Switzerland is bordered by Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. Switzerland is multilingual and has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Switzerland has a long history of neutrality – it has not been at war since 1815 – and hosts many international organizations, including the Red Cross, the WTO and one of the U.N.'s two European offices.
The Latin formal name of Switzerland, Confoederatio Helvetica is derived from the Helvetii, an ancient Celtic people in the Alpine region. It is rendered in German as Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft, in French as Confédération suisse, in Italian as Confederazione Svizzera and in Romansh as Confederaziun svizra. The independence of Switzerland is traditionally dated to August 1, 1291; the first of August is the national holiday.
With an area of 41,285 square kilometers (15,940 sq mi), Switzerland is a relatively small country. The population is about 7.4 million, resulting in an average population density of 182 people per square kilometer (472/sq mi). However, the more mountainous southern half of the country is far more sparsely populated than this average, while the northern half has a somewhat greater density, as it comprises more hospitable hilly terrain, partly forested and partly cleared, as well as several large lakes.
Switzerland comprises three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps, the Swiss plateau or "middleland", and the Jura mountains along the northwestern border with France. The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central-south of the country. Among the high peaks of the Swiss Alps, the highest of which is the Dufourspitze at 4,634 meters (15,203 ft), are found countless valleys, many with waterfalls and glaciers. From these the headwaters of several major European rivers such as the Rhine, Rhône, Inn, Aare, and Ticino flow finally into the largest Swiss lakes such as Lake Geneva (Lac Leman), Lake Zürich, Lake Neuchâtel, and Lake Constance.
Switzerland has a stable modern market economy, with a nominal per capita GDP that is higher than those of big western European economies, United States and Japan ranking 6th behind Luxembourg, Norway, Qatar, Iceland and Ireland, though on a PPP basis, it only ranks 13th. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland's economy as the most competitive in the world. For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin.
Switzerland is home to several large multinational corporations. Notable among these are Nestle, UBS AG, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Novartis, ABB, and The Swatch Group. Switzerland is ranked as one of the most powerful economies in the world.
Banking, tourism, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals are important industries in Switzerland. The manufacture of precision instruments for engineering is important, as is watch-making, and the biological sciences industries as well enjoy a high place in the Swiss economy. The many international organisations in Switzerland contribute to the Swiss economy and labor market.
Switzerland's unemployment rate has increased since the beginning of the 21st century, where it stood at a low 1.8% in 2001. The unemployment rate doubled due to problematic low economic growth to 3.9% in 2006 and decreased again to 3.3% in 2007.
Switzerland lies at the crossroads of several major European cultures that have heavily influenced the country's languages and culture. Switzerland has three official languages: German (63% according to 2000 Census) in the north, east and centre of the country; French (20.4%) to the west; Italian (6.5%) in the south. Romansh, a Romance language spoken locally by a small minority (< 0.5%) in the southeastern canton of Graubünden, is designated by the Federal Constitution as a national language along with German, French and Italian (Article 4 of the Constitution), and as official language if the authorities communicate with persons of Romansh language (Article 70), but federal laws and other official acts do not need to be decreed in this language.
Switzerland has no official state religion, though most of the cantons (except Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognise official churches, in all cases including the Catholic Church and the Swiss Reformed Church. These churches, and in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish congregations, are financed by official taxation of adherents.
Christianity is the predominant religion of Switzerland, divided between the Catholic Church (41.8% of the population) and various Protestant denominations (40%). Immigration has brought Islam (4.3%, predominantly Albanians) and Eastern Orthodoxy (1.8%) as sizeable minority religions. The 2005 Eurobarometer poll found 48% to be theist, 39% expressing belief in "a spirit or life force", 9% atheist and 4% agnostic.
The culture of Switzerland is influenced by its neighbours and its international sentiment, but over the years a distinctive culture with some regional differences and an independent streak has developed. In particular, French-speaking regions have tended to orient themselves slightly more on French culture and tend to be more pro EU. In general, the Swiss are known for their long standing humanitarian tradition as Switzerland is the birth place of the Red Cross Movement and hosts the United Nations Human Rights Council. Swiss German speaking areas may perhaps be seen more oriented on German culture and can be more traditionalist and neutralist, and Italian-speaking areas can have more of an Italian culture. A region may be in some ways strongly culturally connected to the neighbouring country that shares its language. The linguistically isolated Rhaeto-Romanic culture in the eastern mountains of Switzerland is also robust and strives to maintain its rare linguistic tradition. Switzerland's entry to the Eurovision Song Contest of 1989 was in Romansh.