The political system
Switzerland is a federal state composed of sovereign member states, or cantons. The «Everlasting Confederation» was entered into by the three ancient cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden in 1291, which is considered as the birth of Switzerland. Berne is the administrative capital of the Swiss Confederation.
According to the Federal Constitution, sovereignty and thus the highest political authority lies with the electorate in Switzerland The people elect parliament, which in its turn elects the seven members of the government, the Federal Council. The legislative organ is the Federal Assembly, composed of two chambers vested with the same powers: the Council of States (46 representatives of the cantons) and the National Council (200 members allocated according to the strength of the parties).
Each 26 canton has its own constitution, parliament, government and courts. The division of competence between the Federal Government and the cantons is regulated by the Federal Constitution. Switzerland does not belong to the European Union (EU), but is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). In 1992 the Swiss electorate rejected accession to the European Economic Area (EEA). Switzerland has, however, negotiated agreements with the EU, which came into force in mid-2002.
Switzerland is not only a multi-cultural country because several languages are spoken here but also owing to the long-established traditions and special characteristics of the local population in the numerous Alpine valleys.
At the end of 2008 Switzerland’s resident population amounted to over 7,7 million persons, more than 20% of whom were foreign nationals. In addition, some 200,000 border-crossing commuters work in Switzerland; they mainly live in the Swiss border regions. There is a high proportion of foreign residents in the large cities. In Geneva, Zurich and Berne there are nationals from over a hundred different countries.
There are four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Around 70% of the population speak one of the many Swiss-German dialects (above all in northern, central and eastern Switzerland). 20% speak French. This part of the population lives in Western Switzerland, called the «Romandie». The population in Ticino on the southern side of the Alps speaks Italian. A part of the population there also speaks Italian dialects. Romansh is only spoken in some valleys of Canton Graubünden. In Switzerland social integration mostly takes place at work. The Swiss have a reputation for being hard-working, conscientious and punctual.
Switzerland does not belong to the Euro zone. Its currency is the Swiss franc (CHF).
CHF 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 1000
5, 10, 20 and 50 centimes as well as CHF 1, 2 , 5
In addition to Swiss francs, the euro is gaining more and more acceptance in the shops. Many shops even mark the prices in Swiss francs and euros.