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Switzerland is a small country located in the heart of Western Europe, and sharing borders with neighbouring Germany, Austria, the Principality of Liechtenstein, Italy and France. There are now approximately 8 million people living in Switzerland, speaking four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh.
Switzerland has an area of 41,285 square kilometers, of which more than 60% is occupied by the Alps, a great mountain range stretching circa one thousand kilometers from Austria to France. The Alps, with more than 80 peaks above 4000 meters, is a result of the collision of the African and European tectonic plates. The collision is actually still taking place, and these mountains grow at a rate of about 1mm per year.
Fortunately, the geological forces at play left a large hilly area more suitable for settlements and agriculture in the western and northern part of the country: the Swiss plateau. This more densely populated area endowed with several lakes is lined on its French border by a chain of low mountains, called Jura.
According to the WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013, Switzerland is the most competitive economy in the world: "Switzerland retains its 1st place position again this year as a result of its continuing strong performance across the board. The country's most notable strengths are related to innovation and labour market efficiency, where it tops the GCI rankings, as well as the sophistication of its business sector, which is ranked 2nd. Large multinational corporations such as Nestlé, Novartis and ABB have their headquarters in Switzerland. The financial sector, including banking and insurance, also plays an important role, contributing to approximately 10% of the GDP (Sources: Calculations SBA, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO, 2011). The largest exported goods are chemicals, machines, electronics and precision instruments, including watches. "Brainforce" is also highly valued, and Switzerland ranks first place in the Innovation Union Scoreboard 2011. About 5.5% of Switzerland's GDP is invested in education (Swiss Federal Office for Statistics 2009).
Switzerland's competitive economy has had a limited impact on environment. The 2012 Enviromental Performance Index ranks Switzerland in the first position, mainly due to its use of hydroelectric power and its highly efficient public transportation system. A well-preserved environment easily accessible by public transport, safe cities, and excellent infrastructures make living in Switzerland very pleasant, and explain why the Global Ranking of Cities with a High Quality of Life ranks three Swiss cities among the top ten (Mercer's 2012 Quality of Living Survey).