A major theme of NightHawk is that we live in a wide and varied world and we should know more about other countries and other cultures and learn to respect them. Therefore, on 16 occasions now, I’ve had a week-long feature devoted to parts of the world that tend to be under-reported or even forgotten. You can check out the previous 80 entries here. This week, I am going to run an 17th series of postings on this theme.
Switzerland is a country in the middle of Europe that is most famous for its legendary neutrality of the last 500 years – informally for about 300 years and then formally since just after the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century. It remains in some ways an isolated country – it only joined the United Nations in 2002 and it is one of the few countries in Europe that is not a member of the European Union.
In spite of – and maybe because of – its neutrality and isolation, its 7.5 million citizens enjoy one of the most stable and one of the most affluent countries in the world. The country has a strong system of local devolution with much power in no less than 26 cantons. Under the constitution, the make-up of the government is not determined by parliamentary majority but in accordance with a four-party power-sharing agreement, established in 1959 and known as the “magic formula”.
Switzerland is a European cultural and linguistic crossroads; about two-thirds of the population speak German, around one-fifth French and about 7% Italian. Romansch, the fourth national language, is spoken by less than 1% of the population.