Switzerland - Country history and economic development

4TH CENTURY A.D. Germanic tribes conquer ancient Roman Helvetia, the site of present-day Switzerland.

9TH CENTURY. Most of Switzerland joins the Duchy of Alemannia (Swabia), one of the feudal units of the German kingdom; the southwestern part of the area is taken over by the feudal kingdom of Transjurane Bourgogne.

1033. The Bourguignon part of Switzerland is taken over by Emperor Conrad II and becomes a part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, consisting of small feudal states ruled by lords, bishops, and abbots, and many independent city-states, which later become cantonal commonwealths.

1276. Emperor Rudolf I Habsburg of the Holy Roman Empire attempts to assert his feudal rights in a threat to the traditional liberties of the Swiss. Three forest cantons—Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden—based around the Lake of Lucerne form a league for mutual defense in 1291. During the 14th century, the cantons of Zürich, Glarus, Bern, Lucerne, and Zug join the league, and in the 15th century Fribourg and Solothurn follow suit.

1474. The Habsburgs, unable to tame the militant Swiss mountaineers, abandon their attempts to acquire their territory, and their confederation becomes directly dependent on the empire.

1499. Emperor Maximilian I attempts to abrogate various Swiss rights; he is later defeated, and, by the Treaty of Basel of the same year, recognizes the virtual independence of the Swiss.

1513. The cantons of Appenzell, Schaffhausen, and Basel enter the confederation and send 2 delegates each to the federal assembly. Swiss mercenaries gradually become famous throughout Europe (and still constitute the papal guard in the Vatican City). Swiss troops annex Italian towns that now form the canton of Ticino in the south of Switzerland. In 1536, Bernese Swiss take Lausanne on the Lake Geneva and various other territories from the duchy of Savoy.

1515. Swiss troops are defeated by the French in 1515 and Switzerland's neutrality policy is then adopted.

1648. Swiss cantons preserve their neutrality in the Thirty Years' War of 1618 to 1648 and achieve formal recognition as a completely independent state by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The union of the cantons is still quite weak, but a modern market economy develops as Swiss craftsmen win reputation across Europe for quality and skill, and financial services develop.

1798. French-backed revolutionaries occupy Swiss territory. Napoleon Bonaparte, the future emperor of France, unifies the country under the name Helvetic Republic and imposes a written constitution, which, like the French military occupation, is bitterly resented by most of the Swiss.

1803. Napoleon withdraws French troops and by the Act of Mediation grants a new constitution with Swiss approval.

1815. The Congress at Vienna recognizes the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland, and Swiss territory is expanded to include 22 cantons (Geneva is ceded by France), acquiring its modern form.

1847. Political struggles between autocratic and democratic elements and between Roman Catholic and Protestant areas culminate in a civil war between the Sonderbund, a Catholic league, and the federal government, which takes the upper hand. The new constitution of 1848 greatly increases federal power.

1874. A new constitution is passed, which, with modifications, is still in force; it completes the development of Switzerland from a group of cantons to a unified federal state.

1940s-1950s. Switzerland develops its powerful modern economy and, although maintaining its neutrality, becomes a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the international trade organization replaced in 1995 by the World Trade Organization (WTO), headquartered in Geneva. Also joins the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (1948), the European Free Trade Association (1959), and the Council of Europe (1963).

1971. Switzerland grants women the right to vote in federal elections and to hold federal office.

1992. Switzerland joins the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, Swiss voters reject joining the European Economic Area, a free-trade zone linking many Western European countries.

1994. A referendum declares racial discrimination, racist propaganda, and denial of the Nazi Holocaust illegal.

1995. Under international pressures, Switzerland begins to relax its banking secrecy policies to help fight organized transnational crime.

1997. The Swiss government endorses a proposal to establish a memorial fund to compensate Holocaust survivors and their relatives for funds allegedly retained by Swiss banks.

1998. In December, the parliament elects Social Democrat and former labor union leader Ruth Dreifuss as Switzerland's first woman and first Jewish president.

2000. The Swiss voters approve by referendum a bilateral agreement with the EU and turn down a proposal to limit the quota of foreigners allowed in the country to 18 percent.

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