Federalism and direct democracy reflect the great importance that the Swiss political system places on the freedom of choice and self-determination. The capital city of Switzerland is Bern.
Swiss Parliament in Bern
Three political levels share power in Switzerland: the Confederation, the 26 cantons and over 2,250 communes.The Swiss federal government, (the Federal Council), is made up of seven members, who are elected by parliament.The Swiss parliament, or (Federal Assembly), has a total of 246 members, who are directly elected by the people. Switzerland has a bicameral parliament: the National Council (200 members) and the Council of States (46 members).15 political parties are represented in the Swiss parliament. Those parties with the largest share of the popular vote are represented on the Federal Council.Some 5.3 million citizens, roughly 63% of the total population, are eligible to vote at federal level. This right is granted to all Swiss nationals on reaching the age of majority (18 in Switzerland).
The Federal Council
The Federal Council is the highest executive authority of the Swiss Confederation. Its members represent Switzerland’s main political parties.
The national government of Switzerland has seven members, who are elected by the United
Federal Assembly of Switzerland.
Each Federal Councillor is appointed to serve a one-year term as President of the Confederation by the Federal Assembly in accordance with the principle of seniority. The Federal President chairs the sessions of the executive and undertakes special ceremonial duties, particularly abroad.
In keeping with the consociational model of democracy adopted by Switzerland, all members of the Federal Council pledge to govern in a spirit of cooperation. As a collegial body, the Federal Council must remain unanimous when presenting cabinet decisions to the public, even if it is contrary to their personal view or to the official line taken by their party.
Composition and roles
At the present time, the Federal Council has two representatives from the Liberal Party (FDP), two representatives from the Swiss Social Democratic Party (SP), two representatives from the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), and one representative from the Swiss Christian Democratic Party (CVP). Each member of the Federal Council also heads a federal department.
The Federal Council generally meets once a week. Over the year, it deals with between 2,000 and 2,500 items of business, which have been prepared by the federal departments or by the Federal Chancellery. The Federal Chancellor, who acts as chief-of-staff to the Federal Council, attends all cabinet meetings, but in a purely advisory capacity.
The Federal Assembly (parliament)
Switzerland has a bicameral parliament. All 246 members are directly elected by the people.
Old Town in Bern
The Federal Assembly is the legislative power of Switzerland. Its two chambers – the National Council and the Council of States –have the same powers but meet separately.
The National Council
The National Council, or “lower chamber”, represents the people and comprises 200 members who are elected by popular vote for a four-year term. The number of representatives sent by each canton depends on the size of its population. As a rule of thumb, each canton may send one elected representative to the National Council for roughly every 40,000 inhabitants.
The Federal Constitution guarantees at least one seat per canton, even if the canton has fewer than 40,000 residents. The cantons of Appenzell-Ausserrhoden, Appenzell-Innerrhoden, Obwalden, Nidwalden, Uri and Glarus send one National Council member each, whereas Zurich, the most heavily populated canton, currently has 35 seats.
The Council of States
The Council of States, or “upper chamber”, represents the cantons and comprises 46 members, who are also elected directly by the people for a four-year term. Regardless of their population size, the cantons send two deputies, with the exception of the six half-cantons of Appenzell-Ausserrhoden, Appenzell-Innerrhoden, Obwalden, Nidwalden, Basel-Stadt and Basel-Land, which send one deputy each.
Council of States deputies represent their cantons but are not bound by any instructions from their cantonal government or parliament.
Role and powers of the Swiss parliament
The National Council and the Council of States meet for three-week sessions four times a year. The two chambers debate all constitutional amendments before putting them to the popular vote. They also adopt, amend or repeal federal legislation, and ratify international treaties.
The two parliamentary chambers sit together as the United Federal Assembly at least once a year, usually in December, in order to elect the members of the Federal Council and to appoint federal court judges.
The Federal Assembly is, in keeping with the Swiss “militia” concept of community service, a semi-professional parliament. This means that most deputies have another job in addition to their parliamentary duties, to which they devote an average of 60% of their working hours.
Some political parties are only active at a regional level, while others are well-rooted nationwide and have elected representatives in the Federal Assembly (parliament). The largest parties are represented in the Federal Council (cabinet).
Four parties dominate the Swiss political landscape. They are active in almost all 26 cantons and each have at least one representative in the Federal Council. According to the consociational model of democracy adopted in Switzerland, left-wing, right-wing and centrist parties all share executive power. Members of the Federal Council are drawn from the ranks of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the Swiss Social Democratic Party (SP), the Christian Democrat People’s Party (CVP) and the Liberals (FDP).
Although the Swiss Green Party (the Greens), the Swiss Green Liberal Party (the Green Liberals), the Conservative Democratic Party (BDP), the Lega dei Ticinesi, the Swiss Evangelical People’s Party (EVP), the Christian Social Party (CSP) and the Geneva Citizens’ Movement (MCG) may not be represented on the Federal Council, they have elected representatives in the federal parliament. The Conservative Democratic Party (BDP) was set up by former members of the SVP.
Changing political landscape
Over the last 20 years Switzerland’s political landscape has been marked by the considerable gains made by the SVP, a conservative party which has its roots in the farming community. These gains have been at the expense of Switzerland’s other right-wing parties. Between the federal elections of 1995 and those held in 2015, the SVP won an additional 36 parliamentary seats, while the FDP lost 12 and the CVP 10.
At the same time, considerable inroads have been made by the Greens (1995: 8 seats, 2015: 12 seats) and the Green Liberals (1995: 0 seats, 2015: 7 seats). The BDP, which was founded in 2008 by former SVP members, now has 8 members of parliament and has won a large number of cantonal and communal parliamentary seats.
In Switzerland, the primary source of funding for political parties is membership fees and donations. There is no federal obligation for parties to disclose their accounts or their donors. However, the cantons of Geneva, Neuchâtel and Ticino have each introduced their own party funding rules.
Federalism and direct democracy reflect the great importance that the Swiss political system places on the freedom of choice and self-determination.
The capital city of Switzerland is Bern.
Although its official name is the Swiss Confederation (for historical reasons), Switzerland has, in fact, been a federal state since 1848. Power is shared between the Confederation (the central state based in the capital city of Bern), the cantons (constituent states) and the communes. All three political levels have a legislative (law-making) and an executive (government). Only the Confederation and the cantons have judicial powers (courts).
Respect for minorities
In a country with different religious and linguistic groups, the federalism model makes it possible to accommodate both national unity and cultural diversity. Together with direct democracy, which offers the people the option of launching popular initiatives and referendums, federalism is one of the cornerstones of the Swiss political system.
To ensure that the 26 cantons are equally represented at the federal level, each canton sends two representatives to the Council of States, one of the two chambers of the Federal Assembly. The six half-cantons are an exception to this rule, and can send only one elected representative to Bern. All 26 cantons have the right to launch a popular referendum on a piece of federal legislation provided that at least eight cantons express support for it.
Division of powers
The powers of the Confederation are limited to those areas explicitly entrusted to it by the Federal Constitution. Responsibility for all other matters, such as education, health and policing, fall to the cantons, which enjoy a high degree of policy-making autonomy in these areas. As for the communes, their responsibilities are explicitly granted by either the canton or the Confederation. However, the communes may legislate on matters that are not covered by cantonal legislation.
Direct democracy is one of the special features of the Swiss political system. It allows the electorate to express their opinion on decisions taken by the federal parliament and to propose amendments to the Federal Constitution.
In Switzerland the people play a large part in the federal political decision-making process. All Swiss citizens aged 18 and over have the right to vote in elections and referendums. The Swiss electorate are called on approximately four times a year to exercise this right, and vote on an average of 15 federal proposals. In recent decades, voter turnout at elections and referendums has been below 40%.
As well as the right to vote in elections and referendums, Swiss citizens may voice their demands by means of three instruments which form the core of direct democracy: popular initiative, optional referendum and mandatory referendum.
The popular initiative gives citizens the right to propose an amendment or addition to the Constitution. It acts to drive or launch a political debate on a specific issue. For such an initiative to come about, the signatures of 100,000 voters who support the proposal must be collected within 18 months. The authorities sometimes respond to an initiative with a direct counter-proposal in the hope that a majority of the people and the cantons support that instead.
The optional referendum allows the people to demand that any bill approved by the Federal Assembly is put to a nationwide vote. In order to bring about a national referendum, 50,000 valid signatures must be collected within 100 days of publication of the new legislation.
All constitutional amendments approved by parliament are subject to a mandatory referendum, i.e. they must be put to a nationwide popular vote. The electorate are also required to approve Swiss membership of specific international organisations.
Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons which enjoy a high degree of autonomy vis-à-vis the federal government.
Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons. Each is an independent and sovereign entity, with their own capital town or city. The cantons vary greatly as to size, culture, religion and socioeconomic structure.
With 1.4 million inhabitants, the canton of Zurich is the most heavily populated, while Appenzell-Innerrhoden, with a mere 15,500 inhabitants, is the most sparsely populated canton in Switzerland.
The cantons are the collection of stand-alone states which joined forces in 1848 to form a Confederation, although this required them to surrender some of their sovereignty. The number of cantons remained the same until 1979 when Jura split from the canton of Bern and became Switzerland's 26th canton.
Six cantons, historically referred to as “half-cantons”, send only one deputy to the Council of States (upper house of the Federal Assembly). They are Obwalden, Nidwalden, Appenzell-Innerrhoden, Appenzell-Ausserrhoden, Basel-Stadt and Basel-Land.
Role of the cantons
Each canton has its own constitution, parliament, government and courts. According to the principle of subsidiarity enshrined in the Federal Constitution, all powers that are not expressly granted to the Confederation fall within the competence of the cantons. The cantons enjoy a high degree of autonomy in areas like education, health and policing.
The cantonal parliaments vary in size, with the number of popularly elected deputies ranging from 50 to 180. The five- or seven-member cantonal governments are also directly elected by the people.
The cantons of Appenzell-Innerrhoden and Glarus still practice a type of direct democracy that is the only form of its kind in the world – the “Landsgemeinde”, or people’s assembly. Once a year, the citizens of these cantons converge on their capital's main square to elect, with a show of hands, the members of the executive, and to cast their vote on draft cantonal legislation. The results are more an estimate than an exact calculation. In all other cantons, the electorate cast their vote at the ballot box.
Facts about Switzerland
Largest City Zurich
Calling Code +41
Time Zone GMT + 1
Currency accepted CHF - Swiss Franc
Official Language German
Places to see- Travel and Activities
Zurich Old Town
Getting around - All about Transportation in Switzerland and how to use it
Online Train and Tram Tickets Shop
Switzerland Guide App
The Zurich Card
For 24 CHF provides you with free Public transportation in the City, including Trip to Airport, for 24 Hours. Includes Access and Discounts at Museums, Restaurants and various Tourist Attraction
How to get from Zurich Airport to Zurich.
Zurich Airport is only 10 km (6 miles) away from the city center, so it is quick and easy to get there after your plane has landed. There are various ways of traveling from the airport to Zurich.
How to Travel from Zurich to Interlaken
The best way to reach Interlaken from Zurich, and eventually Lauterbrunnen and Jungfrau Mountain, is by Train.