Useful Notes on the “Constitution of Switzerland”
Erich Grunner: The Political System of Switzerland
H. Finer: The Theory and Practice of Modern Government
2. Swiss Constitution:
I. A federal one; although the term Confederation is used in Constitution.
2. A detailed and lengthy document.
3. Republican spirit.
4. Rigid but not as complicated as U.S.A. Constitution.
5. A living/dynamic Constitution.
3. Federal Executive:
a. Article 95 provides for a Collegiate Executive
b. Executive authority is exercised by a Commission of seven men.
c. Committee is known as Bundesrat or Federal Council.
d. Members are chosen for 4 years by Federal Assembly.
e. Article 96(2) provides that the term Federal Council coincides with that the National Council.
f. Any Swiss citizen, eligible to be elected to the National Council can be chosen for Federal Council.
g. Not more than one person can be chosen from each canton.
h. Members are not representatives of party.
i. Modesty remains a high political value in Switzerland.
j. Federal Council is subordinate to the Federal Assembly.
k. Most of the old members are usually reelected.
l. Dicey compares the Swiss Federal Council to a Board of Directors of a Joint Stock Company.
m. Work is divided into seven departments but decisions are taken by the Council as a body.
n. Deliberations of Council are secret.
o. Council has corporate character.
The Federal Assembly chooses one member from amongst the councilors to the rank of President for a period of one year.
i. Based on the principle of rotation
ii. His position is not exalted or superior to his colleagues
iii. Acts as Chairman of the Council
iv. Casts his vote in case of a tie
5. Functions of the Federal Council:
1. To conduct the affairs of the state with the provisions of the Constitution.
2. To supervise the ‘guarantee’ of constitutions of the Cantons.
3. To initiate the legislation process.
4. To reply to Federal Assembly on matters of given debate under right of interpellation.
5. To issue direction for execution of law.
6. To supervise the military affairs of the confederation.
7. To prepare budget.
8. To submit to the Assembly, a report of its working.
9. To maintain peace and order.
10. To conduct foreign relations and ensure neutrality and independence.
11. To appoint federal officials.
12. To supervise the branches of administration in Cantons.
6. Position of Federal Council:
The executive in Switzerland is not an independent or co-ordinate branch of government. It is neither Parliamentary nor Presidential type.
Rather there exists an executive which is a collegial body of seven members. According to Bryce it “stands outside party, is not chosen to do party work, does not determine party policy, yet is not wholly without some party colour.” It reflects the presence of all the major political parties.
i. Promotes mutual confidence and cooperation
ii. It represents a government of all by all and for all
iii. Provides political stability
iv. Promotes public spirit
In recent times, there has been a continuous growth in the power of Council vis-a-vis the Assembly. The world wide trend toward centralization has influenced the Swiss executive as well. It has what Andre Seigfied calls “gradually came to wield a quasi-absolute power.”
7. The Federal Assembly:
There exists a bicameral legislature in Switzerland. The two chambers include Council of States and the National Council.
Article 71 provides “subject to the rights of the people and of the Cantons. The Supreme power of the Confederation shall be exercised by the Federal Assembly.”
However, the voters of Switzerland are empowered with the weapon of referendum to Veto Bilb.
8. The Council of States:
i. Represents the units of Confederation
ii. Two members are drawn from Cantons and one from half canton
iii. Total Members are 46
iv. Modalities of election, tenure, allowances of members are decided by the Cantons itself
v. Cantons follow the methods of both; direct and indirect elections
vi. Article 81 debars the members of Federal Council to become member of National Council
vii. A special session may be called by Federal Council or members ? of National Council or of five Cantons
viii. The Chairman and Vice Chairman are elected out on the basis of circulation
ix. It is a weaker chamber as compared to the National Council
9. The National Council:
i. Fixed membership-200
ii. Elected by proportional representation
iii. Clergies are excluded from membership of the National Council
iv. Seats are allotted on the basis of population
v. Tenure is of 4 years
vi. Cannot be dissolved
vii. Every elector can be elected
viii. Following people are excluded from being elected
(a) Executive and Administrative Servants
(b) Members of Council of States
(c) Federal Councilors
ix. Chairman & Vice Chairman are elected for one session at a time.
x. There is followed the procedure of rotation of office.
xi. Chairman does not enjoy wide powers.
xii. To elect the Federal Councilors, the Federal Court, the General of Federal Army and the Chancellor votes.
xiii. All sessions in a year count as a single session.
xiv. A special session can be called on by Federal Council or on request of ? of its own members or members of five cantons.
xv. According to Andre Siegfried, “the sessions of the National Council are more like meetings of an administrative body affecting only indirectly those who are not immediately concerned-but what an efficient administration.”
xvi. Three official languages are French, German and Italian.
xvii. Absolute majority constitutes the quorum.
xviii. There does not exist any official opposition. Provision of Joint Sitting : There are 3 cases for holding joint sitting
Firstly, To select Federal Councilors.
Secondly, To grant pardon for individual offences.
Thirdly, To resolve jurisdictional conflicts.
10. Federal Court:
i. Created in 1874 and first met in 1875
ii. Members are elected by the Federal Assembly
iii. Members are so elected that the three official languages are represented
iv. Members of Federal Council and Federal Assembly cannot become its members
v. A member of Federal Court cannot hold any other office
vi. No prescribed qualification
vii. Number of judges is 26 and there are 11 to 13 substitutes
viii. Judges are elected for 6 years period
ix. Judges are re-elected
i. Relates to cases of Civil and Criminal nature and questions of public law
ii. No power of judicial Review
iii. Has wide ranging civil jurisdiction
iv. Enjoy Criminal Jurisdiction as well
v. Enjoy Constitutional jurisdiction in case of conflict between federal and Cantonal authorities. It can also adjudicate dispute between cottons as regards rights of citizens or violation of treaties or agreements.
Swiss Court is a single Court. It does not have subordinate Courts (like the U.S.A.). It depends on the Federal Council for the enforcement of its decisions. It has no power of Judicial Review and in case of disagreement or conflicts it is bound to apply the law passed by the Federal Assembly.