Federal Council (Switzerland)

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Federal Council
"Corporate Design Bund"
State level Federation
position highest executive and executive authority ( executive )
founding November 16, 1848
Headquarters Bundeshaus , Bern
Chair Simonetta Sommaruga , President 2020
Website www.admin.ch

The Federal Council ( French Conseil fédéral , Italian Consiglio federale , Rhaeto-Romanic Cussegl federal ? / I ) is the government of the Swiss Confederation and, according to Art. 174 of the Federal Constitution, the “ highest executive and executive authority of the Confederation ”. Audio file / audio sample

The individual members of the council are also called the Federal Council ; if it is necessary for linguistic reasons to differentiate between the authority and the council member, the former is also called the "entire Federal Council". "Federal Councilor" is the usual female form today.

Form of government

The first Swiss Federal Council, elected on November 16, 1848

As a collegial authority ( Art. 177 Para. 1 BV ), the Bundesrat differs considerably from the governments of other democratic states. It consists of seven equal members elected by the United Federal Assembly for four years. The Federal Council as a whole (and not the Federal President ) also exercises the protocol functions that are incumbent on the head of state in other countries (the Federal Constitution does not provide for such an office).

When creating the Federal Council, the French directorate of the revolutionary time and ancient Greek authorities ( archons ) served as models. Switzerland is the only country in the world that has adapted this system and adopted it as a form of government instead of a Westminster system or a presidential system of government . From a political science perspective, it thus represents a directory system.

According to the federal constitution, a Federal Council cannot also be a member of parliament. Nevertheless, the Federal Councilors usually maintain lively contact with their party's parliamentary group and take part in parliamentary group meetings in an advisory capacity, but - unlike parliamentary group members - are not allowed to submit motions or vote.


The members of the Federal Council are elected by the United Federal Assembly consisting of the National Council and the Council of States with an absolute majority . Various attempts to introduce popular elections for the Federal Council have so far been unsuccessful. A general renewal of the Federal Council takes place in the first session of the newly elected parliament, i.e. at the beginning of its four-year legislative period. In between, the United Federal Assembly appoints the President and Vice-President of the Federal Council for the coming year from the members of the Federal Council. If an individual Federal Council resigns before the end of the term of office, a successor will be elected, but he will only be elected until the next general election. In the second half of the 19th century, the choice of compliments was common: incumbent federal councilors ran for national councilors in order to have their legitimacy as government members confirmed by the voters; only then was re-election by the Federal Assembly.

In principle, every Swiss citizen with voting rights is eligible. At each election, some applicants from the "common people" register. In the course of history, however, an electoral process with numerous written and unwritten rules that is not easy to describe has developed, the aim of which is to achieve the most "fair" and balanced representation of the population in the sense of Swiss concordance democracy . The procedure is based on Art. 175 BV and Art. 130 , 131 , 132 , 133 and 134 ParlG .

Since the constitution does not provide for a parliamentary vote of no confidence , federal councilors cannot be removed during the legislative period. A non-re-election of an incumbent Federal Council is not common either and has only happened four times since 1848. Recently, Federal Councilor Ruth Metzler-Arnold was not re-elected on December 10, 2003, and Federal Councilor Christoph Blocher on December 12, 2007 . This also results in a very long term of office for the Federal Councilors (around ten years on average). The longest serving Federal Councilor was Karl Schenk from 1864 to 1895; the longest serving Federal Councilors in the 20th century were Giuseppe Motta from 1911 to 1940 and Philipp Etter from 1934 to 1959.

Until 2009, the procedure in the event of a Federal Council's permanent incapacity to act was also not regulated. When Federal Councilor Jean Bourgknecht suffered a stroke in May 1962 , the resulting problem of the incapacity of a member of the Federal Council was resolved ad hoc , albeit in a legally problematic manner from today's point of view, by three members of the Federal Council's family on September 3, 1962 in his Names declared their resignation. This loophole was only closed following a parliamentary initiative in 2005 with the revision of the Parliament Act of October 3, 2008 (entry into force on March 2, 2009). Its Art. 140a now stipulates that in the event of a likely long-term incapacity for a member of the Federal Council as a result of serious health problems or factors that prevent him from returning to his workplace, the United Federal Assembly shall determine the incapacity at the request of its office or the Federal Council .

After the election of Simonetta Sommaruga in the 2010 replacement elections , the Federal Council received a majority of women for the first time (compare proportions of women from 1971 ), which it lost again on January 1, 2012 when Alain Berset was elected as the successor to Micheline Calmy-Rey, who was no longer running . According to this, the composition of the Federal Council was based on the general election of the Federal Council on December 9, 2015 and the replacement election on September 20, 2017 . In the Federal Council election on December 5, 2018 , Viola Amherd ( CVP ) and Karin Keller-Sutter ( FDP ) were elected to replace the resigned Federal Councilors Johann Schneider-Ammann (FDP) and Doris Leuthard (CVP). Amherd and Keller-Sutter took up office on January 1, 2019. The previous government was confirmed at the last general election of the Federal Council on December 11, 2019 .

The Federal Council has had the following composition since January 1, 2019:

Department principle

The seven Federal Councilors actually decide jointly on all matters by majority vote, but in practice, as “department heads”, they each head a department of the federal administration (departmental principle). In this respect they are comparable to ministers in other countries; Colloquially or in the media, terms such as "Energy Minister X" or "Sports Minister Y" are also common for the department heads concerned, depending on the topic. But there is no head of government with authority to issue guidelines . Since the competence of the entire Federal Council extends to all business of all departments, each Federal Council has considerable say and influence beyond its department.

The division of the departments is carried out by the federal councils themselves after the Federal Council election, there is no right of parliamentary participation. The seniority principle ” is used: the oldest Federal Councilor first names the department he or she wants, then the second oldest, and so on. The remaining department is offered to newly elected members of the Federal Council. If the members of the Federal Council cannot agree on the allocation of departments, a vote can bring about the decision.

The seven members of the Federal Council are supported by the Federal Chancellor . He or she heads the Swiss Federal Chancellery (BK), the staff unit of the Federal Council.

Collegiality principle

The entrance to the Federal Council meeting room

A significant difference between members of the government of other countries and the Swiss Federal Council is that a Federal Council is also part of the collective head of state and that there is no head of government with the authority to issue instructions or to issue guidelines. In addition, there is the fact that a Federal Council is elected for a period of four years. Even in the most extreme case, the Federal President only has the casting vote over the other Federal Councilors in the event of an otherwise undecided vote in the entire Federal Council.

The Federal Council resolutions passed by majority decision-making by the college must then be represented by the responsible head of department in front of parliament and the public even if the latter actually rejects the decision made (principle of collegiality ) . The Federal Constitution only regulates the form of decision-making ( Art. 177 para. 1 BV : The Federal Council decides as a college ), without commenting on the application of the principle, in particular on the behavior of the members of the Federal Council after decisions have been made . From time immemorial it has been regarded as exceptionally permissible for a Federal Council to publicly announce an opinion that deviates from a Federal Council resolution if it invokes reasons of conscience and the decision does not fall under the processing of its own department. In recent times, however, it has been observed more and more often that individual Federal Councilors try to disavow the decisions of the college more or less openly. The sense and nonsense of the collegiality principle are also repeatedly discussed in the media and in political committees.

Federal President and Vice President

Each year the United Federal Assembly elects the Federal President and the Vice-President of the Federal Council from the seven Federal Councilors. According to tradition, these positions are assigned to all members of the Federal Council in turn. A new member of the Federal Council is usually only elected Vice President and then Federal President after he has worked under the Presidium of all senior colleagues. The Federal President cannot be called the head of state or the head of government of Switzerland, as he is the first among equals (→  primus inter pares ) to have no extended rights. Representative tasks as deputy of the entire Federal Council are assigned to him, and he chairs the Federal Council meetings.

Because Switzerland does not have a head of state, it does not pay any state visits. When the Federal President goes abroad, he only does so as the responsible head of department. However, exceptions also apply here. The Federal President represents Switzerland at meetings of heads of state (for example at the General Assembly of the United Nations ).

According to the protocol-based ranking in Switzerland , the Federal President is the highest Swiss.

Magic formula

The Federal Council and in the middle Federal Chancellor and Vice Chancellor (1987)

There is a democracy of concordance in Switzerland . Concordance is understood to mean the will to include as many different parties, minorities and social groups as possible in a process and to make decisions by reaching a consensus.

This concordance is taken into account by the parliament when compiling the Federal Council. However, concordance in Switzerland is not mandated by the constitution, as is the consideration of the various regions and language regions ( Art. 175, Paragraph 4 BV : " It must be taken into account that the regions and language regions are adequately represented. " ) , but rather became a tradition for decades. From this concordance a so-called magic formula was formed in 1959. According to this formula, the three parties with the largest number of voters, SP, FDP and CVP, were allowed two each and the fourth-largest party, SVP, could claim a seat in the Federal Council. This composition remained unchanged until 2003. Then one seat changed from the CVP to the SVP after it had become the party with the largest number of voters. The new composition of the 2: 2: 2: 1 formula was sometimes called the “new magic formula” or simply “magic formula”. From 2008 to 2015 the composition of the Federal Council deviated from the “magic formula”: after its two Federal Council members left the SVP, the SVP was initially not represented by any party in 2008, but only by one from the end of 2008, although the party with the strongest votes. Since 2019, the "magic formula" has again not been adhered to, as the Greens rose to the fourth largest party in the national and Council of States elections, but are still not represented in the Federal Council.


A Swiss Federal Councilor receives an annual gross income of CHF 445,163 (January 1, 2017) and annual (non-taxable) entertainment allowances of  CHF 30,000 (January 1, 2017, not indexed). The gross annual income is adjusted to inflation, but there is no real wage increase. In addition to the amounts mentioned, the Federal President receives compensation of CHF 12,000 during the one-year presidential year. Any costs incurred for telecommunications (landline, mobile phone, PC) are borne by the federal administration.

In addition, the members of the state government are each entitled to a representative vehicle and a company vehicle. If there is time pressure, a helicopter or jet from the Swiss Air Force can be used for business trips . A Federal Council also receives a general season ticket (GA) for the Swiss Federal Railways, first class, and a GA travelcard for the cable cars in Switzerland. After serving as a Federal Councilor, the former magistrate receives an annual pension of 222,359 francs (fifty percent of the income of an incumbent Federal Councilor). Wages from any professional activity are taken into account if the sum of wages and pension would otherwise result in an income that is higher than that of an incumbent Federal Councilor. The retirement pension was introduced in 1919. They also wanted to counteract the fact that Federal Councilors remain in office until their death for financial reasons. From 1848 to 1919, 18 out of 46 magistrates died in office. The current regulation has been in force since 1989.

Representation since 1848


After the Federal Constitution up until 1999 it was only ever possible to occupy one Federal Council seat per canton, this regulation was laid down with the Federal Constitutional Review of the same year. Since 1848, the cantonal allocation of Federal Council seats to 2019 has been as follows:

Canton Number of Federal Councilors
Canton ZurichCanton Zurich Zurich 20th
Canton of VaudCanton of Vaud Vaud 15th
Canton BernCanton Bern Bern 14th
Canton of NeuchâtelCanton of Neuchâtel Neuchâtel 9
Canton of TicinoCanton of Ticino Ticino 8th
Canton of SolothurnCanton of Solothurn Solothurn 6th
Canton of St. GallenCanton of St. Gallen St. Gallen 6th
Kanton AargauKanton Aargau Aargau 5
Canton of GenevaCanton of Geneva Geneva 5
Canton lucerneCanton lucerne Lucerne 5
Canton of FriborgCanton of Friborg Freiburg 4th
canton of Grisonscanton of Grisons Grisons 4th
Canton of ValaisCanton of Valais Valais 4th
Canton of ThurgauCanton of Thurgau Thurgau 3
Canton of Appenzell AusserrhodenCanton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden Appenzell Ausserrhoden 2
Canton of Appenzell InnerrhodenCanton of Appenzell Innerrhoden Appenzell Innerrhoden 2
Canton of Basel-StadtCanton of Basel-Stadt Basel city 2
Canton of ZugCanton of Zug train 2
Canton of Basel-CountryCanton of Basel-Country Basel-Country 1
Canton of GlarusCanton of Glarus Glarus 1
Canton of ObwaldenCanton of Obwalden Obwalden 1
Canton of NidwaldenCanton of Nidwalden Nidwalden 0
Canton of UriCanton of Uri Uri 0
Canton of SchaffhausenCanton of Schaffhausen Schaffhausen 0
Canton of SchwyzCanton of Schwyz Schwyz 0
Canton of JuraCanton of Jura law 0


Due to the constitutional mandate of the Federal Council representation to take the different language and country parts into account, the aspect of the regions, in contrast to the mostly narrow and rigid cantonal borders, comes to the fore in the Federal Council election. Here, in turn, two levels can be traced, on the one hand the subdivision into language regions and on the other hand the division into the major regions of Switzerland traced by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) :

Greater region Number of Federal Councilors Deviation compared to the population
Espace Mittelland 33 3 seats too many
French Switzerland 23 3 seats too many
Italian Switzerland 8th 3 seats too many
Zurich 20th 1 seat too many
Eastern Switzerland 17th 1 seat too little
Central Switzerland 8th 2 seats too few
Northwestern Switzerland 8th 7 seats too few

Here, the picture emerges that, compared to their population, Eastern, Central and Northwestern Switzerland were not given enough consideration as regions in their right to representation in the state government. The difference between the actual number of Federal Councilors and the demand according to the population is particularly clear in the case of north-western Switzerland , i.e. the Basel region . The canton of Basel-Stadt provided its second and last Federal Councilor with Hans-Peter Tschudi in 1959. The canton of Basel-Landschaft, on the other hand, for the first and last time with Emil Frey in 1891. That means that the seats that the Language minorities were constitutionally granted, within German-speaking Switzerland, with a few exceptions, at the expense of the Basel region.

Emergency law

In accordance with Art. 185 Para. 3 of the Federal Constitution (BV), the Federal Council can “issue ordinances or orders directly based on this article in order to counteract serious disruptions to public order or internal or external security that have occurred or are imminent. Such ordinances are to be limited in time. "

Based on this constitutional article, in 2001 ( Swissair grounding) and in 2008 (recapitalization of UBS ) , the Federal Council approved extraordinary loans under emergency law. During the COVID-19 pandemic , the Federal Council ruled under emergency law between March 16, 2020 and June 19, 2020.

Foreign trips and state visits

For a long time, foreign travel by the Federal Council was frowned upon , primarily because of Switzerland's neutrality . Switzerland was almost exclusively represented abroad by its ambassadors and other diplomats - although Switzerland did not appoint ambassadors until the 1950s. (The representation was previously done by diplomats in the rank of minister .) Other reasons were the thrift and the return to one's own country.

A rethink came with the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy . An urgent meeting discussed the extent to which a Federal Councilor's trip to Kennedy's funeral service would set a precedent. The Federal Council came to the conclusion that the absence of the Federal Council would be difficult to convey to the Swiss population and that during this visit one could also address the American protective tariffs on watches. Finally, the Foreign Minister Friedrich Traugott Wahlen was sent to the funeral service, and there was an official meeting with the US Secretary of State Dean Rusk .

The Federal President usually represents the country, especially on state visits and at meetings of international organizations. Despite the opening up initiated by Kennedy's assassination, foreign trips by the Federal Council have only become the norm since the collapse of the Soviet Union (1990).

Federal Council meetings "extra muros"

In 2010 the entire Federal Council began to hold some of its meetings outside the Federal Palace (“ extra muros ”) in order to express its solidarity with the various parts of the country. Since then it has met in the cantons of Ticino , Jura (2010), Uri , Wallis , Basel-Stadt (2011) and Schaffhausen (2012). On April 24, 2013, the Federal Council visited the castle in Prangins in the canton of Vaud ; Among other things, there was a meeting with the residents of Nyon . On April 16, 2014, the Federal Council held an “extra muros” meeting for the eighth time, now in the canton of Schwyz , where a meeting with the population took place in the Mythenforum. On April 25, 2015, the Federal Council visited the population of the canton of Friborg on Rathausplatz. The Federal Council held its external meeting on April 25, 2016 in the canton of Vaud and met the population on Place Saint-François. The town hall square in the canton of Glarus was the aim of the Federal Council for its meeting on August 31, 2016. The external Federal Council meeting in 2017 took place on March 29 in the canton of Solothurn , a meeting with the population took place on the Kronenplatz. The external meeting of the Federal Council took place in St. Gallen on March 28, 2018 . On May 15, 2019, the Federal Council held an ordinary “extra muros” meeting in the canton of Zurich .


Federal Council trip 1972 in Ticino

The incumbent Federal President has been inviting his colleagues to a two-day excursion to his home canton since 1957. Colloquially, Bundesratsreisli (Swiss German for small Bundesrat trip ) or earlier school trip of the Bundesrat is spoken of. The trip takes place after the last Federal Council meeting before the summer holidays. Even before 1957 there were trips by the entire Federal Council, for example to the Vaudois Fête des Vignerons in 1927 or to the Landsgemeinde Appenzell Ausserrhoden in 1938.

See also

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Individual evidence

  1. ↑ As recommended in the “Guide to Gender Equitable Formulation in German”, published by the Swiss Federal Chancellery in cooperation with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (2nd edition 2009), p. 159. After Elisabeth Kopp was elected as the first Federal Councilor in 1984, initially the salutation "Ms. Federal Councilor" was common, Kopp enforced her preferred form of "Ms. Federal Councilor". Interview with Elisabeth Kopp , weekday , April 6, 2016.
  2. Allgemeine Staatslehre, Thomas Fleiner-Gerster, Thomas Fleiner, Peter Hänni, Lidija R. Basta, p. 469.
  3. Art. 144 para. 1 Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of April 18, 1999. Accessed on May 25, 2019 .
  4. ^ Federal Council elections . The federal authorities of the Swiss Confederation ( admin.ch ). Retrieved January 1, 2014.
  5. Paul Fink: The election of compliments of incumbent Federal Councilors in the National Council 1851-1896 . In: Swiss History Journal . tape 45 , no. 2 . Swiss Society for History , 1995, ISSN  0036-7834 , p. 214–235 , doi : 10.5169 / seals-81131 .
  6. Article 175 Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of April 18, 1999
  7. Article 130 ff. Federal Act on the Federal Assembly of December 13, 2002
  8. ^ Parliamentary initiative Hochreutener. Incapable Federal Councilors, 05.437
  9. Federal Act of October 3, 2008, AS 2009 725 (PDF; 503 kB); see also the report of the State Political Commission of the National Council of February 21, 2008, BBl 2008 1869 (PDF; 602 kB), and the statement of the Federal Council of April 16, 2008, BBl 2008 3177 (PDF; 497 kB)
  10. Art. 140 Federal Law on the Federal Assembly of December 13, 2002
  11. ^ Christian Raaflaub: For the first time women majority in the Federal Council. In: swissinfo.ch. September 22, 2010, accessed December 12, 2018 .
  12. ^ Frank Sieber, Claudia Baer: Federal Council election: Parliament confirms the previous government and denies the Greens entry into the Federal Council. In: nzz.ch. December 11, 2019, accessed December 11, 2019 .
  13. Former Federal Councilor Arnold Koller explains this using examples. So wanted z. B. on March 18, 1993 both Flavio Cotti and Arnold Koller take over the management of the FDFA . After long discussions, Federal President Adolf Ogi gave Cotti the casting vote in the now necessary vote. Arnold Koller: From the workshop of a Federal Councilor. Bern 2014, ISBN 978-3-7272-1419-6 , pp. 158-163.
  14. srf.ch
  15. From election to resignation. The Federal Council, September 19, 2017, accessed on September 24, 2017 .
  16. ^ Federal Council: Income and Pension. (PDF) (No longer available online.) The Federal Council, May 20, 2015, archived from the original on May 19, 2015 ; accessed on August 13, 2015 .
  17. Fabian Schäfer: Blocher owes his retirement pension to an SP Federal Councilor - his great role model, however, was left empty-handed. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung from July 30, 2020.
  18. The Federal Council: All Federal Councilors since 1848. Accessed on May 22, 2019 .
  19. Succession in the Federal Council - Which region is entitled to a seat in the state government? October 19, 2018, accessed May 22, 2019 .
  20. Succession in the Federal Council - Which region is entitled to a seat in the state government? October 19, 2018, accessed June 12, 2019 .
  21. ^ Daniel Gerny: Federal Council: Basel in the offside trap | NZZ . November 29, 2018, ISSN  0376-6829 ( nzz.ch [accessed June 12, 2019]).
  22. Markus Brotschi: Basel finally wants a Federal Council again after 37 years . In: Tages-Anzeiger . March 8, 2010, ISSN  1422-9994 ( tagesanzeiger.ch [accessed June 12, 2019]).
  23. «The real problem is the Welschen». Retrieved June 12, 2019 .
  24. «Only one corpse changed Swiss foreign policy» In: Tages Anzeiger . 16th May 2019.
  25. ^ The Kennedy assassination attempt and the Federal Council. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung . November 13, 2013.
  26. On state and presidential visits - a definition of terms on the Federal Council's website, accessed on August 5, 2019.
  27. ^ Regions in the Federal Council since 1848. In: admin.ch . Federal Council, September 14, 2017, accessed on September 24, 2017 .
  28. Erich Aschwanden: Federal Councilor bi dä Lüt: The state government travels to Urschweiz | NZZ . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung . ( nzz.ch [accessed on March 20, 2020]).
  29. Michael Brupbacher: The Federal Council on the school trip , licentiate thesis 2006. Information according to NZZ of July 4, 2019