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Given Switzerland's continuing prosperity, economic arguments are rarely heard, although there is a broad acceptance especially in the financial community that the Euro will become a standard feature of commercial life in the near future. In 2001, two years after the inauguration of the Euro, the Swiss people voted again in a referendum to enhance links with the EU while endorsing a promise by the major parties that they would never countenance actually joining the EU. This appears to have put an end to the debate for the time being. The following year, it was Switzerland's famed reputation for banking secrecy that came under scrutiny from both the EU and USA, as part of a global crackdown on money laundering and large-scale tax evasion. Again, the Swiss found themselves divided between maintaining a cherished tradition of confidentiality and being a good international citizen.
The present constitution dates back to 1874. There are 26 cantons (three of which are subdivided) and more than 3000 communes. The Federal Assembly is bicameral, comprising a Council of State (upper house) with 46 members and a 200-strong National Council (lower house) whose members are elected every four years. Executive power is vested in the seven-member Federal Council, elected by the Assembly and headed by an annually elected president. Whatever the legislators decide, however, the Swiss people are aware that they can take the issue to referendum by raising 100,000 signatures. Popular referenda are a routine feature of Swiss political life.
Switzerland has a typical West European mixed economy with a bias towards light and craft-based industries: Swiss precision manufacturing such as watch-making is renowned throughout the world. The country is highly industrialized and heavily dependent on exports of finished goods (in total, exports are equivalent to just under half of Swiss GDP). Lacking raw materials of its own, almost all of these must be imported. In manufacturing, the machinery and equipment industry specializes in precision and advanced technology products: machine tools, printing and photographic equipment, electronic control and medical equipment. There is also a substantial chemical industry, employing 10 per cent of the workforce, which continues to grow steadily. Swiss firms have proved particularly adept at exploiting niche markets across a wide range of industries and products. Although half of the country's food is imported, the agricultural sector is a strong and major employer. The processed foods industry has a high international profile, particularly in such products as chocolate, cheese and baby foods.
The service sector is dominated by banking, where the particular reputation of the Swiss banking community for discretion has attracted large deposits. The Government has come under some pressure to allow disclosure in the course of criminal and other investigations: recognizing the international climate, the Swiss authorities have generally responded more flexibly of late. Switzerland remains one of Europe's major financial centers. Among other service industries, tourism is of growing importance: Switzerland receives around 10 million visitors annually and the industry contributes around $12 billion to the national economy. The economy has been stagnant during the last two years, largely a reflection of conditions throughout continental Europe; the economy contracted slightly during 2003, but is expected to resume slow growth in 2004/5.
Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, although nearly two-thirds of its exports are sold to EU countries. The government is in the process of negotiating a new set of bilateral agreements with the EU, but the prospect of it joining the Union is as remote as ever. A referendum rejected even membership of the European Economic Area - a body created to reduce the economic barriers between the EU and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), to which Switzerland does belong. In May 1992, Switzerland gained admission to the IMF and World Bank.
Switzerland's main trade partners are France, Italy, Germany and the USA.