Economic stability and education fuel the nation’s reign in the Best Countries rankings. Also, people wouldn’t mind living there.
It’s a word that aptly describes the nation of Switzerland. Whether it’s tennis ace Roger Federer and his record 12 men’s final appearances at Wimbledon or the steady ticking of a Patek Philippe watch – not to mention the country’s centuries of neutrality – there is something pleasantly constant about it.
That consistency remains in 2023 as Switzerland again takes the No. 1 spot in the U.S. News Best Countries rankings. This is the sixth time the Alpine nation has claimed the top position in the project, which this year was based on a survey of more than 17,000 people and gathered perceptions about 87 nations across 73 descriptive attributes.
“With us, you know what you get, which is rare nowadays!” Alexandre Edelmann, head of Presence Switzerland, a government agency that promotes the country abroad, says in an email. “Although Switzerland is a relatively small country from a geographical perspective, it is very well known all over the world and well connected internationally.”
Across 10 Best Countries subrankings – which together form the overall rankings – Switzerland snags the top spot for being open for business, and ranks in the top 10 for quality of life, social purpose and cultural influence. Among attributes, it was considered No. 1 for being economically stable, safe and least corrupt.
“People love our country without always knowing why,” says Jacques Pitteloud, Switzerland’s ambassador to the U.S. and a veteran diplomat. “What people love about us is our reliability and our predictability.”
Pitteloud believes it’s the combination of many factors – including economic stability, political consensus and a historic role playing negotiator and peacemaker for other nations – that have led to Switzerland’s success.
But, he adds, “I think the secret sauce starts with the high quality of education. We are one of the leading nations in many fields. We are constantly leading the pack in terms of innovation.”
This is evident in the prominent role Switzerland plays in some key areas of the global economy. The nation had a gross domestic product of $807 billion in 2022, placing it among the world’s major economies. It also managed to escape much of the inflation that has ravaged the U.S. and Europe: Switzerland’s inflation rate of 2.84% last year was about a third of that of the European Union and less than half the rate in the U.S., according to World Bank data.
“Despite difficult years during the pandemic and the current geopolitical upheavals, the Swiss economy has performed remarkably well and continues to grow,” says Edelmann, with Presence Switzerland. “Inflation has remained comparatively low as well.”
Switzerland has chosen a high-value, premium approach to the world economy, eschewing the trend of other major industrialized nations to compete with low-cost countries and favoring industries where innovation, research and skilled labor are key drivers.
For example, Nestle bills itself as the world’s largest food and beverage company with around $100 billion in sales. It has a diverse array of products ranging from Nespresso coffee to Purina dog food. In recent years, it has expanded heavily into the nutrition and health products businesses.
Switzerland is also a leader in pharmaceuticals. Two of its companies, Roche and Novartis, are among the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies. Both specialize in some of the most advanced therapeutics, aimed at diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Perhaps less known is the Swiss involvement in space. Its firms are providers of telescope equipment; materials used in spacecraft, such as the carbon fiber nose cone of the Atlas V heavy launcher; and equipment aimed at cleaning up space debris.
“I never thought I would fall in love with Switzerland,” Delphine Donné, general manager and vice president at Logitech, a Swiss firm that makes computer peripherals and other workplace technology products, says via email. “Everything is so clean, well organized, respectful and safe.”
Donné, a native of France who has lived in and worked in the U.S., China, the U.K. and Canada, echoes Pitteloud in saying the country’s tech and innovation assets are perhaps underappreciated outside the small nation.
“As a leader in tech, what I got to appreciate even more is that Switzerland is an amazing center of innovation,” she says. “It is home to prestigious universities including ETH Zurich, the ZHAW (Zurich University of Applied Sciences) and the EPFL in Lausanne. Logitech is headquartered on the EPFL campus, which is advantageous for being on the cutting edge of innovation.”
Swiss industry and its education system are complemented by the nation’s political stability. The country has had a policy of neutrality with roots back to the 16th century, and has often played a role in helping mediate international disputes. Still, neutrality has not stopped the country from joining in international sanctions levied as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
And the policy is not always without controversy. Last month, the CEO of state-owned defense contractor Ruag reportedly resigned following comments she made that indicated other countries should transfer Swiss arms to Ukraine, and after earlier comments in which she criticized the government’s stance.
Other challenges exist as well. Pitteloud points to the relationship with the EU, an organization that dominates Europe’s economic and security ties, and of which Switzerland is not a member. The two entities collaborate through a range of agreements, though the Swiss in 2021 terminated yearslong talks on a framework agreement related to issues like transport and travel. “Exploratory talks” have reportedly occurred in the aftermath.
Acknowledging “the elephant in the room,” Pitteloud says Switzerland and the EU have “a complex relationship.”
Perhaps the most long-range concern for the nation is its own geography and the rapidly changing nature of the global climate. Switzerland’s population is growing, having passed 7 million in the 1990s and now approaching 9 million. And as a relatively small, landlocked country in which many areas are difficult to inhabit due to terrain, Switzerland is facing challenges related to population and resources.
“Right now, we have enough water,” Pitteloud says, adding, “Where I come from in the mountains, the glaciers have shrunk to a point that is really terrifying.”
In June, the Swiss approved a sweeping climate law that binds the country to a net-zero emissions policy by 2050. The initiative was widely supported by the Swiss science community.
“This victory means that at last the goal of achieving net-zero emissions will be anchored in law,” Georg Klingler, an expert on climate and energy at Greenpeace Switzerland, said after the law’s passage, according to The Associated Press. “That gives better security for planning ahead and allows our country to take the path toward an exit from fossil fuels.”
Donné adds: “It’s pleasant to live in a country where people care about the environment. The road ahead is lengthy, but in a society where collaboration is valued and environmental concern is prevalent, acceleration is not only achievable but also expected.”
Source : USN