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Seven surprising reasons why Switzerland is the best country in the world

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The Schynige Platte railway. Photo: Rob Lewis/Swiss Tourism
12:45 CET+01:00
As regular readers of the The Local will know, Switzerland was recently voted the “best country” in the world for the second year in a row.

Awarding Switzerland the top gong, The Best Countries report – a joint project by digital news service US News & World Report, marketing company Y&R and the Wharton School – cited many of the usual reasons as to why the country is a regular feature on the world’s “best” lists. These included low unemployment, a high number of Nobel prizes and staggering scenery are all important.

There is no denying all of the above are important. But there are also plenty of other reasons why Switzerland is the best country in the world. Here we take a (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) look at seven of them.

1) Best national dish

Photo: Ivo Scholz/Swiss Tourism

While the debate around fondue is filled with thorny issues like the question of what sort of cheese you should use, whether it is OK to eat fondue in summer or if you should add white wine or kirsch schnapps (cherry brandy) to the mix, the underlying three-step principle is pretty basic: buy some fondue cheese, melt it, then eat it. In short, fondue is Swiss efficiency and simplicity at its best. It could just be the easiest national dish in the world to make. Plus it is fun to eat.

2) Best national hero

Did William Tell actually exist? Was there really a Swiss hero of that name who launched a folk rebellion in the 14th century by assassinating the dastardly Hapsburg overlord Gessler? Or is he just a convenient foundation myth for the modern Helvetic Confederation? We will leave such discussions to the experts. His status as the best national hero rests on one fact only: he shot an apple off his son’s head with a crossbow. Take that Abraham Lincoln.

3) The best army (at accidentally invading neighbours)

Switzerland's largely non-professional armed services are primarly concerned with self-defence – not surprising given the country's powerful neighbours. And because Switzerland is famously neutral, the military does not get directly involved in international conflicts: a good thing. Even better, it now participates in international peacekeeping missions.

Laudable as Swiss neutrality may be, however, the country's soldiers have managed to accidentally invade neighbouring Lichtenstein twice in the last three decades. In 2007, Swiss soldiers mistakenly marched into the principality because it was "too dark", as one soldier told Swiss tabloid Blick at the time. However, an earlier accidental invasion in winter 1985 had far more serious consequences after stray rockets inadvertently started a serious forest fire in the diminutive country.

4) Best military installation

Switzerland has what must be one of the prettiest military fortresses in the world. Dating from 1940, The Villa Rose was one of a dozen such installations located along the Toblerone line – the name now commonly given to the anti-tank defences that stretch from the Jura mountains down to Lake Geneva and which were designed to stop the Nazis in their tracks.

Photo: Paebi/Creative Commons

While the house located south of Gland on Lake Geneva appears to be nothing more than an innocuous suburban villa from the outside, behind its pretty façade there was an anti-tank cannon as well as machine guns. Best of all, the house is now a museum and the reconstructed soldier’s mess room upstairs is available for meetings and conferences.

5) Best setting for spy movies

While the Swiss authorities have made giant strides to clean up their banking system in recent years, and the Swiss themselves are understandably annoyed about their reputation as little more than a haven for the ill-gotten gains of despots, there is no denying that the country – with its blend of muted glamour, amazing scenery and lingering air of Cold War mystique –remains the spy movie location par excellence.

Whether it is Matt Damon as Jason Bourne picking up a few spare passports in a Zurich bank vault or the George Lazenby-version of James Bond in a ski chase near the iconic Schilthorn restaurant, no spy film is complete without its little piece of Switzerland.

6) Best political system

Putting the pros and cons of direct democracy aside, the Swiss system of having a collective head of state is an amazing (and amazingly stable) political construction. Rather than settling for one president, the country has a seven-member Federal Council which acts as the national executive. All the major parties are represented and members are voted for by the parliament, not the people

While there is a rotating presidency, with one member of the council elected president each year, all of the seven members of the executive are, in principle equal.

At its best, the system means negotiation on policy is not an option. At its worst, it means voters have seven “presidents” to blame.

Could this work in another country? Just looking at the United States, this means you could, in theory, have Donald Trump, both Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George Bush junior and senior, and Jimmy Carter all acting as presidents at the same time.

7) The best mountains

Need we say more?


Oeschinense, Bern. Photo: Caroline Bishop.

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