Average altitude 1700 m (5576 ft.). The Alps determine the climate and vegetation,providing a continental watershed. While the Alps contribute enormously to the Swissidentity, economic activity is concentrated in the Plateau. Two thirds of the country is covered by mountains, ice, rocks, forests and alpinemeadows. 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 passthrough unpopulated territory. The landscape continually shows signs of man’s presence.
When you leave a town, the next one is never far away. Villages lie within sight of eachCultivated land: green and intensively used.
if you travel through the Plateau, you will be amazed at how green the countryside is; itappears to have just been painted. Then you notice how organized everything is, as if ithas been drawn with a ruler. Fields are followed by more fields, with a dense roadnetwork between them. Everything is neat and clearlylaid out. Nowhere will you drivepast endless fields given over to a single crop. Instead, meadows alternate with fieldssown to cereals or other crops. Between them are small woods. The land is usedThe dense population and economic concentration in the Plateau (30 percent of thecountry’s surface area) means that more and more cultivated land is being lost. InSwitzerland as a whole, 1 m2 (11 sq.ft.) of land has been built over every second sincethe early 1980s by encroaching housing and infrastructure. The greatest expansion hasbeen in the conurbations of the Plateau. Even outside the built-up areas there have beenmany changes. Orchards have given way to crops that can be mechanically harvested. Inthe period 1984-95, for every four trees grubbed up, only one was planted. However, thetotal length of hedgerows has increased, and there has been a move towards restoringopen streams, which in previous decades had been built over. Every effort is made tobalance the demands of the various interest groups to ensure the countryside retains itsdiversity, 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 percentageof farmers than most other Western European countries. The size of the average farm is14.5 hectares (36 acres), and in the mountain regions 7 hectares (17 acres). Overall, thenumber of farms is dropping. However, the number of larger farms – those over 20 ha (50acres), and in particular those over 50 ha (125 acres) – is increasing. About 6 percent ofthe working population is employed in agriculture and about one third of food isimported. Three quarters of the farmed area in Switzerland is devoted to meadows andpastures, 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 engagedin crop production. Swiss farmers find themselves facing two opposite demands fromtheir consumers: on the one hand to produce cheap food, and on the other hand toproduce it in an environmentally friendly way. It is not easy to strike a balance betweeneconomic viability and ecology. Many farmers supplement their income by taking onextra jobs, saying they could not survive without them. About one third of farms are nowrun 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, orunusual animals, like ostriches, yaks, bison or highland cattle, or are putting their farmsto secondary uses, such as offering farmyard holidays or even lama trekking.
While there are no enormous forested areas i Switzerland, there are no areas withoutforests 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 1,900Water: Europe’s sources are in SwitzerlandSwitzerland has 6% of Europe’s stock of fresh water. The Rhine, Rhone and Inn all taketheir source here, although their waters flow into three seas: the North Sea, theMediterranean and the Black Sea. In addition, Switzerland has over 1,500 lakes. Water iskept clean. Ninety-five percent of households are connected to sewage plants. Water isthe only raw material in the country. Hydroelectric power supplies about 60% ofA dense network of 50,000 footpaths covers the country. Walking is very popular,especially among the German speaking Swiss. The footpaths are well signposted andwell-kept. The yellow signs are everywhere, with information about destinations, walkingtimes, distances and altitudes. But even when out walking you find you can’t go very farwithout coming across inhabited areas.
In a country whose people pride themselves on keeping everything pretty and neat, themountains, with their cracks and crevasses, their sheer faces and often unpredictableweather could not offer a more daunting contrast. Down below, everything is small andon 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 mountainsmeans to enter another time zone, another world, leaving everyday life behind. They givea new perspective, both literally and figuratively. People’s attitudes towards themountains have changed over the centuries. In mediaeval times they were seen as thehome of malevolent spirits. Scientists started to take an interest in them in the 18thcentury, and shortly afterwards writers and artists fired by the ideas of the Age ofRomanticism began to extol their beauty. As the 19th century progressed, more and morepeople, especially foreigners, came to regard them as a challenge and set themselves thetasks of conquering the hitherto virgin peaks. By the end of the century, practically everypeak had been climbed. The best known mountains are the Alps, but Switzerland has asecond range, the Jura, where numerous dinosaur fossils have been found, and whichgave its name to the Jurassic geological period. The average height of the mountains ofthe Swiss Alps is 1,700 meters (5,576 feet). The snow line begins at 2,500 meters (8,200feet). There are around 100 mountains which are 4,000 meters (13,120 feet) or higherThe mountains for recreation Almost half of the country is above 1,200 meters (3,936feet) altitude and is either used extensively or not at all. The Alps provide recreation andrelaxation for the urban population. Mountain railways have been constructed, as well assports 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. Thisprovides employment in the mountain regions, but also causes ecological problems. 75percent of tourists arrive by private car.
Switzerland is justly famous for the varied beauty of the countryside, its undulatinglandscape with the odd farm and sleepy village, its woods and meadows, its lakes and themajestic mountains. The names of countless Swiss towns and villages hint at the natureof 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 orMonte. And while names ending in -wil or -weil derive from farms, many others containhidden reminders of how hard the early inhabitants had to work to clear the land in thefirst place. Rt(l)i, Schwand(en), Brand, and Stock all relate to ways of clearing theground. In Ticino names like Ronco and Arzo also refer to ways of clearing the land, bydigging up the wild vegetation or burning the trees. Such intense agricultural labourbelongs to ancient history. Today 60 percent of Swiss work in the service sector and themajority live in towns, but many still feel drawn to nature and are very much aware of thetraditions linking them to the land.
People used to leave the mountain regions in search of work and a more comfortable wayof life, but now they are becoming inhabited again. At weekends and during the vacationpeople come from the lowlands for recreation. Old houses are being renovated as secondhomes. There is a lot of building, and a lot is being built over. Not much building land, expensive accommodationIn Switzerland there is a shortage of building land, and residential property is veryexpensive. On average, 20 percent of income is spent on rent. Only one third of thepopulation live in their own house or apartment – a very low proportion in comparison tothe rest of Europe. The 1990 census showed that 64% of households consisted of one ortwo people. It also put the average living space per person at 39 m2 (420 sq.ft.), which isBuilding is tightly regulated. There are strict rules for renovations and conversions. Theappearance of towns and villages should be preserved. In villages, it is precisely laiddown where residential properties can be built, where industrial buildings belong andwhere farming may be done. This is regulated by local council planning zones andBuilding work concentrates on safety and stability. Everything is built to last for as longas possible and great attention is paid to detail.
Most people live in large towns with sprawling suburbs, in apartment blocks or housescontaining several families. However, the rural landscape is characterised by smallvillages and farmhouses surrounded by fields or on the hillsides.
Villages become towns and towns remain as villagesZurich has 336,000 inhabitants and is the largest city in Switzerland. The second largestcity is Geneva has 172,800, followed by Basle with 168,700.The capital, Bern, has123,300, and Lausanne 114,200. Taken along with its suburbs, Zurich also forms thelargest conurbation with nearly one million inhabitants. About one third of the country’spopulation live in the conurbations of the five biggest cities. In recent years the trend hasbeen 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 seewhere you are, you do not feel overwhelmed. Everything is on a human scale, structuredand 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 theUNESCO list of world heritage sites.There are also many well-preserved smallmediaeval towns, but the larger buildings in cities mostly date from the 19th century andare government buildings, banks or large hotels.
Switzerland stands on the route linking northern and southern Europe, but the Alps madetransit difficult until tunnels were built through them. The Gotthard railway tunnel, 19km (12 miles) long, was built more than 100 years ago. The Gotthard road tunnel, openedin 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 countryhas exposed it to ever increasing amounts of freight traffic. Europe is moving closertogether. Business knows no boundaries. As a result, the road network is coming underheavy 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 andenvironment, more road traffic should go by rail in the future. This is why the railwaysare being expanded. The ambitious NEAT project to construct two transalpine railways iscurrently under construction. It includes the Gotthard base tunnel, which at 50 km (31miles) will be the longest in the world, and the Ltschberg base tunnel which will be 29km (18 miles) long. The Ltschberg tunnel is scheduled to open in 2006-7, and theGotthard in 2012. In another move to encourage the switch to rail, in 2001 Switzerlandbecame the first country in Europe to introduce a tax for heavy vehicles calculatedaccording to their weight and distance travelled. 2001 saw another move to get freight offthe roads: the start of the so-called “rolling highway,” moving trucks by rail acrossSwitzerland from the southern German city of Freiburg to Novara in northern Italy. TheLtschberg tunnel had to be specially adapted and the flatcars lowered to enable vehiclesup to four meters high and 44 tonnes to use the system, which is calculated down to thelast centimetre. It is hoped that in the medium term up to 350,000 trucks will use theThe railway network is very dense and one of the busiest in the world. The Swiss areEurope’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 needa lot of track in order to gain height gradually. This is often hidden inside tunnels, whichare sometimes almost circular. The huge railway viaducts of the southeastern canton ofGrisons, built for the most part in the early 20th century, have become a tourist attractionin themselves, drawing rail enthusiasts from all over the world. Europe’s highest station isat 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 thisdifficult. The mountains and gorges have to be negotiated and bridges and tunnels mustbe built. A lot of money is invested in road construction and a high standard ofmaintenance. Car ownership is high: in 2000 for every 1000 people there were about 500cars But the Swiss can get around even without their own car. The famous Swiss postbuses are an important part of the public transport system. They reckon that the distancethey cover every day is equivalent to travelling five times round the earth. Buses tie inwith train arrivals and departures, and serve remote villages, even though they sometimesSwitzerland’s main airport is at Kloten, just outside Zurich. There are also major airportsattached to Geneva and Basle. The former is built partly on French territory, and thelatter, 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 flightscan be taken to a number of European cities. In addition there are numerous smallcivilian airports all over Switzerland. The airport in Samedan, near St Moritz in theGrisons, 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 programmeto strengthen its position as a European hub. However, the strategy was called intoquestion by the drastic restructuring of the Swissair Group in October 2001 and a sharpdownturn in predicted passenger numbers. The airport currently handles 23 millionpassengers 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 dependsfor its wealth on foreign trade. The relatively small size of its domestic market – a totalpopulation of just over 7,000,000 – is another factor which has encouraged Swissmanufacturers to look abroad: they need foreign markets in order to make investment inresearch and development worthwhile. Switzerland imports bulky raw materials andexports high-quality goods. In 2000 the value of 1 tonne of exported goods was aboutthree times more than that of the same amount of imports.
The Swiss economy is not built on mass production, but on highly-qualified work andwell-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 smallenterprises have been able to corner the world market in their own speciality. Thechemical industry is a particularly good example, with 90% of its total product rangeconsisting of specialities. A spin-off of this policy is to make the industry highlydiversified, with more than 30,000 products. Overall, the important areas for Swissexports are micro-technology, high technology, biotechnology, the pharmaceuticalsindustry and banking and insurance know-how. Swiss products can command high pricesin world markets because consumers are ready to pay for high quality. But with such astrategy, Swiss companies cannot sit back on their laurels. There has to be a strongemphasis on research and development. In Switzerland, a higher percentage of peoplework in research and development than in other industrialized countries. 2.75 % of thegross national product was spent on research in 1996. This is also very high incomparison with other countries. The bulk of the finance – 71% – came from the privateThe Swiss work a lot, an average of 42 hours a week. Full-time employees are entitled toleave of only 20 working days per year. Public holidays vary from canton to canton, butthere are generally 8 or 9. In 1986, the Swiss rejected a general increase in vacationentitlement from four to five weeks and in 1976 they voted against the introduction of the40 hour week. Strikes are rare and workplace absenteeism is low.
With its pharmaceuticals industry, federal institutes of technology and other specialisedinstitutes and research facilities, Switzerland is well set to face the future in suchfast-developing areas as biotechnology and molecular biology.
In a league table compiled by the Financial Times, Switzerland is ranked highest amongcountries best placed to develop their high-technology industries. The FT bases itscalculations on data provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation andDevelopment (OECD) and calls the result “surprising”, as, it says, “Switzerland is notuniversally regarded as being at the top level in innovation and entrepreneurship, thoughit 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 importantindustries such as construction and engineering also declined, while most branches in theservice sector continued to grow. In 1995 more people were employed in health andsocial welfare than in any other area. Apart from compulsory insurance like state pension contributions (approximately 5% ofearnings), 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 familyspent nearly 12% of its household budget on additional insurance, including obligatoryhealth insurance. This is very high in comparison with other countries. Despite this,insurance companies earn half their money abroad. Switzerland is the leading insuranceexporter in Europe. Reinsurance (insurance for insurers), is also an important service,with up to 90% of the business done abroad. Federal Statistical Office – Householdspending figures, including insurance. (1998) (In French, German)Banks and financial institutions play an important role in the Swiss economy. The Swissfranc is among the world’s most stable currencies. The Swiss money and capital market isone 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 institutionaloffshore funds. Private banking provides more than one third of the profits of UBS andCredit Suisse. Switzerland also has a number of private banks – 15 in 2001 – owned bygroups of wealthy individuals, who bear unlimited personal responsibility for the bank’sactivities. In other words, they could lose their entire fortune in the unlikely event of itsgoing bankrupt. Some foreign banks, including Deutsche Bank and Barclays, have madeGeneva the centre of their private banking activities. Switzerland also has a network ofcooperative banks, the Raiffeisen network, with 537 branches mainly in smaller townsand villages. Each branch is autonomous, with its members taking part in decisionmaking, and bearing joint responsibility for the fortunes of their branch. Switzerland is also home to a number of large international trading companies, whosebusiness consists of buying commodities and selling them on to third parties. Thecommodities themselves, principally cereals, sugar, cotton, oil and gas, never enterSwitzerland. These companies are not listed on the stock exchange. Most of them arebased in Geneva, with others in Lausanne and canton Zug. Lucerne is one of the world’sbiggest diamond trading centres. The companies often make an important contribution tothe local economy: in Geneva about 20,000 people are estimated to work directly orindirectly in the sector, while until 1996 the Lausanne grain traders Andr paid more thana million francs annually in taxes to the city. However, a number of recent developmentshave put the secretive companies under pressure. The revolution in communicationstechnology at the end of the 20th century has made trading far more transparent. Evensmall farmers can discover the world market price for their crops, and buyers prefer moreand more to contact producers directly. Globalisation has helped this direct trade byscrapping many tariff barriers, and the end of the cold war has lifted the need for secrecyin the trading of strategic goods. Commodity prices have been dropping for several years,compounding the dealers?x2019; problems. Furthermore, where businesses have beenfamily-run over several generations as in the case of Andr, struggling to avoid totalliquidation in 2001 – they often find it difficult to adopt the new management practicesdemanded in changing economic circumstances. In recent years, Switzerland has also become a centre for the management of humanresources. The world’s leading staffing and recruitment agency, Adecco, has itsheadquarters in Lausanne, while a number of companies have moved their personnelmanagement services to Geneva, or use the services of Geneva-based consultancies Thisdevelopment has been favoured by the fact that Switzerland offers a stable socialenvironment, and low tax rates. At the same time, employers from European Unioncountries 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 isTourism is an important source of income. Visitors from abroad spent nearly 13 billionfrancs in Switzerland in 2000, and domestic tourists around 9.7 billion. Figures releasedby the World Trade Organisation in 2000 put Switzerland in 12th place for tourismearnings. The country welcomed 11.4 million visitors in 2000, coming 17th in the worldfor the number of tourist arrivals. Visitors from abroad accounted for 4% of Swiss GDPin 2000. The Swiss themselves also like travelling, with France the most popularFrom an industrial to a service sector societyMore and more large industrial buildings are empty, with the powerful industrialmachines at a standstill. Work is changing. More and more people only work with theirfingertips, pressing buttons: computer keyboards, push-button telephones. It is becomingless 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 ofthe things we need and consume daily.
Most businesses are small or medium-sized. In 1998, 99.7% of enterprises had fewer than250 full-time workers, employing nearly 70% of the total work force. The largestcompany is Nestl, the biggest food company in the world. At the end of 1999 it had231,000 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’scompanies according to the value placed on them by stock markets. Switzerland had 11companies on the list, valued at a total of 584 billion dollars. Many Swiss enterprisescontinue to be run by the families which founded them. These include such giants as thepharmaceutical and biotech company Serono, headed by its biggest shareholder, ErnestoBertarelli, 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 winggroups. A very restricted number of people – estimated at about 100 – sit on the boards ofmany 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 moreSwiss companies are extremely competitive in world markets. In some branches, morethan 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 chemicalstogether account for over half Swiss export revenues. The areas where Switzerland is aleading supplier include looms, paper and printing machinery, blanking tools formetalworking, elevators and escalators, packaging equipment and rack-and-pinionrailways. However, many of the components for these items are now manufacturedabroad. Consultancy, insurance and tourism are also part of the export trade. Exports ofgoods and services alone amount to about 25,000 francs – 16,000 dollars – per head peryear, 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. Thecenter of the industry is Basle. The largest pharmaceutical companies are Hoffmann-LaRoche and Novartis (formed by the 1996 merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz). Thechemical and pharmaceutical industries export 85% of their output.
The chemical industry was the first to start setting up subsidiaries abroad, originally toavoid protectionist measures imposed by foreign countries after the 1914-1918 war. Nowalmost one franc in two earned in Switzerland comes from abroad. The number of staffemployed 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 havetheir headquarters in Switzerland. They cover chemicals, pharmaceuticals, machineryand foodstuffs, as well as banks and insurance companies. Switzerland has opened itselfto the process of globalisation. A study published in 2001 by the US magazine ForeignPolicy ranked Switzerland as the world’s fourth most globalised country, based on suchfactors as the share of trade in the economy, the level of foreign investment, and percapita use of international telecommunications and the internet.
Politically distant, economically internationalDespite its economic presence worldwide, Switzerland, with its long tradition ofneutrality, has stayed out of large international organisations. In1986, voters rejected UNmembership, although Switzerland is a member of most of the organisation’s specialisedagencies, and has contributed to some of the UN peacekeeping missions with personnel,logistical and financial support. The UN’s European headquarters is in Geneva. TheSwiss government has announced its intention of seeking full membership of theinternational body. The issue is due for a popular vote in 2002. The Swiss also voted toremain 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 isGermany, followed by France, Italy and the United Kingdom. In 2000 60% of exportswent to EU countries, and 78% of the imports came from EU states. In May 2000 theSwiss people approved a bilateral agreement with the EU that had taken 4 years tonegotiate, but in 2001 nearly 77% of the population voted against a proposal to start EUaccession negotiations immediately.The Swiss government, which called for the proposalto be rejected, has made it clear that it wishes to take the country into the EUBibliography: