Political Switzerland

Oswald Sigg



  1. A brief history of Switzerland's political systems 7
    • The Federal Constitution of 1848 7
    • The contents of the Federal Constitution 8
    • The organisation of the authorities 9
    • The first institutions of direct democracy 9 The Constitutional Revisions of 1874 and 1891 10
  2. Political Switzerland today 14 Federalism 14
    • The autonomy of the communes 18
    • The Landesgemeinde 19
    • Direct democracy 19
    • The Federal Assembly 28
    • The Federal Council 32
    • The Federal Supreme Court 36
  3. The fundamentals of political practice 38
    • The Political Parties 38
    • The Unions and Associations 42
    • The media 48
  4. Essay: The idea of Switzerland in Europe 55

Switzerland in Figures 65
Bibliography 73

1 A brief history of Switzerland's political systems

The Federal Constitution of 1848

On September 12th 1848, the Swiss Parliament of the day, which was known as the Diet, announced that the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation had been approved by a majority of 70% of the electorate. The work of two editors, Henri Druey from Canton Vaud and Johann Konrad Kern from Canton Thurgau, the Constitution was thus established as the Basic Law which was regarded as a 'model of clarity and common sense'.

With this new Federal Constitution, Switzerland changed from being a confederation of states to a Federal State. The member states, the cantons, retained a certain amount of sovereignty and autonomy while at the same time handing over their national responsibilities to the Confederation. The new Constitution was a genuine compromise which tried to take different political interests into consideration. Only shordy beforehand, the Liberals and Conservatives had been engaged in a civil strife known as the Sonderbund War, and the new Constitution had the effect of uniting them in the development of a Federal State in which the sovereignty, i.e. autonomy, of the cantons was maintained in important issues. Thus the army was only partly centralised, and the new Confederation was endowed with relatively modest competence in matters relating to schools and education. The old cantonal rights of way continued to be observed, and German, French and Italian were declared national languages of equal status.

The balance between centralism and federalism thus achieved and the resulting organisation of the authorities are still basically valid today. The endeavour to arrive at compromise in controversial issues manifested in the Basic Law is recognised as an unwritten maxim of Swiss politics.

The Federal Constitution included both a series of new institutions and a number of modifications to existing rights. Above all, however, it already contained certain specific regulations granting the people the right to request amendments to the Constitution either by means of a popular initiative or in accordance with the forms laid down for federal legislation. This aspect of direct democracy, which was based on the old concept of the sovereignty of the people, proved during the course of the next 150 years to be the Constitution's most creative element, and at the same time the best guarantee of the stability of the system.

The contents of the Federal Constitution

With the new Federal Constitution, Switzerland became a Federal State with a unified customs territory, and its inhabitants were granted various civil rights and liberties.

The most important contents of the Constitution, which are still valid today, are based primarily on the Confederation's commitment to protect Switzerland's political independence and the enforcement of law and order within the land. Fortunately, whereas the precept of independence became a classical maxim in terms of foreign affairs, the enforcement of law and order, with the exception of a few armed interventions in the case of strikes and demonstrations, played only a minor role.The Confederation was granted the unique right to enter into agreements or alliances with foreign states. Most important of all, perhaps, were the regulations regarding the protection of the Swiss people's civil rights and liberties which included, for example, freedom of association, freedom of worship and the freedom of every Swiss citizen to settle in any place in the country -- rights which hardly any other state was able to guarantee its citizens at the time.

The social role of the Confederation was defined as 'the promotion of common prosperity'. Levying of customs duties at the national borders and the associated reduction of internal duties, definition of weights and measures, minting of currency and even the manufacture and sale of gunpowder also became the responsibility of the Confederation. Finally, the new Constitution also guaranteed a number of individual rights such as freedom of the press, freedom of opinion, freedom of assembly and freedom of worship for the Christian religions.

In the practical implementation of these regulations, compromises continued to be made as they had been previously. An example: whereas in the definition of weights and measures the authorities agreed on the units of feet and pounds, thus deciding against the wishes of the French-speaking Swiss who would have preferred the metric system, they met them halfway in the case of the currency reform and agreed on the centimes and francs which were in use in France.

The organisation of the authorities

One of the most significant sections of the Constitution deals with the organisation of the authorities according to the principle of the separation of powers.

Parliament, which is known as the Federal Assembly, has legislative power. The assembly consists of two chambers, namely the National Council (with 200 members), which represents the population as a whole, and the Council of States (with 46 members), which represents the cantons. The members of these two Councils were no longer bound to obey the instructions of the cantonal governments as they had been before 1848 but were responsible for taking their own decisions. Then as now, the members of both chambers were not professional parliamentarians but performed their duties on a part-time basis. This militia system is a further characteristic of Swiss politics which also applies, for example, to the Swiss army.

The Federal Assembly elects the Government, or Cabinet, namely the Federal Council, which contains seven members. According to an unwritten law, this Government consists of members of the parties which have the majority in the Federal Assembly. Furthermore, the Federal Council is a Collegial Government, i. e. corporate responsibility for all decisions of the Federal Council are taken not by individual members of the executive but by the Federal Council as a whole, and the decisions thus taken are binding for all members.

According to the organisation of the authorities stipulated by the Federal Constitution of 1848, the Federal Assembly also elects the members of the Federal Tribunal, Switzerland's supreme court, which concentrates primarily on civil and criminal law; the Federal Tribunal is not concerned with constitutional jurisdiction.

The first institutions of direct democracy

Whereas the Federal Constitution of 1848 contained the beginnings of direct democracy, it was the cantons that had the greatest influence on the democratic progress towards the sovereignty of the people.

As has been mentioned, one of the most original premises of the 1848 Federal Constitution was the right of the people to request amendments to the Constitution. Yet the 1848 Federal Constitution contained only the first, rudimentary beginnings of direct democracy, for apart from the compulsory referendum on isolated amendments to the Constitution initiated by the government and parliament, it only provided for the initiative for the total revision of the Federal Constitution which was bound up with a very long-winded and tiresome process.

Nevertheless, the first and most important elements of the sovereignty of the people were now formulated. The Liberal victors of the 1847/1848 civil war had succeeded in establishing their postulates of the sovereignty of the people, the separation of powers and the granting of civil rights and liberties, thereby creating important conditions for the growth of the economy.

The establishment of direct democracy within the Confederation took somewhat longer, however, and it was in the cantons that it first became established. For example, the veto, the right of the people to prevent an unpopular bill from becoming law by their vote in the commune, had existed in St.Gall, the region of Basel and Lucerne even before 1850. Later on, the referendum was also introduced, both in the form of the compulsory vote and the optional referendum; in the case of the latter, a certain percentage of the electorate could request that an issue be put to the vote either by collecting signatures or by petition to the Landsgemeinde.

The popular initiative was a further item on the programme of the democratic movement dedicated to the establishment of popular rights. This was the right of a certain number of voters to submit their own proposals for legislation (legislative initiative) or constitutional amendments (constitutional initiative) and to demand that they be submitted to the electorate. In addition, the Democrats wanted the people to be able to elect the Executive directly and to dissolve Parliament should they so decide. These endeavours, and the accompanying heated discussion with the ruling bourgeoisie, were a part of the cultural battle about the basic issue of whether the State or the Church was to determine the social norms. Whereas the Liberals wanted to entrust the supervision of the schools to the State, the Conservatives regarded the Church as the only competent authority for education.

The Constitutional Revisions of 1874 and 1891

1874 and 1891 were crucial years for the organisation of direct democracy in the Confederation, and the political rights which ensued have been a determining feature of Switzerland ever since.

This cultural battle was finally resolved, in favour of the state, in the 1874 revision of the Federal Constitution. On the one hand, western Switzerland was won over to the Confederation's increased competence by the admission of a number of anticlerical regulations to the Constitution (ban on the Jesuits, ban on the foundation of new monasteries and bishoprics, determination and registration of civil status by the state). On the other hand, however, rights pertaining to the developing industrialisation were revised, and the army was reinforced in the face of the growth of the European national states. As a result of the democratic movements in the cantons, the optional referendum was added to the popular rights. This referendum soon gained considerable influence, not only over legislation but also as an instrument of the opposition parties against the parties which ruled in the Federal Council.

The debate on the revision of the Federal Constitution which began in 1874 was concluded almost twenty years later, in 1891. The popular initiative now became established in the Confederation as well as in the cantons, and the Radical Democrats voluntarily relinquished one of their seats in the Federal Council to the Catholic Conservatives. The historian Beatrix Mesmer regards 1891 as the real starting point of the development of Switzerland in the 20th century. The popular initiative, the introduction of the opposition in the Federal Council, and above all the introduction of the first Swiss National Holiday on August 1st, set the course of a common state ideology: Switzerland had become a state which owed its existence to a common Constitution by which everyone was bound. In this sense, the .Pact of 1291 was later re-interpreted as the first Swiss Constitution.

Contrary to the fears of conservative Swiss, and contrary also to the expectations of many in favour of reform, these popular rights did not have a directly revolutionary impact. Generally speaking, the referendum tended to have a conservative effect and to preserve the established order, while the initiative had little direct influence on the organisation of the Federal Constitution. Nevertheless, the exercise of the popular initiative had a considerable political effect in that practically all important political trends were sooner or later manifested and popularised by requests submitted in the form of initiatives, thereby contributing to the formation of political groups. There were plans for reform, such as the proposal to elect the National Council according to the quota strength of the political parties (proportional representation), which was only accepted after several unsuccessful attempts to introduce it. One injustice which existed since the beginning of the Federal State and which lasted for over a century and was not rectified until recently despite all existing political rights was its failure, until 1971, to grant voting rights to women.

2 Political Switzerland today

Institutions such as Federalism, the autonomy of the communes, concordance, compromise and collegia! government in direct Swiss democracy are crucial factors in the political culture of the country. Federalism and the autonomy of the communes are two of the most important historical institutions which are integrated in the institutions and legislation of the Federal Constitution.


Federalism plays an important part among these traditional institutions. In Switzerland, federalism is the flexible union of more or less autonomous parts (cantons, communes) to form a complete whole (Confederation).The powers of decision are usually organised 'from the bottom upwards'. According to the subsidiarity principle, the Confederation only assumes responsibility for duties which the cantons are unable to carry out themselves. The centres of political decision, and thus the power and the duties of the state, are divided up, chiefly with the intention of protecting the interests of linguistic minorities. Thus the 23 cantons that make up the Swiss Federal State are not simply administrative regions in a central state.The cantons, or states, as they are also called, have a certain degree of sovereignty, and they have their own political institutions such as governments, parliaments and courts. Most of the cantons existed as states long before the Confederation and are thus historically anchored. They each have their own history and identity which they strive to preserve through an active form of federalism. The carefully cherished character of the cantons as small states is revealed in various ways, for example in their folklore. In the French-speaking part of Switzerland, for instance, some cantons call themselves 'republics', in Canton Jura the members of the government call themselves 'ministers', all the cantons, and even the larger towns, have their own police force with their own uniform, and every canton has its own system of primary education with partially different teaching methods and material.

But although the traditional autonomy of these republics, and thus also federalism as a maxim of the Swiss political system, is still thoroughly alive and well, its future is not unproblematic. The traditional division of power between the cantons and the Confederation, as laid down in the Federal Constitution of 1848/74, has an historical ring to it: while the cantons are accountable for the police, social welfare, education and cultural affairs, the Confederation is responsible for foreign affairs, customs, post and communications. In many other areas such as taxes, transport, energy, agriculture, social and educational politics, an increasing shift of competence to the Confederation is taking place which is forcing the cantons into the role of executive institutions. Dynamic economic developments, the standardisation of rights and their orientation beyond the national borders, as well as the recent dramatic developments in public finance have reinforced centralist tendencies in Switzerland as well as abroad. These shifts in authority are sometimes referred to, somewhat ironically, as 'full-cycle federalism' -- a phenomenon which is also gaining in importance on a European level.

States' voting has become a controversial issue of federalism, for whereas it was appropriate and important at the time that the Federal Constitution was first drawn up when its intention was to help the less privileged cantons to achieve their rights, nowadays it enables the small and less populated cantons to thwart the will of the majority in important electoral issues. However, the political system stipulates that the elimination of states' voting can only be decided by a popular initiative of which states' voting is an integral part...

A few years ago some cantons began, in co-operation with localities in other countries, to form regions which are primarily concerned with economic, infrastructural and cultural issues, but which do not -- yet -- possess any established political institutions of their own. Examples of this are southern Switzerland, the area around Geneva and the Basel region ('regio basiliensis' which embraces French, German and Swiss territory).

As we have already seen in the historical section, the cantons have their own political rights which have developed over the years. These usually include the whole range of direct democratic instruments such as the right to vote on the most important affairs, the referendum, the popular initiative, and the election of not only the cantonal parliament, as in the case of the Confederation, but also of the cantonal executive council, and sometimes of the courts. As long as these instruments are capable of establishing, implementing and supervising laws they are part of Federal law, and the autonomy of the cantons is thus restricted by the higher institutions of the Confederation.

The autonomy of the communes

The principle of the autonomy of the communes is even older than Federalism. It began in the high Middle Ages in the form of citizens' communes in the towns and mark communities in the mountain valleys.

These communes had a certain number of public duties to perform. The mark communities administrated the pastures and forests, and the town communes constructed and maintained such facilities as water supplies and roads. Whereas the mark communities were originally primitive direct democratic institutions in which the decisions were taken by assemblies and the show of hands, over the centuries they changed into real oligarchies in which membership was either inherited or purchased. It was the French occupation and the consequent Helvetian Constitution in 1798 that did away with these circumstances and established communes all over Switzerland which elected their authorities directly through the vote of their male inhabitants.

Since then, the communes have been recognised as public corporations with their own, decentralised authority over their territories based on self-admin-istration. Political communes are found in all cantons, some of them under the concept of residents' communes. In addition to the political communes, there are also other communal forms such as the old citizens' communes, the church communes and the school communes, all of which are responsible for specific administrative duties.

Like the cantons and the Confederation, the 3018 communes each have their own government (usually known as the local or town council) and a communal assembly or communal parliament. It is these committees which take political decisions and organise elections. In the towns, these local parliaments are replaced by postal elections and voting. In both cases, residents are entitled to participate, provided (with a few exceptions) that they are Swiss citizens.

What, then, are the duties of the communes? What issues can residents vote on? Firstly, questions relating to the communal finances, for example the tax scale in the commune, and sometimes the budget of the town or commune. Then there are decisions on primary and secondary schools, on police regulations and regulations pertaining to communal safety (fire, water), on social welfare in the commune,burial and cremation procedures, the construction of public old people's homes, the design of housing developments, traffic, environmental protection (e.g. purification of sewage and garbage disposal), energy issues and publicly supported sports and cultural activities in the commune.

With these areas of competence, the communes form the civic microcosmos of Switzerland. They are of crucial importance to the smooth functioning of direct democracy because they enable this democracy to function within a comprehensible framework without becoming lost in abstract, unrealistic texts. An example: around five years ago, a tax on garbage bags was approved by popular vote in various communes. Each commune had its own tariffs and individually coloured stickers for the bags. In this case, the effects of federalism and communal autonomy went as far as to stipulate the contents of the garbage bags which lined the streets. The public discussion on the pros and cons of such a measure has in the meantime provided an important lesson on the solution of problems relating to garbage management by appealing to the understanding and co-operation of the households and making the population as a whole aware of ecological issues. The matter is really very simple: in Switzerland, the most violent discussions are triggered by issues which involved the citizen's purse.

The Landsgemeinde

In the small rural cantons of Obwalden, Nidwalden, Appenzell Outer Rhodes, Appenzell Inner Rhodes and Glarus, one of the original forms of direct democracy is still in force: the Landsgemeinde. This is a constitutional assembly of free citizens held in the open at which the most important affairs of the community are discussed and decided upon by the citizens of the commune. These assemblies usually take place twice a year in the centrally located square of the cantonal capital. They are a prey to the unpredictability of direct democracy since every member of the canton's electorate every has the right to speak out about the issues under discussion and try to influence the vote. Voting is carried out by the raising of hands.

Direct democracy

Apart from Federalism and the self-administration of the communes, the most important aspects of political Switzerland are direct democracy and the associated separation of powers in the Confederation.

The significance of direct democracy for the political system of Switzerland can hardly be over-estimated. It is the raison d'etre of the state which calls itself the Swiss Confederation, an official designation which hints at some-thing in the nature of a sworn fraternity of democrats. The fraternity was directed from the very beginning in the 13 th century against foreign enemies, and in certain parts of Switzerland it is still upheld as an isolationist and conservative-nationalist attitude in complete disregard of the changed circumstances in the foreign, and thus European, environment.

What are the instruments of direct democracy?

• First of all, there is the popular vote, the compulsory referendum as it is officially called, in which important -- and sometimes less important -- issues in the form of amendments to the Federal Constitution are submitted to the vote of the Swiss people and to the Council of States. If a bill on an amendment to the Constitution is to be legally binding, it must be accepted not only by the people by also by the majority of states, i.e. of the 23 cantons.

• Controversial federal laws can be confirmed or made invalid by optional referenda. When such a law has been passed by parliament, the signatures of 50000 Swiss citizens with a right to vote collected within 90 days can request a popular vote. On an average, referenda against federal laws are held once or twice a year. Often, a referendum is only 'threatened' in an attempt to influence a new bill which is still in the 'hearing' stage in parliament. If such a threat is be effective, the group concerned must have members who, if necessary, are sufficiently well organised to collect the necessary number of signatures in the relatively short period of three months, and it must also make sure that its criticism of the bill is plausible enough for the latter to be rejected by the people.The referendum and the corresponding threat can have a delaying effect: since the voting public can only vote either for or against a bill, but not, for example, for an alternative to it, referenda often act as a brake on the legislative process and sometimes lead to unnecessary polls which, in the case of rejection, can result in political disaster out of which nothing constructive can develop.

• The most important of the political rights of Swiss men and women is the popular initiative. For a popular initiative to be valid, 100000 signatures must be collected within eighteen months and submitted to the Federal Chancery, the office of the Federal Council. The initiative may propose an amendment to or elimination of an Article in the Federal Constitution, or the introduction of a new one. This crucial element of direct democracy makes it possible for people to discuss and regulate political issues on the constitutional level without the government or parliament being able to intervene directly. And whereas the Federal Council and the Federal Assembly can put forward a 'counter-project' to the vote, they may not alter the text of the original initiative. Here, too, the initiative or the 'counter-project' is accepted when one or the other is agreed upon by the majority of the people and the states. The initiative may take one of two forms: most frequently, it is presented in the form of a draft of a text for an Article in the Federal Constitution which is submitted to the vote. The second, less usual, form of popular initiative is a general petition which the Federal Council and Parliament then put into the shape of a constitutional Article in keeping with the proposal. This form of initiative is relatively unimportant in political practice since the radical and direct form of the formulated draft is more in keeping with the character of this people's right as a vote of no confidence in the established authorities.

One of the biggest handicaps of this important right is its slowness. Five years can easily pass between the launching of a popular initiative and the actual vote on the issue raised.The collection of signatures, the formulation of the federal administration's response, the decision of the Federal Council and finally the parliamentary debates about the Federal Assembly's attitude towards the initiative and the setting of a date for the actual vote all take far too long for the discussion on the political issue in question to retain its topicality.

Since the right of initiative came into being in the Swiss Confederation, over 100 different popular initiative requests have been submitted, most of which were put to the vote.

Another right of initiative consists of the initiative for a total revision of the Federal Constitution. This is the possibility of revising the Federal Constitution in its entirety, i. e. of replacing it by a new Basic Law. The Total Revision Initiative, as has been mentioned in the historical chapter, was already part of the basic provision of the 1848 version. However, owing to the complexity of the procedures involved, it has always been little more than an important constitutionally theoretical, but practically unfeasible, popular right.

• Another example of political rights is the right of petition. Every man or woman, Swiss or non-Swiss, may hand in a request to any authority, be it the Federal Council, Federal Assembly or even cantonal or communal government. The authorities approached in this way are obliged to listen to any such request, but they are not obliged to comply with it. In contrast to a referendum or an initiative, it does not place the authorities under any obligation. Usually, petitions are indications of popular movements and their contents often become the subject of popular initiatives.

We end this characterisation of political Switzerland with a list of the classical political powers which have existed since 1848: Parliament, Government and Federal Supreme Court. The order has been selected deliberately because the political power wielded by these authorities is, although first-class, nevertheless only indirect. One might say that in Switzerland the government operates within a network of direct democracy and federalism, of unwritten laws such as concordance, compromise and collegiality, of friendly-federal solidarity, and also of European conditions. The all-important thing is the fact that it is neither the Federal President, who does not formally exist, nor the government, nor parliament who have the last word in any affair, but the people.

The Federal Assembly

The Swiss Parliament, the Federal Assembly, is made up of two chambers: the National Council, with 200 members, and the Council of States, with 46 members.

Both chambers deal with the same affairs: the National Council from the point of view of the Swiss people, the Council of States from that of regional or cantonal interests. For certain issues such as elections to the Federal Council (government), or reprieves, the two councils meet to form the United Federal Assembly.

The tasks of the Federal Assembly are primarily confined to issues of legislation which are brought to its attention through parliamentary initiatives and motions. It can, however, intervene against even the Federal Council by means of postulates, interpolations and simple questions and thus force the government to account for its actions in all kinds of matters. Over and above this, the Federal Assembly is responsible for approving federal expenditure (budgets and state accounts). Finally, Parliament elects the member of the Federal Council and the Supreme Federal Court. In time of war, the Federal Assembly also elects the commander-in-chief of the Swiss Army.

The federal parliamentarians meet for four sessions a year of three weeks each; all the parliamentarians perform their duties on a part-time basis: here, too, the militia system is in force -- professional parliament is unknown in Switzerland. Between these four sessions the parliament works in committees which prepare the debates in the plenum of the National Council and the Council of States. Here a distinction is made between standing and ad-hoc committees which are formed for one specific text only.

The most important standing committees are responsible for the following areas:

- Finance (National Council and Council of States)
- Auditing
- Foreign Affairs
- Science, education and culture
- Social security and health
- Environment, regional planning and energy
- Security
- Transport and communications.

Parliament plays the most important role in legislation. The impulse for a new law can, however, come from sources outside the two chambers, for example from the cantons, from individual politicians or, in the case of a Federal Constitution Article, popular initiatives. The media are also sometimes indirectly responsible for a bill. The Federal Council asks the administration to draft an appropriate new bill (a new constitutional article or law), if necessary in consultation with outside experts. This draft is then submitted to a 'hearing' process during which cantons, associations, political parties and other interested institutions are consulted and invited to assess the bill. After this, the Federal Council will amend its bill in accordance with the 'hearing' and submit it to the Federal Assembly in the form of a Report (proposal to adopt a bill, with accompanying commentary).The two Councils work on the bill separately.

After a decision has been reached by the two Councils, the new federal law is published in the Federal Law Gazette, the official publication of the Federal Council. A waiting period of three months follows to determine if any opposition is made to the new legislation in the form of a referendum. Should there be a petition, with the statutory minimum of 50000 signatures, the bill must then be submitted to the electorate. Otherwise, once the deadline for petitioning has elapsed, the law come into force.

The complex political set-up of the Federal Assembly is hard to describe. On the one hand, there are dominant bourgeois groups -- the parliamentarians and the members of the Federal Council who belong to a political party are known as a faction -- and on the other, there is a large number of smaller parties representing smaller groups. The largest factions in the Federal Assembly (in terms of the number of their members) are the Radical Democrats, the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Swiss People s Party. These four largest parties, which occupy 205 (83 %) of the 246 seats in parliament, also have one member each in the Federal Council. They are thus the government parties which, owing to their different political provenance do not always agree but frequently act in opposition to each other. Other small groups which enliven the spectrum of the Swiss Federal Assembly are, for example the Liberals, the Alliance of Independents, the Evangelical People's Party, the Auto Party (Freedom Party), the Communists Workers' Party, the Lega dei Ticinesi, the Green Movement and the Federal Democratic Union.

The Federal Council

The Swiss Government is called the Federal Council. It consists of seven members and is headed for a period of one year by a President elected from among the Federal Council members.

The Federal Council, or the Swiss Government, consists of members of various parties. This heterogeneous mixture is once again typically Swiss and corresponds to the political collegial and concordance system, for the parties represented in the Federal Council are those which dominate in the two Chambers of Parliament and which in many cases hold diverging views; however, in cases where compromises have to be made in order to achieve majorities in Parliament and later on among the people, the different interests unite and come to an agreement on the issue at stake.

In terms of party politics, the Federal Council is recruited from four parties, two each from the Radical Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats and one from the Swiss People' Party, a grouping which has remained constant since its inception in 1959 and is often referred to as the 'magic formula' which is remarkable for its stability. Ever since 1944, when the first Social Democratic member entered the Federal Council room, the composition of the government has remained the same, and one can thus consider the Swiss government to be one of the most stable and constant of all governments. When, a few years ago, a woman Federal Councillor resigned owing to an incident -- something which is more or less an everyday occurrence in other European countries -- there was talk in Switzerland of a deep governmental and institutional crisis. In fact, however, the almost proverbial stability is based not only on the multi-party government, for unwritten laws demand that at least two members of the National Council must come from the regions of linguistic minorities (French-speaking Switzerland, Italian-speaking Ticino and Italian- and Romansh-speaking Grisons) and that the three most populous cantons of Zurich, Berne and Vaud should always be represented. In addition, no single canton can seat two members at the same time. It is only since 1984, with a four-year break, that women have been represented in the Federal Council.

The Federal Council is elected by Parliament every four years (both chambers meet in the National Council Hall). No more than one member may hand in his or her resignation on his or her own accord between elec--tions, and parliament has no power to force the government or any of its ministers to resign.

The meetings of the Federal Council are chaired by the President of the Confederation who is elected for one year only from among the Federal Councillors. He is thus something in the nature of a Prime Minister ad interim whose office consists first and foremost of chairing the meetings of the Federal Council and performing certain representative duties. During his year as president he also continues to be head of his own department. Switzerland has no actual head of state. When a foreign head of state, or even a queen, visits Berne, they are usually received by all seven members of the Federal Council.

Each member of the Federal Council is the head of a department, or of what would be known abroad as a ministry. There are just seven such departments in Switzerland, so that each head of department is responsible for several sub-divisions which usually correspond to several ministries abroad.

The individual departments are primarily responsible for the following duties:

Department of Foreign Affairs:

Foreign politics, diplomatic and consular representation abroad, peace, security and de-armament policies, relations with the EU and the international organisations, development co-operation and humanitarian aid.

Department of the Interior

Culture, public building, the environment, health, statistics, social security, science and research, sport.

Department of Justice and Police

Law enforcement, police, supervision of aliens, federal prosecutor's office, private insurance supervision, patents and copyrights, civil defence, regional planning, weights and measures, refugees.

Military Department

All matters relating to security and defence.

Department of Finance

Federal finances, federal civil service, federal tax administration, customs, communication technology, banking supervision.

Department of Public Economy

Foreign trade, industry and trade, labour, agriculture, control of the economy, economic administration of land, housing.

Department of Transport and Energy

Transport by road, rail and air, water supply, energy, road construction, media and telecommunications, federal railways, post and telephone office.

The Swiss Federal Chancery, with the Chancellor of the Confederation at its head, acts as the secretariat of the government. It is in charge of the central legal services, language services, the head office for printed matter and the central information service, as well as administrative supervision. Probably the most important duty of the Federal Chancery is to inform the public about all issues which are put to the vote, and about government matters. One of the two vice-chancellors also acts as government spokesman.

Although the Federal Councillors are heads of departments, the business of their departments is ultimately decided by the Federal Council as a whole. Accordingly, it is not the individual member of the executive but the Federal Council as a whole that bears corporate responsibility for decisions, reports and proposals sent to the Federal Assembly. A member of the Federal Council may even have to present a bill to the public or the Federal Assembly on behalf of the Federal Council when he does not fully agree with it as the minister responsible. The principle of collegiality obliges him, or her, to defend the compromise which has been reached over and above party or other interests.

The Federal Supreme Court

The Federal Tribunal, with its seat in Lausanne, is Switzerland's supreme court.

Switzerland's regional and cantonal courts are, according to the familiar three-level arrangement, subordinate to the Federal Supreme Court. Lausanne, the city on the banks of Lake Geneva, was deliberately chosen as the seat of this court in 1874. The choice was intended to demonstrate by means of its geographical position its independence of the judicature from the Government and Parliament in Berne; and it was also felt desirable to allocate to the French-speaking part of the country an important element in the constitutional system to demonstrate federal solidarity with regions of linguistic minorities. Owing to similar federalistic considerations, the Federal Insurance Court has its seat in Lucerne in Central Switzerland.

The federal Tribunal is made up of 30 full-time federal judges and 15 alternates, or substitute judges, who are elected by the Federal Assembly for a six-year term of office. Candidates for these offices are put forward by the parties.

The supreme court is divided into eight chambers and is concerned with civil, criminal, administrational and constitutional cases and also with issues relating to the division of competence between the Confederation and the cantons.The court does not, on the other hand, supervise either articles for the Federal Constitution or the texts of legislative bills. Thus constitutional jurisdiction does not exist in Switzerland, a country in which the people have the last word last word in constitutional matters, and a people's verdict is therefore not litigable.

3 The fundamentals of political practice

In practice, the political institutions consist of a number of groups which benefit from the system. These are first and foremost the parties and associations, but they also embrace other political movements and, in a broader sense, the media.

The Political Parties

The political parties in Switzerland have to contend with financial problems. In addition, the influence of their voting recommendations is often minimal, particularly since they are no longer able to broadcast their opinions simply by means of 'their' newspapers. Furthermore, the political parties are faced with the phenomenon of populism which is a severe impediment to serious political work.

The Swiss political parties have often been called the 'offspring of popular rights'. Even more than the associations and unions, the political parties developed into organisational bodies of direct democracy by implementing the instruments of direct democracy, i.e. the elections to the legislative assemblies and the political rights of referendum and initiative.

The origin of the historical parties which are still dominant today dates back to the social and economic tension of the 19th century. These are the Radical Democrats, the party of the economic bourgeoisie; the Christian Democrats, who stand for catholic-conservative and Christian and social values; and the Social Democrats, who formed a party in answer to the European-wide search for a solution to the social problems of late 19th century industrialised Switzerland. Although the membership figures of these parties have steadily decreased in proportion to the population, little has altered in terms of their relative strength and their relation to each other, and thus of their indirect majority, for over 100 years.

This stability also, however, implies a certain political immobility, since the political parties which are rooted in the traditional electorate milieus are finding it increasingly difficult to create openings in Swiss politics -- in the direction of Europe, for example, or in terms of international solidarity or humanitarian tolerance towards foreigners -- which extend beyond the limits of traditional Helvetian egoism. Within only a few years, the Swiss people have unequivocally decided against joining UNO or the European Trade Area, as well as participation by the Swiss army in the UN peacekeeping forces.

On the other side of the coin, it is precisely the constancy and dominance of the traditional political parties that are so important for the political stability of the country. Even the smaller and more recent parties among their ranks and the so-called opposition parties do not represent a disruptive factor for the system. At the very most, they occasionally bring up new or additional aspects of a problem. The fact is that the Swiss political parties are more concerned with occupying the positions in the authorities and administrations which are usually regarded as high-ranking in the official hierarchy than with supporting or opposing the government. This is by no means the official duty of these organisms, but it is, especially where the historical parties are concerned, virtually their only remaining raison d'etre.

The renewal of the Swiss party political landscape has for some time been influenced by the problems inherent in a modern industrial society in the centre of Europe. In the 60s and 70s, these consisted largely of issues triggered by the immigration of foreign workers -- the result of economic disparity -- which led to the formation of foreigner-hostile, in part extreme right-wing and conservative-thinking party groups. In the 70s and 80s, a few political groups which had long been concerned with popular initiatives related to environmental problems developed into larger political parties. For the past few years even the motor car has acquired a political fan club in the form of an 'Auto Party' whose main concern is to ensure the car driver free passage on the roads. The Auto Party now calls itself 'The Freedom Party', perhaps realising that a programme restricted to four wheels and a chassis would not get them very far even in Switzerland.

Some of these more recent parties and groups came into being more or less independently of the traditional parties, whose policies -- and above all effectiveness -- they question more and more. In fact, the political parties function as cantonal and communal bodies rather than strong nation-wide organisations. Within the transparent framework of a canton or commune, they are strongly integrated in the political organisation of communal affairs and have a say in everything from the election of communal officials and the constitution of school committees to the nomination of the commander of a voluntary fire service.

On the other hand, it is uncertain how much influence the voting recommendations of a party can have on polling results. The influence of both the political parties and the authorities is under-mined when the electorate voting in a popular initiative declines to follow either official recommendations or the decisions of party executives. The so-called opinion-forming process connected with initiatives and referenda which was based primarily on discussions between the parties until around the middle of our century has changed a great deal, largely owing to the fact that the newspapers have abandoned their party political affinities, as well as to the prevalence of the electronic media -- in particular television -- and the selective financial involvement of certain circles of the economy.

Indeed, financial issues have become one of the most persistent problems confronting the parties. Unlike in many other European countries, the Swiss political parties are not supported by the state, with the exception of minor sums spent on the infrastructure for the members of the federal parliament. The political parties not only have to bear the cost of regular elections, they are also required to stage effective presentations of their specific positions in referendum campaigns. This is always an expensive affair since the media are no longer in a position to provide a platform for the arguments and counter-arguments of the numerous political discussions that take place before elections. As a result, referendum campaigns have to rely on public events which are usually poorly attended and thus have a minor effect, and on advertising by means of posters or the advertising sections of newspapers. This has the disadvantage that it forces the political parties to try and impress their arguments upon the public in a few keywords (political advertising on television is not permitted). This kind of publicity is extremely expensive in Switzerland, and the financial situation of many parties often makes it well-nigh impossible for them to launch a really effective campaign promoting their point of view and their recommendation to the electorate to accept or reject the proposal which is the subject of the referendum.

In addition, this type of propaganda relies largely on the reduction of complex conditions to trite slogans. In some referendum and election campaigns, important and complex financial issues (taxes) are reduced, particularly by the right-wing parties, to slogans such as 'More state? More civil servants? More taxes? No!'Extreme simplification of this kind is obviously one of the disadvantages of the plebiscitary system.

In recent years, the Swiss political parties have embarked on some changes in their political cadre, largely owing to the women's movement. In the 1992 elections, the defeat of Christiane Brunner, a Social Democrat candidate for the Federal Council who was too non-conformist for the taste of the bourgeois parties, gave rise to a wave in favour of the female occupancy of important political positions. Thus, for example, the (male) mayor of the city of Berne now heads a government in which women have the majority.The position of women in Swiss politics, which is steadily becoming stronger, may be regarded as a reaction to over a hundred years of total discrimination against women in political and other social functions. It was not until 1972, after countless previous ballots in which only men were permitted to vote, that Swiss women were finally granted the political rights to which they are entitled.

Another characteristic of the development of the political parties in Switzerland is the populism which goes hand in hand with the extreme simplification and reduction of political issues already described. With the help of the media, isolated exponents within the parties or self-appointed non-party politicians try to make a name for themselves as 'experts' who lead the electorate, already wearied by complex federal politics which are becoming increasingly burdened by European imponderabilities, to believe that they are in a position to remedy the confusion and recreate a sense of order. Furthermore, the Swiss citizens -- and in particular the men since women are less likely to be impressed by such personages -- are told that the traditional myths of Swiss neutrality, independence and autarky still retain their unlimited and unqualified validity despite the changes in the world surrounding our Alpine state.

These implicit developments pose a real threat to the future of the political parties as factors of political enlightenment and stability.

Unions and Associations

The Unions and Associations play an important part in the political life of Switzerland. Their position is even stronger than that of the parties, largely because they have a better infrastructure and frequently more financial means.

The associations and unions and their position in the political life of Switzerland are closely linked with the prevailing 'association culture'. Swiss citizens are virtually forced (because of their jobs) to join one or more associations. For example, a Swiss male who is liable for military ser-vice automatically becomes a member of a shooting club with which he has to participate in a stipulated number of hours per years of compulsory shooting practice at one of Switzerland's 2500 shooting ranges -- which are just as much part of the country's landscape as the benches installed at various vantage points in the landscape by the associations for the improvement of local amenities. In addition to the military associations, there are a large number of societies and clubs devoted above all to the areas of sport and leisure. And medical insurance companies organised by associations for the common good have long played an important part in social politics, while many cultural organisations such as theatres or art museums would be unable to exist without the support of promotion associations. Even the beginnings of the renowned banking business were based to a large extent on the support of associations, and some banks still retain the words 'Union' or'Corporation' today. Thus the social life of Switzerland is still interwoven with a dense network of associations and unions.

The unions and associations whose members represent economic and professional interests from the world of work, in short the 'economic associations', play an important role in the Swiss political system even though this may not be recognised from outside. They are even more officially and firmly integrated into political life than the political parties. Moreover, unlike the parties, the economic organisations are mentioned explicitly in the Federal Constitution in which Article 32 expressly states that 'interested •economic organisations shall be consulted prior to the enactment of executory legislation', and that they 'may be called upon to co-operate in the application of executory regulations.'Their stability is also based on their large number of members and the financial power of the latter.

Although there are well over 1000 such economic organisations in Switzerland which represent a widely varying range of interests from all areas of the economy and professional life, it is the so-called 'top organisations', which as umbrella organisations of the branch organisations have well-developed infrastructures (offices with legal, PR/marketing and other administrative services) at their disposal, that really have the most political influence.

The wide variety of the economic organisations may be described on the example of the most important types of organisation. Take, for instance, the professional associations which consist primarily of self-employed persons (ranging from pharmacists to art metal-workers) and people active in trades and crafts. These organisations also include a few trade unions, although these are becoming increasingly orientated towards the different industries. The largest associations, to which all these professional organisations are subordinated, include the Swiss Trade Association, the Swiss Farmers Union and the Mercantile Association. Companies belonging to the industrial and services sectors are organised in associations which may sometimes come down on the side of the employer in transactions with the trade unions. More often, though, employers' politics and economic politics are brought to the notice of separately acting organisations. The Swiss Union of Commerce and Industry, for example, can intervene in all possible questions of an economic and social-political nature by means of written statements submitted to the parliamentary hearing process, or through its representative in parliament, whereas the Central Association of Swiss Employers Associations tends to look after the economic interests of employers as the counterpole to the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions.

The trade unions and employers' associations are still the protagonists of the Swiss association culture. During the course of their history they have developed their own tradition of negotiation which has resulted in important contracts and made a crucial contribution to Switzerland's industrial peace and lack of strikes or even violent workers' conflicts. The last national strike was in 1919 (!), and strong strike movements in individual sectors can be counted on the fingers of one hand. In 1937 an industrial peace agreement was reached between the leading associations and the unions of the metal, engineering and watch-making industries, which decided to settle differences by arbitration rather than strikes and lock-outs. This agreement has since largely dominated the relations between the social partners, even though there are some areas of employment and a few regions where -- usually because of difficulties caused by attempts to bring about structural change -- there are more strikes than elsewhere.

The fact that the associations and unions have a stronger political influence than the parties is due on the one hand to the concentrated, professional form in which they submit their requests and proposals according to themes and areas of employment; and on the other hand, the associations have more financial means at their disposal owing to their high membership fees which enable them to develop infrastructures for their activities. The term 'para-state' is sometimes used in connection with the role of the associations.

Nevertheless, the associations operate most effectively when, rather than acting against the parties, they join forces with them in bringing about political changes. When they make use of both their influence in the legislative process in connection with the threat of a referendum and their financial power in a popular initiative, they can operate effectively as plebiscitary instruments in the interests of popular rights and thus make their requests heard. These kind of accumulated association politics are most often used in the successful launching of optional referenda aimed at preventing political solutions. In particular, the powerful trade association has a long tradition of populist rejection campaigns to its credit, in particular concerning texts pertaining to the finances of the Confederation.

The Media

The media play a special part in the Swiss political system: they are not only the fourth power in the land, they also have the responsibility of providing the electorate with information and thus have an important duty to fulfil in the direct democratic system. However, the increasing commercialisation of the media represents a severe a threat to this crucial function of the media in Swiss politics.

In many ways, the media fulfil the role of a supervisory authority in the Swiss political system with regard to the political powers of parliament, government and the courts. In addition to the classic role of a 'fourth power', which consists to a large extent of providing information and commentaries on political affairs, the media in Switzerland -- far more than elsewhere -- play a major role in the political system. For in a country in which the voters' level of information and knowledge plays a key role in deciding whether or not the decisions taken at polls do justice to the specific problems and genuinely represent the will of the people, the part played by the informative media is of the utmost importance.

The Swiss media system compromises around 20 large daily newspapers with circulations of between 30000 and 350000 copies per day. There are in addition approximately ten weekly papers, four television and ten radio programmes of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and Television Company, 25 private radio stations and a few regional television programmes. These media are supplied with information by one Swiss and several foreign news agencies. It is important, at least on an official level, that Switzerland should engage in a state-promoted political and cultural exchange of news and information over and above the language boundaries between the various parts of the country.

This exchange is ensured on the one hand by the SDA news agency (Swiss dispatch agency), which generally speaking supplies information from all parts of the country to virtually all media editors in German-, French- and Italian-speaking Switzerland, and on the other by the SRG Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and television programmes. The national broadcasting company is subject to radio and television laws, and a licence granted by the government places it under an obligation to contribute to 'the cultural development and entertainment of the listeners and viewers' and provide general, varied and factually correct information conducive to 'the free formation of opinion'. The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation endeavours to fulfil these requirements with programmes of equal value in all three of the country's official languages, as well as with radio and television programmes m Romansh. The company is financed by approximately 750 million francs from licences and around 230 million francs from television advertising.

Whereas media-political radio and television norms are probably intended to make it easier to find a national identity by means of medial portrayals of Swiss reality, the media are also judged on their ability to fulfil official tasks, and political circles tend all too easily to accuse the media of being responsible for the non-functioning of direct democracy.

The function of the media in Switzerland's specific political system has thus always been a subject of controversy. Even unanimous points of view expressed by the country's leading newspapers are unable, for example, to convince the electorate that Switzerland should become of a member of UNO. And the exposure by the press of tangible mismanagement (for example of the so-called secret files scandal, i.e. the illegal registration and spying on numerous respectable citizens through a secret police action) and the resulting demand for resignations in the government remained totally ineffective. There is only one recent example of a resignation from government owing to pressure by the press, namely of the woman minister of justice and law Elisabeth Kopp, the first woman member of the Federal Council, who warned her husband about an official investigation into the money-laundering affair.

On the other hand, one of the media's functions may be to act as what is sometimes called democracy's 'protective forest', which consists mainly of newspaper articles against the avalanches of fascist and communist totalitarianism in Europe. This may have an element of justification, particularly when we recall that it was precisely the leading journalists such as Albert Oeri (Basler Nachrichten),Walter Bretscher (Neue Zürcher Zeitung), Emil Oprecht and Ernst Nobs (Zürcher Volksrecht) who took up arms against national socialist activities in Switzerland. Switzerland is still a land of many newspapers, and it is sixth on the international list. The total circulation of newspapers has doubled since 1945.

Meanwhile, however, this protective forest has been considerably thinned by the prevailing economic 'dying forest' syndrome. The economic structure of the publishing houses and the financing of the newspapers through economy-dependent advertising has led to a drastic process of concentration which has reduced the number of leading papers to just over a dozen and undermined their political autonomy by editorial fusion.

The galloping commercialisation of radio, and particularly of television, is also making it increasingly difficult for these media to do justice to their crucially important and demanding duty of providing the electorate of Switzerland's direct democracy with comprehensive information on political affairs.

4 Essay

The idea of Switzerland in Europe. Some thoughts on the present situation

Europe is the problem that weighs most heavily upon us.
Kaspar Villiger, President of the Confederation 1995

Switzerland and Europe: when this subject is mentioned many a good Swiss citizen turns over the page, switches off the radio, clicks onto another TV programme, or just stops listening.

Yet Switzerland is not situated in a fringe region which might make such reactions more comprehensible. Perhaps it is precisely because our country is located in the heart of former Europe, although today it is placed slightly further towards the southern part of the continent, that it is not only untouched by any European euphoria but also feels threatened by a heteronomous 'controlling culture'.

There is an explanation for the aversion of little Switzerland, located in the heart of Europe, to this very Europe.

Firstly: an euphoric longing for a nation-unifying community of the Old World was never a Swiss trait. In his role of (at best) odd-job man and carrier on the old mountain passes and trade routes, the Swiss of old saw the Medieval splendours of the world -- brocade, wine and spices -- passing by in a northerly or southerly direction rather than being able to sit down and enjoy them himself. Living in lonely, isolated mountain valleys and devoid of any direct cultural ties with Europe's urban centres, the Swiss population kept out of international war owing to its defensive attitude towards alien enemies, and later through abstinence from and neutrality towards European trade. For centuries on end, Switzerland -- situated as it was in the heart of Europe -- was politically and culturally isolated.

In the 20th century, this isolationist attitude led to the careful development, largely undisturbed by war or social tension, of an industrial society, albeit with strong and viable connections with foreign countries.The development of a political system which was largely independent of foreign countries began earlier still, a system which, owing to its traditional association with popular democracy, stood out clearly from the parliamentary, authoritarian and totalitarian systems of the rest of Europe. In fact, Switzerland probably owes its success in keeping out of the turmoils of war at the beginning of the century and in the thirties and forties to the achievements of this political system in far greater measure than to its publicly mysticised armed neutrality.

Switzerland and Europe: the question arises of whether a democratic land which allows its population to vote on issues such as the duty on a 35 litre garbage bag, new ticket machines for the tram or the price of a dog licence could successfully take up a position in this Europe -- i.e. of whether it could ever become compatible with Europe's political system.

Whichever way we look at it, the integration of Switzerland into a supranational community is far from easy, largely because the very idea resurrects ancient fears about loss of sovereignty; and in Switzerland's case these are not just the fears of diplomats and politicians but of a whole nation, of each and every citizen who is jointly responsible for deciding for or against this loss of self-determination. Furthermore, the defensive attitude of the Swiss towards Europe is stronger among the older members of the population and in German-speaking Switzerland.

Against the backdrop of all these demographic factors, it would be easy to regard the whole question of Switzerland's will and willingness to become part of Europe as merely a matter of time.

In fact, however the consequences of even a short period of isolation are too grave to be taken lightly.

From the point of view of interior politics, this isolation has the effect of undermining rather than protecting Switzerland's identity, for there can be no doubt that the rift between German-speaking and French-speaking Switzerland is growing deeper all the time owing to their different attitudes towards Europe. The cultural and political minorities, which for all too long have constantly been made aware of their inferiority, might, if this continues, start looking for better friends outside Switzerland's borders. If this were to happen, the existence of the nation and the idea of Switzerland would be irretrievably called into question. From an economic viewpoint, the disadvantages are obvious: a decline in productivity, trade, and economy and, from the viewpoint of foreign politics, the demonstration of such excessive neutrality would be extremely damaging to Switzerland's image.

All these aspects speak in favour of the view that Switzerland must and will find the way to Europe sooner or later. However, the European dimension must also go hand in hand with a reassessment of our country's own national foundations, and thus of its political institutions. In Berne as well as in Brussels.

An assessment of the European political system measured against the qualitative values of direct democracy cannot help but result in considerable deficits. An institution like the European Council, for example, although broadly supported by its membership, is only moderately effective in its selected areas of influence. And other organs such as the council of ministers, the committee and the parliament all fall short of certain democratic elements in both their constitutional make-up and their decision-making processes.

The European system is also entirely devoid of direct democratic legitimacy. The individual citizen has no access to direct participation or even the possibility of organising a direct initiative. There is no way for basic questions of the community to be decided on a plebiscitary basis, and thus no recognition of the sovereignty of the citizens of Europe. On the contrary, the word 'federalism' is starting to assume a pejorative connotation among the top civil servants in Brussels, while the president of the committee complains about the lack of transparency in the European institutions.

In the foreseeable future, Europe will be unable to avoid creating a constitution granting broad and trans-national participation rights for the European population. It is important that the centralist structures be replaced by a federate organisational principle, that the resulting integral European constitution be decided by popular vote and, above all, that the constitution be amenable to alteration by the popular right of initiative.

If things continue to develop along their present lines, it is likely to be the very country in which Winston Churchill made his plea for a United States of Europe in 1946 that will be the last nation to join this union. But Switzerland faces a double challenge: it will not only have to adapt to Europe, it will also have to change its own political institutions.

The formation of a multi-cultural alpine state identity through a direct-democratic and federalist constitution was without doubt one of revolutionary Switzerland's most important achievements in the bourgeois, industrialising Europe of the 19th century. This was a political system whose strictly implemented majority principle could have turned the little state completely upside down had it not been for the system's built-in safety devices -- the formal and unwritten rights known as concordance, federalism and neutrality.

Since then, however, virtually all the conditions in which this political system were embedded have radically changed. Switzerland has been affected by the changed values in society and their demographic consequences, by the European and even world-wide mobility resulting from the dramatic increase in the differences in levels of civilisation, and by economic globalisation and the connected relativisation of national economic areas.The end of genuine socialism and the de-idealisation of social Utopias have affected Switzerland just as much as the unbounded effects of the risk society in which preventative state action can no longer intervene.

Apart from Switzerland's cultural, economic and political integration in Europe, this radically changed environment must above all lead to a change in our country's political organisation which is still geared to the conditions of the last century. And this renewal must aim in the same direction as that of the European institutions: the direction of a reinforced democracy.

In concrete terms, such a renewal of the direct democracy would imply the following:

• The supplementation of popular rights by the legislative initiative and the constructive referendum.

The initiative should be implementable on the legislative level and thus relieve the load on the Constitution. The referendum should no longer be misused by the associations and unions as an instrument for preventing necessary changes, but be used for making alternative solutions possible.

• The introduction of an urgent popular initiative to make it possible for the mills of democracy to grind somewhat faster in the case of particularly important issues. An urgent initiative (for example, 250000 signatures, voting within six months) would enable the population to intervene in topical politics directly and quickly.

• The elimination of the majority of state in initiatives and referenda. Today, state's voting is often used as a blockading instrument; and the Council of States is quite sufficient for the representation of the small cantons.

Finally, all the inhabitants of Switzerland, regardless of their nationality, should be granted political rights. This would be a concrete step towards direct democracy in Europe.

Switzerland has been a living model of an idea for a long time, namely the idea that different cultures can live peacefully together as one state. By virtue of its history, Switzerland has taken on a responsibility, and this consists not of isolating itself and becoming a museum of the Confederation in the midst of Europe, but of helping to realise peaceful cohabitation within Europe.

The time-honoured idea of a direct and just democracy must be renewed in Switzerland, and at the same time be implemented in Europe, by means of participation and co-responsibility.

Oswald Sigg

Switzerland in Figures

Basic figuresSwitzerlandEuropean Union
Population7 million347-5 million
Area (in 1000 km2)41.32368
Population density169147
Working population3.6 million158.5 million
Unemployment quota in %4.510.7
Gross inland product
per inhabitant in US$
Expenditure for state
administration billions of US$
National debt
(in % of gross inland product)
Currency reserves
(in billions of US$)

Languages (proportion of mother tongue)

Population according to age

German 63.6%0-24 29.9%
French 19.2%25-49 38.8%
Italian 7.6%50-74 24.5%
Romansh 0.6%75-... 6.9%
Other 9.0%
Population town/country
Urban areas68.9%
Rural areas31.1%
Foreign population
Proportion of foreigners 18.1%
Size of households
Households with 1 person 32.4%
Households with 2 persons 31.7%
Households with 3 persons 14.9%
Households with 4
or more persons
School pupils and students
Nursery school 145000
Primary, secondary and special schools740000
Grammar school, professional education 282000
Higher professional
-- non-university schooling146000
-- university91000
Industry and commerce
The ten largest companies Turnover in billions
of Swiss francs
Nestle (Food) 54.5218000
Metro International 53.090000
Marc Rich34.01400
Maus Freres11.017000
Number of employed persons according to areas of employment
Trade and hotel trade682700
Banking, insurance, consulting404200
Building trade356700
Other services350700
Traffic, communications204 400
Public administration115300
Average wages men/women in Sfr. /month
Male employees6250Male workers4878
Female employees4299Female workers3406
Foreign labourCountry of origin
Men 612413Italy273700
Women 326635Yugoslavia 143000
Turkey 37100
Other 91700
Expenditure of private households, proportion in %
Dwelling and energy17.3
Food, drink, tobacco12.7
Transport and communication8.8
Entertainment and education6.6
Furniture etc.5.0
Health care3.3
Other payments2.5
Radio/use in minutes per inhabitant
Swiss Radio 10673121
Private stations 652314
Foreign stations194328
Television/use in minutes per inhabitant
Swiss television 385048
Foreign stations808994
Newspapers and magazines /coverage in %

German-speaking SwitzerlandFrench-speaking Switzerland
SonntagsBlick27Le Matin (Sunday)46
Blick23Le Matin (Mon-Sat)28
Tages-Anzeiger2024 heures23
Sonntags-Zeitung17Nouveau quotidien14
Weltwoche14Tribune de Geneve13
Neue Ztircher Zeitung12Journal de Geneve8
Bilanz11La Liberte7
Cash10L'Est vaudois5
Basler Zeitung7
Finanz & Wirtschaft6
Der Bund5
Italian-speaking Switzerland
Corriere del Ticino53
Mattino della Domenica 47
La Regione40
Giornale del Popolo39
Gazzetta Ticinese7
Books edited in Switzerland
Other languages471
Income of the state, proportion in % State expenditure, proportion in %
Consumer tax33Social politics23
Direct federal tax23Security (army)17
Capital tax18Traffic/energy15
Customs duty13Education/research8
Other income13Agriculture8
Other expenditure29
Elections to the Federal Assembly 1995 Distribution of seats in the National Council
Persons entitled to vote 4.6 million Social Democrats54
Electoral participation 42.2 %Radical Democrats45
Christian Democrats34
Swiss People's Party29
Green Party8
Auto Party/Freedom Party 7
Distribution of seats in the Council of States
Radical Democrats17
Christian Democrats16
Social Democrats5
Swiss People's Party5


- Union Bank of Switzerland

- Federal Statistics Office - Federal Office for Industry, Trade and Work - Swiss Broadcasting Company - OECD

Status: 1995


On Switzerland in general

Marcel Schwander: Schweiz, C. H. Beck, Munich 1991

Walter Schiesser, Gerhard Schwarz, Hanno Helbling: Nachdenken ü'ber die Schweiz, Verlag Neue Ziircher Zeitung, Zurich 1991

Veronique Chatel: Dis-moi quelque chose en suisse, Editions du Felin, Paris 1991

Hans Elsasser et al: Die Schweiz, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1988

Ulrich Im Hof: Mythos Schweiz -- Identitat, Nation, Geschichte 1291-1991, Verlag Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Zurich 1991

Bernard Crettaz, Hans-Ulrich Jost, Remy Pithon: Peuples inanimes, avez-vous done une ame? Images et identites suisses au XX' siecle, Universite de Lausanne 1987

On direct democracy

Rene Rhinow: Grundprobleme der schweizerischen Demokratie, Helbing &Lichtenhahn, Basel 1984

Swiss democracy:possible solutions to conflicts in multicultural societies, Macmillan St Martins Press, New York 1994

Starken und Schwachen der direkten Demokratie in der Schweiz, Hochschule St.Gallen, Institut fur Politikwissenschaft 1993

Silvano Moeckli: Direkte Demokratie im Vergleich, Hochschule St.Gallen, Institut fur Politikwissenschaft 1991

Hanspeter Kriesi: Citoyennete et democratic directe, Seismo, Zurich 1993

Yannis Papadopoulos: Present et avenir de la democratic directe, Georg editeur, Geneva 1994

On federalism

Dietrich Schindler: Die Entwicklung des Foderalismus in der Schweiz, J. C.B. Mohr,Tübingen 1960

Rene Felber et al.: Foderalismus -- Mittel der Konfliktbewdltigung, Rüegger, Zurich 1993

On the political rights of initiative and referendum

Etienne Grisel: Initiative et referendum populaires; traite de la democratic semi-directe en droit suisse, Institut de droit public, Universite de Lausanne 1987

Hans Werder: Die Bedeutung der Volksinitiative in der Nachkriegszeit, Francke, Berne 1978

Oswald Sigg: Die eidgenossischen Volksinitiativen 1892-1939, Francke, Berne 1978

Aldo Lombardi, Rudolf Wertenschlag: Formen der Volksinitiative im Bund heute utid morgen, Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel 1990

Jean-Daniel Delley, L'initiative populaire en suisse: mythe et realite de la democratic directe, Editions l'Age d'homme, Lausanne 1978

Hans Huber: Das Gesetzesreferendum, J. C.B. Mohr,Tubingen 1969

Les <Neinsager> dans le processus referendaire suisse, Institut de sciences poli-tiques, Universite de Lausanne 1991

On the Landsgemeinde

Silvano Moeckli: Die schweizerische Landsgemeindedemokratie, Paul Haupt, Berne 1987

Georg Thurer: Die Schweizer Landsgemeinde, Pro Helvetia, Zurich 1974

Felix Helg: Landsgemeinde -- Institution utid Mitwirkungsmoglichkeiten des Burgers, Universitat Zurich 1988

On the communes and cantons

Andreas Ladner: Politische Gemeinden, kommunale Parteien utid lokale Politik, Seismo, Zurich 1991

Zaccaria Giacometti, Das Staatsrecht der schweizerischen Kantone, PolygraphischerVerlag, Zurich 1979

Bausteine der Schweiz: Portrats der 26 Kantone,Werlag Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Zurich 1987

On the Federal Council and the Federal Assembly

Urs Altermatt (ed.): Die Schweizer Bundesrate -- ein biographisches Lexikon, Artemis + Winkler, Zurich 1992

Heinrich Ueberwasser: Das Kollegialprinzip -- seine Grundsiitze und Konkretisiemngen im Bereich von Regierung und Verwaltung unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des schweizerischen Bundesrates, Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel 1989

Renato de Pretto: Bundesrat und Bundesprasident, das kollegiale Regierungs-system schweizerischer Prägung, Ruegger, Zurich 1988

Yannis Papadopoulos: Elites politiques et peuples en Suisse, analyse des votations federates 1970-87, Editions realites sociales, Lausanne 1994

Erich Gruner, Die Schweizerische Bundesversammlung 1920-1968, Francke, Berne 1970

Erich Gruner, Die Wahlen in den Schweizerischen Nationalrat 1848-1919, Francke, Berne 1978

On the political parties and associations

Peter Farago: Verbande als Trager offentlicher Politik, Ruegger, Zurich 1987

Hans Geser: Die Schweizer Lokalparteien, Seismo, Zurich 1994

Silvano Moeckli: Parteien und Verbande im foderalistischen Staat, Hochschule St.Gallen, Institut fur Politikwissenschaft 1991

Rene Rhinow: Stellung, Funktionen und Probleme der politischen Parteien, Basel 1986

On the media

Werner A. Meier, Michael Schanne: Medien-Landschaft Schweiz, Pro Helvetia, Zurich 1994

Franziska Grob: Die Programmautonomie von Radio und Fernsehen in der Schweiz, Schulthess, Zurich 1994

Martin Dumermuth: Die Programmaufsicht bei Radio und Fernsehen in der Schweiz, Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel 1992

All these titles are available in the Schweizerische Landesbibliothek, Hallwylstrasse 15, 3003 Berne.