Geographically, Germany is more than four times the size of Austria, and Austria is double the size of Switzerland. Austria and Switzerland are both landlocked, and largely mountainous, located in the Alps, and the microstate of Liechtenstein (often included as part of the DACH region) is sandwiched between the two. Germany stretches from the Alps in the south, to the North and Baltic seas in the north, and is more topographically diverse than the other two. The DACH countries rank among the most advanced economies in the world; for over three decades, Germany has had the largest economy in Europe, and one of the largest in the world, while Switzerland has consistently ranked among the top countries in terms of GDP per capita (with almost double the rate of Austria or Germany), and it is considered the wealthiest country in the world. According to various global indexes, the DACH countries, or cities such as Geneva, Hamburg, Munich, Vienna, and Zurich, are often among the top 10 in terms of living quality, happiness, and social security.
A brief historyBefore the 19th century, the DACH region was a conglomeration of smaller states, united as part of the Holy Roman Empire. The empire was then dissolved and succeeded by the German Confederation in 1815, before most states united as the German Empire in 1871, with the exceptions of Austria and Switzerland. At this time, Austria was also the historic seat of power of the Habsburg Monarchy, who would eventually rule the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the second largest in Europe (after Russia). While Germany and Austria’s borders fluctuated greatly since the early-1800s, Switzerland’s have remained fairly static for the past two centuries, due to its historic policy of neutrality and non-interference. As the new German Empire began challenging other European powers across the globe at the turn of the 20th century, and as Austria-Hungary fought against internal instability, both countries would eventually become the chief instigators of the First World War in 1914. Following their defeat, German expansion was contained and Austria-Hungary was dissolved. The period that followed was characterized by economic instability before the rise of fascism in the 1930s saw a resurgence in economic growth and imperial ambitions. The Second World War then broke out in 1939, initiated again by Germany, and the destruction, atrocities, and loss caused by the war is viewed by many as the most significant event in modern history.
After Germany’s defeat, the Allied Powers drew new borders for Europe, and these are the borders of the DACH region that we know today, although Germany had an additional border separating its eastern states from the rest. Austria and Germany were occupied by the Allies after the war; Austria was granted its independence in 1955, but Germany’s strategic and economic importance saw the Allies remain in control, while the ideological split between communism and democracy resulted in the Soviet zone separating from the rest, as East Germany. Both Austria and West Germany underwent rapid recovery after the war, and Switzerland played an important part in facilitating European recovery through its strong banking system. The period between the war and the 1973-1975 Recession was the most prosperous in Europe’s history; a large part of this was due to European integration, of which West Germany played a leading role, while Austria and Switzerland were less involved. East Germany was also one of the most advanced economies in the Eastern Bloc, although stagnation in the 1980s then led to communism’s collapse in Europe, and Germany was reunited in 1990.
Recent yearsThe European Union was officially founded in 1993, with Germany as a leading member and de facto leader, while Austria joined in 1995. Switzerland has consistently rejected EU membership, continuing its somewhat unique approach of maintaining international involvement and European integration without sacrificing its autonomy; despite the UN having an office in Geneva since 1946, Switzerland only became a full member state in 2002. After some economic stagnation across the DACH region in the 1990s and early 2000s, all three countries have seen strong and stable economic growth since then, and have come through challenges such as the financial crisis of 2008 and Covid pandemic better off than many of their neighbors (although the full extent of the latter is yet to be determined).
Additionally, during the migrant crisis in the 2010s, (especially for applicants from Afghanistan and Syria) Germany took the highest number of any European country, while Austria had one of the highest acceptance rates per capita. All three countries have strong legacies of accepting migrant workers since the Second World War, with large Southern and Eastern European communities across the DACH region. Along with the humanitarian benefits, immigration has helped the DACH countries cope with recent demographic challenges; low birth rates have led to a natural population decline (Germany has had a continuous natural decline since 1972), and migration not only sustains population growth, but migrant workers fulfil the labor demand created by ageing societies. Not all view this as a positive, however, and the Swiss government has adopted more anti-immigration policies in recent years, and there have been surges of right-wing populism in Germany and Austria. In late 2021, both Austria and Germany came under new leadership, bringing an end to the 16 year term of Angela Merkel in Germany, viewed by many as one of the most effective world leaders in recent history, and an end to a period of political scandal and corruption in Austria. As Switzerland shows signs of growing Euroscepticism, it remains to be seen how the other two countries will move forward in the years to come, and if the DACH countries will continue to set the trends for European progress, as they have done for decades.