Geneva to Lake Constance, you never pass
through unpopulated territory. The landscape continually shows signs of man’s presence.

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When you leave a town, the next one is never far away. Villages lie within sight of each
Cultivated land: green and intensively used.

if you travel through the Plateau, you will be amazed at how green the countryside is; it
appears to have just been painted. Then you notice how organized everything is, as if it
has been drawn with a ruler. Fields are followed by more fields, with a dense road
network between them. Everything is neat and clearlylaid out. Nowhere will you drive
past endless fields given over to a single crop. Instead, meadows alternate with fields
sown to cereals or other crops. Between them are small woods. The land is used
The dense population and economic concentration in the Plateau (30 percent of the
country’s surface area) means that more and more cultivated land is being lost. In
Switzerland as a whole, 1 m2 (11 sq.ft.) of land has been built over every second since
the early 1980s by encroaching housing and infrastructure. The greatest expansion has
been in the conurbations of the Plateau. Even outside the built-up areas there have been
many changes. Orchards have given way to crops that can be mechanically harvested. In
the period 1984-95, for every four trees grubbed up, only one was planted. However, the
total length of hedgerows has increased, and there has been a move towards restoring
open streams, which in previous decades had been built over. Every effort is made to
balance the demands of the various interest groups to ensure the countryside retains its
diversity, and to avoid irreparable damage to the habitats of plants and animals.

The country of farmers and cows, as many still view Switzerland, has a lower percentage
of farmers than most other Western European countries. The size of the average farm is
14.5 hectares (36 acres), and in the mountain regions 7 hectares (17 acres). Overall, the
number of farms is dropping. However, the number of larger farms – those over 20 ha (50
acres), and in particular those over 50 ha (125 acres) – is increasing. About 6 percent of
the working population is employed in agriculture and about one third of food is
imported. Three quarters of the farmed area in Switzerland is devoted to meadows and
pastures, as both climate and terrain make most of the country unsuitable for crops.

Cereals and vegetables are limited to the lowlands. About one third of farms are engaged
in crop production. Swiss farmers find themselves facing two opposite demands from
their consumers: on the one hand to produce cheap food, and on the other hand to
produce it in an environmentally friendly way. It is not easy to strike a balance between
economic viability and ecology. Many farmers supplement their income by taking on
extra jobs, saying they could not survive without them. About one third of farms are now
run as sidelines, with their owners getting the bulk of their income from another source.

Alternatively, they are looking to boost their income with exotic crops, like melons, or
unusual animals, like ostriches, yaks, bison or highland cattle, or are putting their farms
to secondary uses, such as offering farmyard holidays or even lama trekking.

While there are no enormous forested areas i Switzerland, there are no areas without
forests either. Deciduous forests (beech and oak) grow at altitudes of up to 1,300 meters
(4,264 feet). Coniferous forests (like pine, Scots pine and spruce) grow at up to 1,900
Water: Europe’s sources are in Switzerland
Switzerland has 6% of Europe’s stock of fresh water. The Rhine, Rhone and Inn all take
their source here, although their waters flow into three seas: the North Sea, the
Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In addition, Switzerland has over 1,500 lakes. Water is
kept clean. Ninety-five percent of households are connected to sewage plants. Water is
the only raw material in the country. Hydroelectric power supplies about 60% of
A dense network of 50,000 footpaths covers the country. Walking is very popular,
especially among the German speaking Swiss. The footpaths are well signposted and
well-kept. The yellow signs are everywhere, with information about destinations, walking
times, distances and altitudes. But even when out walking you find you can’t go very far
without coming across inhabited areas.

In a country whose people pride themselves on keeping everything pretty and neat, the
mountains, with their cracks and crevasses, their sheer faces and often unpredictable
weather could not offer a more daunting contrast. Down below, everything is small and
on a human scale. But look up, and the immense size of the mountains is overwhelming.

In a hectic, ever-changing society, the mountains are a constant. To enter the mountains
means to enter another time zone, another world, leaving everyday life behind. They give
a new perspective, both literally and figuratively. People’s attitudes towards the
mountains have changed over the centuries. In mediaeval times they were seen as the
home of malevolent spirits. Scientists started to take an interest in them in the 18th
century, and shortly afterwards writers and artists fired by the ideas of the Age of
Romanticism began to extol their beauty. As the 19th century progressed, more and more
people, especially foreigners, came to regard them as a challenge and set themselves the
tasks of conquering the hitherto virgin peaks. By the end of the century, practically every
peak had been climbed. The best known mountains are the Alps, but Switzerland has a
second range, the Jura, where numerous dinosaur fossils have been found, and which
gave its name to the Jurassic geological period. The average height of the mountains of
the Swiss Alps is 1,700 meters (5,576 feet). The snow line begins at 2,500 meters (8,200
feet). There are around 100 mountains which are 4,000 meters (13,120 feet) or higher
The mountains for recreation Almost half of the country is above 1,200 meters (3,936
feet) altitude and is either used extensively or not at all. The Alps provide recreation and
relaxation for the urban population. Mountain railways have been constructed, as well as
sports centres, hotels and vacation homes. People are proud of the steepest, highest,
fastest railways. 60 percent of tourism is concentrated in the Alps and their foothills. This
provides employment in the mountain regions, but also causes ecological problems. 75
percent of tourists arrive by private car.

Switzerland is justly famous for the varied beauty of the countryside, its undulating
landscape with the odd farm and sleepy village, its woods and meadows, its lakes and the
majestic mountains. The names of countless Swiss towns and villages hint at the nature
of the country. Place names that contain the syllable -berg indicate a mountain, those in –
bhl, – egg, -halden or -rain point to a hill. A name containing -moos indicates a swamp,
while -ried was a reed bed. Fields also occur frequently, as in -acher, -feld, -matt or
-wang. Ticino has many place names containing words such as Campo, Prato, Piano or
Monte. And while names ending in -wil or -weil derive from farms, many others contain
hidden reminders of how hard the early inhabitants had to work to clear the land in the
first place. Rt(l)i, Schwand(en), Brand, and Stock all relate to ways of clearing the
ground. In Ticino names like Ronco and Arzo also refer to ways of clearing the land, by
digging up the wild vegetation or burning the trees. Such intense agricultural labour
belongs to ancient history. Today 60 percent of Swiss work in the service sector and the
majority live in towns, but many still feel drawn to nature and are very much aware of the
traditions linking them to the land.

People used to leave the mountain regions in search of work and a more comfortable way
of life, but now they are becoming inhabited again. At weekends and during the vacation
people come from the lowlands for recreation. Old houses are being renovated as second
homes. There is a lot of building, and a lot is being built over.
Not much building land, expensive accommodation
In Switzerland there is a shortage of building land, and residential property is very
expensive. On average, 20 percent of income is spent on rent. Only one third of the
population live in their own house or apartment – a very low proportion in comparison to
the rest of Europe. The 1990 census showed that 64% of households consisted of one or
two people. It also put the average living space per person at 39 m2 (420 sq.ft.), which is
Building is tightly regulated. There are strict rules for renovations and conversions. The
appearance of towns and villages should be preserved. In villages, it is precisely laid
down where residential properties can be built, where industrial buildings belong and
where farming may be done. This is regulated by local council planning zones and
Building work concentrates on safety and stability. Everything is built to last for as long
as possible and great attention is paid to detail.

Most people live in large towns with sprawling suburbs, in apartment blocks or houses
containing several families. However, the rural landscape is characterised by small
villages and farmhouses surrounded by fields or on the hillsides.

Villages become towns and towns remain as villages
Zurich has 336,000 inhabitants and is the largest city in Switzerland. The second largest
city is Geneva has 172,800, followed by Basle with 168,700.The capital, Bern, has
123,300, and Lausanne 114,200. Taken along with its suburbs, Zurich also forms the
largest conurbation with nearly one million inhabitants. About one third of the country’s
population live in the conurbations of the five biggest cities. In recent years the trend has
been for people to move out of the cit centres into the communes of the outer suburbs.

Even the big cities feel like small towns. There are no dominating skylines. You can see
where you are, you do not feel overwhelmed. Everything is on a human scale, structured
and managed, familiar and safe. The central area has usually developed over centuries.

Zurich, for example, was founded by the Romans. The old part of Bern is on the
UNESCO list of world heritage sites.There are also many well-preserved small
mediaeval towns, but the larger buildings in cities mostly date from the 19th century and
are government buildings, banks or large hotels.

Switzerland stands on the route linking northern and southern Europe, but the Alps made
transit difficult until tunnels were built through them. The Gotthard railway tunnel, 19
km (12 miles) long, was built more than 100 years ago. The Gotthard road tunnel, opened
in 1980, was the longest in the world at 16.5 km (10 miles) until Norway’s Laerdal tunnel
(24.5 km/15 miles) opened in November 2000. Switzerland’s position as a transit country
has exposed it to ever increasing amounts of freight traffic. Europe is moving closer
together. Business knows no boundaries. As a result, the road network is coming under
heavy pressure, and gigantic queues build up, especially on the Gotthard route.

The amount of road traffic increases year by year. In order to protect the population and
environment, more road traffic should go by rail in the future. This is why the railways
are being expanded. The ambitious NEAT project to construct two transalpine railways is
currently under construction. It includes the Gotthard base tunnel, which at 50 km (31
miles) will be the longest in the world, and the Ltschberg base tunnel which will be 29
km (18 miles) long. The Ltschberg tunnel is scheduled to open in 2006-7, and the
Gotthard in 2012. In another move to encourage the switch to rail, in 2001 Switzerland
became the first country in Europe to introduce a tax for heavy vehicles calculated
according to their weight and distance travelled. 2001 saw another move to get freight off
the roads: the start of the so-called “rolling highway,” moving trucks by rail across
Switzerland from the southern German city of Freiburg to Novara in northern Italy. The
Ltschberg tunnel had to be specially adapted and the flatcars lowered to enable vehicles
up to four meters high and 44 tonnes to use the system, which is calculated down to the
last centimetre. It is hoped that in the medium term up to 350,000 trucks will use the
The railway network is very dense and one of the busiest in the world. The Swiss are
Europe’s keenest rail users, clocking up 1,850 km (1,150 miles) per person in 1999.

Despite the mountains and gorges, the railway is a model of precision and punctuality.

The Swiss are expert railway builders. Trains cannot climb steep gradients, so they need
a lot of track in order to gain height gradually. This is often hidden inside tunnels, which
are sometimes almost circular. The huge railway viaducts of the southeastern canton of
Grisons, built for the most part in the early 20th century, have become a tourist attraction
in themselves, drawing rail enthusiasts from all over the world. Europe’s highest station is
at the Jungfraujoch in the Bernese Oberland, at an altitude of 3,454 meters (11,330 ft.)
The country is covered with a dense road network, although the topography makes this
difficult. The mountains and gorges have to be negotiated and bridges and tunnels must
be built. A lot of money is invested in road construction and a high standard of
maintenance. Car ownership is high: in 2000 for every 1000 people there were about 500
cars But the Swiss can get around even without their own car. The famous Swiss post
buses are an important part of the public transport system. They reckon that the distance
they cover every day is equivalent to travelling five times round the earth. Buses tie in
with train arrivals and departures, and serve remote villages, even though they sometimes
Switzerland’s main airport is at Kloten, just outside Zurich. There are also major airports
attached to Geneva and Basle. The former is built partly on French territory, and the
latter, which is shared with the French city of Mulhouse and the German city of Freiburg,
is completely within France. Berne and Lugano have smaller airports from which flights
can be taken to a number of European cities. In addition there are numerous small
civilian airports all over Switzerland. The airport in Samedan, near St Moritz in the
Grisons, is the highest in Europe, at 1707 meters (5,600 feet) above sea level. Kloten,
now run by the private Unique company, in 2000 embarked on an expansion programme
to strengthen its position as a European hub. However, the strategy was called into
question by the drastic restructuring of the Swissair Group in October 2001 and a sharp
downturn in predicted passenger numbers. The airport currently handles 23 million
passengers a year and also handles three quarters of the country’s air freight.

Switzerland has virtually no mineral resources and a restricted surface area. It depends
for its wealth on foreign trade. The relatively small size of its domestic market – a total
population of just over 7,000,000 – is another factor which has encouraged Swiss
manufacturers to look abroad: they need foreign markets in order to make investment in
research and development worthwhile. Switzerland imports bulky raw materials and
exports high-quality goods. In 2000 the value of 1 tonne of exported goods was about
three times more than that of the same amount of imports.

The Swiss economy is not built on mass production, but on highly-qualified work and
well-trained workers. Many businesses have followed what they call a “niche strategy,”
concentrating on a small range of high-quality products. As a result even some small
enterprises have been able to corner the world market in their own speciality. The
chemical industry is a particularly good example, with 90% of its total product range
consisting of specialities. A spin-off of this policy is to make the industry highly
diversified, with more than 30,000 products. Overall, the important areas for Swiss
exports are micro-technology, high technology, biotechnology, the pharmaceuticals
industry and banking and insurance know-how. Swiss products can command high prices
in world markets because consumers are ready to pay for high quality. But with such a
strategy, Swiss companies cannot sit back on their laurels. There has to be a strong
emphasis on research and development. In Switzerland, a higher percentage of people
work in research and development than in other industrialized countries. 2.75 % of the
gross national product was spent on research in 1996. This is also very high in
comparison with other countries. The bulk of the finance – 71% – came from the private
The Swiss work a lot, an average of 42 hours a week. Full-time employees are entitled to
leave of only 20 working days per year. Public holidays vary from canton to canton, but
there are generally 8 or 9. In 1986, the Swiss rejected a general increase in vacation
entitlement from four to five weeks and in 1976 they voted against the introduction of the
40 hour week. Strikes are rare and workplace absenteeism is low.

With its pharmaceuticals industry, federal institutes of technology and other specialised
institutes and research facilities, Switzerland is well set to face the future in such
fast-developing areas as biotechnology and molecular biology.

In a league table compiled by the Financial Times, Switzerland is ranked highest among
countries best placed to develop their high-technology industries. The FT bases its
calculations on data provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) and calls the result “surprising”, as, it says, “Switzerland is not
universally regarded as being at the top level in innovation and entrepreneurship, though
it is known for its high quality of business life.”
The structure of the Swiss economy changed considerably at the end of the 20th century.

The number of farming jobs fell by 25% between 1985 and 1995. Traditionally important
industries such as construction and engineering also declined, while most branches in the
service sector continued to grow. In 1995 more people were employed in health and
social welfare than in any other area.
Apart from compulsory insurance like state pension contributions (approximately 5% of
earnings), pension fund (approximately 6% of earnings) and unemployment insurance
(1.5%), the Swiss need a lot of money for private insurance; in 1998 an average family
spent nearly 12% of its household budget on additional insurance, including obligatory
health insurance. This is very high in comparison with other countries. Despite this,
insurance companies earn half their money abroad. Switzerland is the leading insurance
exporter in Europe. Reinsurance (insurance for insurers), is also an important service,
with up to 90% of the business done abroad. Federal Statistical Office – Household
spending figures, including insurance. (1998) (In French, German)
Banks and financial institutions play an important role in the Swiss economy. The Swiss
franc is among the world’s most stable currencies. The Swiss money and capital market is
one of the most important in the world. The two big banks – UBS and Credit Suisse –
are among the leading banks. The Swiss are world-wide leaders in “private banking”,
asset management for individuals. They manage 35% of all private and institutional
offshore funds. Private banking provides more than one third of the profits of UBS and
Credit Suisse. Switzerland also has a number of private banks – 15 in 2001 – owned by
groups of wealthy individuals, who bear unlimited personal responsibility for the bank’s
activities. In other words, they could lose their entire fortune in the unlikely event of its
going bankrupt. Some foreign banks, including Deutsche Bank and Barclays, have made
Geneva the centre of their private banking activities. Switzerland also has a network of
cooperative banks, the Raiffeisen network, with 537 branches mainly in smaller towns
and villages. Each branch is autonomous, with its members taking part in decision
making, and bearing joint responsibility for the fortunes of their branch.
Switzerland is also home to a number of large international trading companies, whose
business consists of buying commodities and selling them on to third parties. The
commodities themselves, principally cereals, sugar, cotton, oil and gas, never enter
Switzerland. These companies are not listed on the stock exchange. Most of them are
based in Geneva, with others in Lausanne and canton Zug. Lucerne is one of the world’s
biggest diamond trading centres. The companies often make an important contribution to
the local economy: in Geneva about 20,000 people are estimated to work directly or
indirectly in the sector, while until 1996 the Lausanne grain traders Andr paid more than
a million francs annually in taxes to the city. However, a number of recent developments
have put the secretive companies under pressure. The revolution in communications
technology at the end of the 20th century has made trading far more transparent. Even
small farmers can discover the world market price for their crops, and buyers prefer more
and more to contact producers directly. Globalisation has helped this direct trade by
scrapping many tariff barriers, and the end of the cold war has lifted the need for secrecy
in the trading of strategic goods. Commodity prices have been dropping for several years,
compounding the dealers?x2019; problems. Furthermore, where businesses have been
family-run over several generations as in the case of Andr, struggling to avoid total
liquidation in 2001 – they often find it difficult to adopt the new management practices
demanded in changing economic circumstances.
In recent years, Switzerland has also become a centre for the management of human
resources. The world’s leading staffing and recruitment agency, Adecco, has its
headquarters in Lausanne, while a number of companies have moved their personnel
management services to Geneva, or use the services of Geneva-based consultancies This
development has been favoured by the fact that Switzerland offers a stable social
environment, and low tax rates. At the same time, employers from European Union
countries find the Swiss employment regulations less bureaucratic than those at home,
and more employer-friendly, for example as far as the right to dismiss workers is
Tourism is an important source of income. Visitors from abroad spent nearly 13 billion
francs in Switzerland in 2000, and domestic tourists around 9.7 billion. Figures released
by the World Trade Organisation in 2000 put Switzerland in 12th place for tourism
earnings. The country welcomed 11.4 million visitors in 2000, coming 17th in the world
for the number of tourist arrivals. Visitors from abroad accounted for 4% of Swiss GDP
in 2000. The Swiss themselves also like travelling, with France the most popular
From an industrial to a service sector society
More and more large industrial buildings are empty, with the powerful industrial
machines at a standstill. Work is changing. More and more people only work with their
fingertips, pressing buttons: computer keyboards, push-button telephones. It is becoming
less common to take hold of the things we produce. We work with software, not with
“hard” things. We live more comfortably, but are also further removed from the origins of
the things we need and consume daily.

Most businesses are small or medium-sized. In 1998, 99.7% of enterprises had fewer than
250 full-time workers, employing nearly 70% of the total work force. The largest
company is Nestl, the biggest food company in the world. At the end of 1999 it had
231,000 employees, more than 97% of them outside Switzerland. In the Financial Times
“Global 500” table for 2001, Switzerland came sixth. The table ranks the world’s
companies according to the value placed on them by stock markets. Switzerland had 11
companies on the list, valued at a total of 584 billion dollars. Many Swiss enterprises
continue to be run by the families which founded them. These include such giants as the
pharmaceutical and biotech company Serono, headed by its biggest shareholder, Ernesto
Bertarelli, the son of its founder, and the Swatch group founded by Nicolas Hayek.

Businesses in Switzerland have for many years been accused of cronyism by left wing
groups. A very restricted number of people – estimated at about 100 – sit on the boards of
many different companies, taking decisions with little reference to ordinary shareholders.

With the growth of new communication technology and increasing globalisation,
companies themselves have started to accept that their administration must become more
Swiss companies are extremely competitive in world markets. In some branches, more
than 90% of goods and services are exported. The best-known export items are watches,
chocolate and cheese, but in fact mechanical and electrical engineering and chemicals
together account for over half Swiss export revenues. The areas where Switzerland is a
leading supplier include looms, paper and printing machinery, blanking tools for
metalworking, elevators and escalators, packaging equipment and rack-and-pinion
railways. However, many of the components for these items are now manufactured
abroad. Consultancy, insurance and tourism are also part of the export trade. Exports of
goods and services alone amount to about 25,000 francs – 16,000 dollars – per head per
year, according to the OSEC business network, which promotes Swiss foreign trade.
Switzerland is among the world’s leading producers of chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

The chemical industry focuses on dye-stuffs, perfume essences and food flavourings. The
center of the industry is Basle. The largest pharmaceutical companies are Hoffmann-La
Roche and Novartis (formed by the 1996 merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz). The
chemical and pharmaceutical industries export 85% of their output.

The chemical industry was the first to start setting up subsidiaries abroad, originally to
avoid protectionist measures imposed by foreign countries after the 1914-1918 war. Now
almost one franc in two earned in Switzerland comes from abroad. The number of staff
employed by Swiss companies abroad rose from 890,000 in 1988 to 1.61 million in 1998,
with the greatest increase being in services. A number of transnational companies have
their headquarters in Switzerland. They cover chemicals, pharmaceuticals, machinery
and foodstuffs, as well as banks and insurance companies. Switzerland has opened itself
to the process of globalisation. A study published in 2001 by the US magazine Foreign
Policy ranked Switzerland as the world’s fourth most globalised country, based on such
factors as the share of trade in the economy, the level of foreign investment, and per
capita use of international telecommunications and the internet.

Politically distant, economically international
Despite its economic presence worldwide, Switzerland, with its long tradition of
neutrality, has stayed out of large international organisations. In1986, voters rejected UN
membership, although Switzerland is a member of most of the organisation’s specialised
agencies, and has contributed to some of the UN peacekeeping missions with personnel,
logistical and financial support. The UN’s European headquarters is in Geneva. The
Swiss government has announced its intention of seeking full membership of the
international body. The issue is due for a popular vote in 2002. The Swiss also voted to
remain outside the European Economic Area in 1992. All the neighboring countries –
with the exception of Liechtenstein – are EU members. Switzerland is not. Despite this,
Switzerland’s most important trading partners are EU countries. The biggest partner is
Germany, followed by France, Italy and the United Kingdom. In 2000 60% of exports
went to EU countries, and 78% of the imports came from EU states. In May 2000 the
Swiss people approved a bilateral agreement with the EU that had taken 4 years to
negotiate, but in 2001 nearly 77% of the population voted against a proposal to start EU
accession negotiations immediately.The Swiss government, which called for the proposal
to be rejected, has made it clear that it wishes to take the country into the EU
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