Switzerland has four national languages, the distribution of which across the country is heterogeneous. German is the most widely spoken language (63.7% of the population) and is adopted in 19 cantons. French (20.4%) is spoken mainly in the western regions – called Romandie – where the French-speaking cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Jura are located. Italian is spoken by 6.5% of the population, concentrated in the canton of Ticino and in the four valleys of the Grisons, a trilingual canton where the minority (0.5%) who speak Romansh, which is constitutionally recognized as a national language, also resides. not used as an official language. A certain religious heterogeneity corresponds to linguistic and cultural plurality, which sees the presence of two large groups: Catholics and Protestants, divided into the different churches. Finally, the communities are also distinguished by different political and economic orientations: while the German-speaking community generally promotes a restrictive interpretation of neutrality and a reduction of the role of the state in the economy, the French community traditionally supports a more open foreign policy and a greater state interventionism.
The population is 8 million, of which around 21% (excluding asylum seekers and seasonal workers) are immigrants. The percentage of foreigners in Switzerland is the highest in Europe after Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, mainly because confederal laws make it difficult for foreigners to naturalize (even if they are children of immigrants born in the country). Despite this, the number of naturalized citizens tripled from 1992 to 2005. The immigration issue has characterized the Swiss public debate and, since the mid-2000s, has forcefully entered the political agenda of the government forces. Already in 2007 the Swiss People’s Party had set up an electoral campaign on the very discriminatory issue, especially against the Muslim community, which had been spread on offensive and much discussed election posters even across the border. Furthermore,
In 2011 the Democratic Union of the Center announced that it had collected the necessary signatures to launch a referendum against mass immigration, in particular to stop the flow of people from the European Union, especially from Italy. However, in December 2012, the Federal Council stated that it was against the party’s proposal, as it was not compatible with the country’s current migration policy. The referendum is the most characteristic participatory tool of Swiss democracy. The public debate often absorbs referendum issues, thus helping to create an informed citizenship, attentive to the opinions of the various cantonal communities and therefore close to a model of deliberative democracy.
Referendums are mandatory for constitutional changes, membership in collective security organizations or supranational communities, federal laws declared urgent, without a constitutional basis and with a validity period exceeding one year. They are optional in the case of laws, changes in the law and some international treaties. Of the 118 initiatives voted on in recent decades, only ten have been accepted. The majority got less than 50% of the votes and was rejected. It happened, for example, at the end of November 2013 with the proposal of the Young Socialists to limit the salaries of managers. However, most of the initiatives do not completely fail: the requirements formulated in them generally arouse a wide debate and over time are incorporated into a law.
The Swiss education system is largely decentralized, so much so that there is no ministry of education. It is the cantons which, with the exception of the length of the school year and the number of years of compulsory schooling, decide on the school guidelines and pay the necessary funding to support the education of citizens. Similarly, the health system, considered among the best in the world, changes according to the canton of reference. Executives have the freedom to decide on health care spending, organization and supply.