Officially the Swiss Confederation (Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica, hence its abbreviation CH), is a federal republic in Europe. While still named the “Swiss Confederation” for historical reasons, modern Switzerland is a federal directorial republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities, called Bundesstadt (“federal city”). The country is situated in Western and Central Europe,[note 4] and is bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning an area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi). While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8 million people is concentrated mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found: among them are the two global and economic centers, Zürich and Geneva.
The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291, which is celebrated annually as the Swiss National Day. The country has a long history of armed neutrality—it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815—and did not join the United Nations until 2002. Nevertheless, it pursues an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world. In addition to being the birthplace of the Red Cross, Switzerland is home to numerous international organizations, including the second largest UN office. On the European level, it is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association, but notably it is not part of the European Union, nor the European Economic Area. However the country does participate in the Schengen Area and the EU’s single market through a number of bilateral treaties.
Straddling the intersection of Germanic and Romance Europe, Switzerland comprises four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Therefore, the Swiss, although predominantly German-speaking, do not form a nation in the sense of a common ethnicity or language; rather, Switzerland’s strong sense of identity and community is founded on a common historical background, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy, and Alpine symbolism.
Switzerland is one of the richest and wealthiest countries in the world. Switzerland ranks top or close to the top in several metrics of national performance, including government transparency, civil liberties, quality of life, economic competitiveness, and human development. It has the highest nominal wealth (financial and non-financial assets) per adult in the world according to Credit Suisse and the eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product on the IMF list. Zürich and Geneva have each been ranked among the top cities with the highest quality of life in the world, with the former ranked 2nd globally, according to Mercer.