Switzerland

beauty in the heart of europe

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history

Switzerland is one of the world's oldest democracies. The founding of the Swiss Confederation took place on 1 August 1291, when the mountain territories of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden began a revolt against Austrian Hapsburg control by signing the Perpetual Covenant of 1291. This covenant united these three territories in an effort to defend their interests and traditions against the influence of the Hapsburg family and maintain peace, security, and rule of law.The confederation later grew by adding other states, starting with Lucerne and Zürich. By 1513 a total of 13 states (both urban and rural) made up the Eidgenossenschaft (literally, “oath comradeship”). Through military conquest and diplomacy, these states governed substantial territories within what is now Switzerland.

Government Structure

Switzerland is a highly decentralized federal state; most political power resides in the 26 cantons (states), which delegate a few matters to the federal government. However, in recent years the number of items delegated to the federal level has grown.

Switzerland practices a semi-direct democracy, giving voters a stronger role in the political process than is present in purely representative democracies. Constitutional amendments can be instigated by popular initiative (where 100,000 voters sign an initiative within 18 months), and all Legislation is subject to referendums (which must include 50,000 signatures within 100 days). Referendums for constitutional amendments and laws dealing with foreign affairs require a double majority to pass, meaning the popular vote of the entire nation, as well as the popular vote in the majority of cantons, must support the proposed measure. These practices make Switzerland one of the most democratic countries in the world. Each canton has its own constitution and legislative and executive branches, while each community has its own local government. Each canton is responsible for education, police, welfare, citizenship, roads, and other local issues. At the cantonal and local levels, decisions are made directly by the people.

Major Issues

The environmental problems faced by Switzerland stem largely from human impacts due to population growth, consumption of fossil fuels, urbanization, and the steady rise of tourism. One of the most significant threats to the environment is damage to forests from acid rain, a form of air pollution. Acid rain is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which emit sulfate and nitrate particles into the atmosphere. These compounds, which fall to the earth in the form of rain, snow, and fog, can prove fatal to trees and other plant life. Trees in Switzerland play a critical role in averting landslides and avalanches by preventing soil erosion and holding back snow. In an effort to maintain healthy trees, Switzerland vigorously supports regional, European, and global treaties aimed at reducing emissions that contribute to acid rain. Domestically, Switzerland has sought to reduce damaging emissions by enacting strict vehicle emission standards and by limiting heavy truck traffic on the transalpine routes. To further protect Swiss forests, a federal permit is required to cut trees.

Economy

Switzerland is a peaceful, prosperous, and modern market economy with low unemployment, a highly skilled labor force, and a per capita GDP among the highest in the world. Switzerland's economy benefits from a highly developed service sector, led by financial services, and a manufacturing industry that specializes in high-technology, knowledge-based production. Its economic and political stability, transparent legal system, exceptional infrastructure, efficient capital markets, and low corporate tax rates also make Switzerland one of the world's most competitive economies. The Swiss have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with the EU's to enhance their international competitiveness, but some trade protectionism remains, particularly for its small agricultural sector. The fate of the Swiss economy is tightly linked to that of its neighbors in the eurozone, which purchases half of Swiss exports

Geography

From a climate point of view, 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.

Generally speaking, spring is wet and cool, April is well known for fast and often changing weather conditions. Summer is supposed to be warm and dry with maximum temperature up to 35°C (95°F). The temperature depends primarily on the elevation, the zero line (0°C or 32°F) may raise as high as 4000 meters above sea level (13125 feet). Fall is usually dry, but cool. The temperature will drop significantly in September or October, with the zero line around 2000 meter above sea level (6560 feet). Winter is supposed to be cold and dry. The temperature may drop below 0°C everywhere in Switzerland, especially at night. In the alps, they usually get a lot of snow, but even at lower elevations, there is a good chance that they will get a foot of snow every now and then.

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