Switzerland is located in the heart of the European continent, in a mainly mountainous and landlocked area. Despite the limited surface area and the lack of natural resources, the geographic position and political stability have allowed the country to assume an important political and economic role in Europe. The principle of neutrality it is the cornerstone of Swiss foreign policy. In its current interpretation and in the current international context, neutrality offers the country ample room for maneuver. In the international arena, Switzerland aims to expand cooperation opportunities and to exert greater political and economic influence through more active participation in international fora and by strengthening bilateral relations. The defense of national interests, however, must be pursued without compromising the autonomy and sovereignty of the country.
In this sense, Switzerland’s relationship with the European Union (Eu) is peculiar. The country is not a member of the EU, although membership remains a long-term possibility, at least as long as it does not entail a binding obligation of mutual military assistance that would violate the principle of neutrality. Furthermore, membership would imply a limit to the institutions of direct democracy – a peculiar element of the Swiss system – in matters falling within the competence of the EU, since European regulations would prevail over national law. However, the link with the EU, the first trading partner and the first investor, is very strong. Citizens spoke out against membership, but then approved participation in the Schengen agreement and the extension of the free movement of persons. Furthermore, Switzerland has bilateral agreements with the EU on many aspects, such as trade, taxes, pensions, agriculture and energy. Consequently, staying outside the Union means not participating in decision-making processes that have a strong impact on the internal economy, due to the intensity of the existing links. On the other hand, the EU itself is pressing for the definition of a more coherent cooperation framework. Switzerland has recently adopted a foreign policy aimed at strengthening political and economic relations with the United States, Russia, Japan and with emerging economies: China, India, Brazil, South Africa. Furthermore, the country maintains a strong interest in the Middle East, a strategic region for guaranteeing both international and European energy security. Traditionally, the foundation of Switzerland dates back to 1291, the year in which the alliance of three rural communities gave birth to the first nucleus of the future confederation. Subsequently, the town experienced a phase of expansion in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and then assumed its current shape between 1815 and 1848. The Switzerland’s state structure is still federal today and is divided into three levels: confederation, cantons and municipalities. The parties are also mostly organized on a cantonal basis and maintain a weaker national structure. The Democratic Union of the Center, which in the elections in 2011, it won 55 seats out of 200 on the National Council, is part of the center-right alignment and has a very strong electoral base among rural communities and small businesses in the German-speaking areas, although the consensus is also increasing in the French-speaking community. The other major parties are the Radical Liberal Party, the Democratic People’s Party and the Socialist Party. Since 1959 these four parties have governed together, within a political system known as the ‘concordance’ and not based on alternating government.