Federal Assembly (Switzerland)

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The Federal Assembly ( French Assemblée fédérale , Italian Assemblea federale , Rhaeto-Romanic Assamblea federala ), the parliament of the Swiss Confederation , consists of two equal chambers: the 200-member National Council and the 46-member Council of States . The National Council and the Council of States together form the legislative power ( legislature ), which is often referred to by the term Federal Councils . The chambers usually negotiate separately. When they meet together, one speaks of the United Federal Assembly. This gathers in the hall of the National Council under the chairmanship of the National Council President .

Bundeshaus (parliament building) and Bundesplatz in Bern

Competencies of the Federal Assembly

The main task of parliament and its members is to represent the various interests of the voters. The parliament decides on all fundamental questions of the federal state (subject to the overriding referendum and initiative rights of the people and the estates). The Federal Council , federal courts and federal administration may only be active within the framework of the tasks assigned to them by the people or parliament. The powers of the Federal Assembly are regulated in the Federal Constitution . The main competencies are:

Wandelhalle in the Federal Palace

Legislative competence

In modern democratic states, all state action is bound by the law. This means that the state can only act where a generally applicable regulation allows it. Legislation is therefore the central task of the state. Since parliament has the highest democratic legitimation of all state organs, this task is assigned to it. The parliament is therefore also referred to as the «legislature». In Switzerland, in those areas in which the legislative power lies with the federal government, the laws to exercise this power are created by the Federal Assembly. These include, at a higher level, the constitutional amendments; The constitutional revisions are also created by the Federal Assembly - with the exception of popular initiatives. All of this subject to the mandatory or optional referendum .

Financial literacy

This competence does not refer to the collection of taxes, but to the use of your income. (Tax collection is regulated by law, so it falls under the legislative competence of Parliament [see above].) The Federal Assembly decides on federal expenditure, sets the annual budget (in the winter session) and takes the annual state accounts in the summer session from. Subsidy provisions as well as commitment credits and payment frameworks that entail new one-off expenses of more than 20 million francs or new recurring expenses of more than 2 million francs require the approval of the majority of the members of each of the two councils (“spending brake”).

International competence

On the basis of this competence, the Federal Assembly can participate in shaping Switzerland's foreign policy and oversee the maintenance of relations with other countries. It approves the international treaties; this does not apply to the contracts for which the Federal Council is responsible on the basis of the law or international treaty.

The United Federal Assembly applauds the newly elected Federal Councilor Didier Burkhalter

Elective competence

The Federal Assembly exercises the electoral authority as a United Federal Assembly, i.e. in a joint session of the National Council and the Council of States under the leadership of the National Council President . In this form of assembly, the parliament elects the seven members of the government, the Federal Council and the Federal Chancellor . Parliament also elects the members of the federal courts ( Federal Supreme Court , Federal Criminal Court , Federal Administrative Court ) and the Military Court of Cassation. If there is a risk of war, the Federal Assembly elects the General of the Swiss Army .

Supervisory competence

The Federal Assembly has the following supervisory powers:

  • Supervision of the Federal Council and the federal administration: The objective of the supervisory function is to check whether the Federal Council and the administration are fulfilling their tasks in accordance with the law, appropriately and effectively.
  • Supervision of the courts: The Federal Assembly ensures that the courts are properly performing their tasks. In this control, it does not monitor the case law of the courts, but has to check whether the pending proceedings can be completed within a reasonable period of time, i.e. whether the judicial authorities are organized and equipped in such a way that they can deal with the cases submitted to them.
  • Supervision of other federal agencies (e.g. the post office or the SBB ).

Relations between the Confederation and the Cantons

The Federal Assembly ensures that relations between the Confederation and the cantons are maintained. It guarantees the canton's constitutions.

Administrative competence

The Federal Assembly decides on applications for railway concessions, the route of national highways and permits to build facilities for the production of nuclear energy.

Further competencies

  • Review of the effectiveness of federal measures (evaluation);
  • Issuing orders to the Federal Council;
  • Taking measures to safeguard the external security, independence and neutrality of Switzerland;
  • Taking measures to safeguard internal security;
  • Arrangement of active service;
  • Taking measures to enforce federal law;
  • Review of the validity of popular initiatives that have come about;
  • Participation in planning state activity;
  • Decision on individual acts, insofar as this is expressly provided for by a law (this includes, among other things, railway concessions or permits for the construction of facilities for the production of nuclear energy);
  • Decision on conflicts of jurisdiction between the highest federal authorities and
  • Decision on amnesties and pardons.
Session in the National Council


The seat of the Federal Assembly is in Bern. In exceptional cases, Parliament may decide to hold a session outside of Bern. This has been the case three times so far: In the autumn session of 1993 , it met from September 20 to October 8 due to renovation work in the National Council chamber in Geneva ; in the 2001 spring session it met from March 5th to 23rd due to renovation work in the Chamber of States in Lugano ; and in the autumn session of 2006 it met from September 18 to October 6 in Flims ( Canton of Graubünden ). The parliament building was completely renovated during this time.

The National Council and Council of States have three types of sessions:

  1. the ordinary session;
  2. the extraordinary session and
  3. the special session.

Ordinary session

Current practice stipulates that the National Council and Council of States meet for four ordinary sessions of three weeks each per year. Both councils meet on the same days.

Extraordinary session

A quarter of the members of a council or the Federal Council can request that the councils be convened for an extraordinary session. The request for a convocation must specify certain items to be discussed. This right gives the Federal Council and the Council minority the opportunity to have a say in the parliamentary agenda.

Extraordinary sessions of the Federal Parliament (National Council and Council of States)
date Occasion / event
July 1891 Introduction of the banknote monopoly
February 6th and 7th, 1985 Measures against forest dieback
October 9-11, 1986 Energy policy after Chernobyl
January 22 and 23, 1998 Tax loopholes and mergers / economic policy (merger of UBS and SBV)
November 16, 2001 Swissair financing
October 3, 2002 Minimum interest rate BVG (" occupational pension plan ")
October 1, 2007 Tax issues
December 8, 2008 Financial crisis
May 4 to 6, 2020 COVID-19 pandemic

On March 26, 2020, the council offices and the administrative delegation decided to hold an extraordinary session on the consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic. This will take place from May 4th to May 8th 2020 at the latest.

Special session

Each council can decide for itself special sessions if the regular sessions are not sufficient to reduce the business burden. The special session basically belongs to the type of ordinary session. The council office of the respective council decides whether to hold a special session (see below). However, the office is not completely free in this decision, because the business regulations of the National Council stipulate that the council meets at least once a year for a special session lasting a maximum of one week, provided that there are enough items to be discussed.

Parliamentary instruments, initiatives


The council members can submit motions on pending deliberations in order to reject or accept, change or assign a commission to a draft of an enactment (federal law, federal decree or ordinance of the Federal Assembly) to be dealt with by the council or to reject it to the Federal Council. A change in the procedure can be proposed with a regulatory application . The motion is one of the Council members' most important tools.

Parliamentary initiative

With a parliamentary initiative , the draft for a decree or the main features of such a decree can be proposed. All legislative work is carried out in a commission of the National Council or Council of States (legislative commissions). The parliamentary initiative is excluded if a proposal has already been submitted on the same subject. Then the matter can be brought to the council with a motion.

Parliamentary initiatives

Comparison of the different types of advance
Motion postulate Interpellation inquiry
Order to the Federal Council / purpose Submission, measure Examination, report information desk information desk
Urgent Statement Not possible Not possible Possible Possible
Activities of the Federal Council opinion opinion answer answer
discussion Always possible Always possible By council decision Not possible
Decision of the Federal Assembly Transfer only by both councils Transfer by a council


The motion instructs the Federal Council to submit a draft decree or to take a measure. The motion is signed by one or more council members. If the motion's advice and then the other advice also agree, the motion is considered accepted. The Second Council can make changes to the text at the request of the preliminary advisory commission or the Federal Council. The first council decides on the changes of the second council without being allowed to make further changes.


The postulate instructs the Federal Council to examine and report whether a draft for a decree of the Federal Assembly (federal law, federal decree or ordinance) should be submitted or a measure should be taken.


The interpellation requires information about important domestic or foreign political events and federal affairs. A discussion about the Federal Council's response can be requested. With the consent of the Council Office, an interpellation can be declared urgent and dealt with in the current session if it is submitted by the beginning of the third session (usually on the Wednesday of the first week of the session) of a three-week session.


The request requires information about important domestic or foreign political events and federal affairs. The request will be answered in writing by the Federal Council and will not be dealt with in the Council. The request can be declared urgently in the National Council with the consent of the President, in the Council of States with the consent of the Council Office. It must be submitted in a three-week session one week before the end of the session and in a one-week session on the first day.

Question time in the National Council

The Monday sessions of the National Council in the second and third week of the session begin with a question time. Current questions that were submitted on the previous Wednesday by the end of the session at the latest are dealt with. The questions should be brief (a few lines without justification). They will be answered briefly by the responsible head of department, provided the person asking the question is present. They can then ask a relevant additional question. Question time lasts a maximum of 90 minutes.

Organs of the Federal Assembly

The Federal Act on the Federal Assembly (ParlG) designates the following organs of the Federal Assembly:

  1. the National Council;
  2. the Council of States;
  3. the United Federal Assembly;
  4. the praesidia;
  5. the offices;
  6. the coordination conference and the administrative delegation;
  7. the commissions and their sub-commissions as well as delegations and
  8. the factions.

National Council

The National Council consists of 200 members of the people who are directly elected by the people and have been elected since 1919 according to the principle of proportional representation. A legislative period lasts four years. With around 7.5 million inhabitants, there is one seat for every 37,500 (resident population divided by 200). Each canton is an electoral district and sends at least one National Council, even if its population is below 37,500. In the cantons in which this is the case, the majority vote applies : whoever receives the most votes is elected. In the event of a tie, the lot decides.

Council of States Chamber

Council of States

The Council of States consists of 46 representatives from the Swiss cantons. Each canton elects two, Obwalden and Nidwalden, Basel-Landschaft and Basel-Stadt and Appenzell Ausser- and Innerrhoden one representative each. 45 members are elected at the same time as the National Council. In Appenzell Innerrhoden, the regional parish elects the representative body in April before the National Council elections.

Cantonal law applies to the election of the Council of States. The majority system is used for elections to the Council of States in the cantons, with the exception of the cantons of Jura and Neuchâtel, where the system of proportional representation applies.

United Federal Assembly

The National Council and the Council of States negotiate jointly as a United Federal Assembly chaired by the President of the National Council

  • Make elections (see above, point competencies),
  • To decide conflicts of jurisdiction between the highest federal authorities,
  • To issue pardons ,
  • attend special occasions and
  • To receive statements from the Federal Council.


The President leads the Council's negotiations. As part of the session planning, he sets the agenda of the council, heads the council office and represents the council externally. The President and the two Vice-Presidents form the Presidium. The president and the first and second vice-presidents are each elected for a period of one year. Re-election for the following year is excluded.

As a rule, the President of the Council does not vote. However, the law provides for two exceptions:

  • In the event of a tie in the council, the respective president has the casting vote and
  • in the case of urgent federal laws; in the case of subsidy provisions as well as commitment credits and payment limits that exceed a size stipulated by law; and when increasing the total expenditure in the event of an extraordinary payment requirement.

The National Council also knows the senior committee. An age president is only appointed every four years. The age-president is the member of the council with the longest uninterrupted term of office. If the term of office is the same, the older member has priority. The senior president presides over the council until the new president is elected. In addition to other tasks, the senior president gives a speech to the newly constituting council after the general election of the parliament.


The office is the body of a council that deals with the procedure, organization and administration of the council concerned. The office of the National Council consists of the three members of the Presidium, the four vote counters and the presidents of the parliamentary groups. The Office of the Council of States consists of the three members of the Presidium, a vote counter, a substitute vote counter and one further member from each of the parliamentary groups in the Federal Assembly that have at least five members in the Council of States, but neither have a member of the Presidium, nor a vote counter or substitute vote counter.

The offices of the National Council and the Council of States draw up the session program of the respective council, appoint the members of commissions and delegations, assign them their areas of responsibility and the business to be dealt with, and set the schedule of deliberations. The office of the National Council and the office of the Council of States together form the coordination conference.

Coordination conference and administration delegation

The office of the National Council and the office of the Council of States form the coordination conference. In addition to planning the activities of the Federal Assembly and coordinating the session and annual planning, it also takes care of business transactions between the two councils and the Federal Council. It can issue instructions on the allocation of human and financial resources to the organs of the Federal Assembly, elect the General Secretary of the Federal Assembly and approve the formation of new parliamentary groups.

The administrative delegation consists of three members each elected by the coordination conference from the offices of both councils. She is responsible for the top management of the parliamentary administration. It exercises house rights in the premises of the Federal Assembly and the Parliamentary Services. (Exception: The respective president is responsible for the house rules in the council chambers.) The administrative delegation is also responsible for representing the drafts for the estimates and the accounts of the Federal Assembly; the establishment, modification and termination of the employment relationships of the staff of the Parliamentary Services and the approval of the Rules of Procedure of the Parliamentary Services.

South view of the Federal Palace at night

Commissions and their sub-commissions as well as delegations


Commissions have the task of deliberating the business assigned to them in advance and making proposals to their council. You work closely with the Federal Council.

The National Council has 11 permanent commissions:

  • 9 legislative committees and 2 supervisory committees (see below).

The Council of States has 11 standing commissions:

  • 9 legislative committees and 2 supervisory committees.

The National Council's commissions are made up of 25 members and those of the Council of States have 13 members. Further tasks are the regular follow-up of social and political developments as well as the elaboration of suggestions for problem solving in the areas of federal politics assigned by the offices (commission initiative). The commissions meet on average three to four days per quarter.

While the minutes of the meetings of the National Council and Council of States are published in the official bulletin and are accessible to everyone, the committee meetings are also minuted, but these minutes are not available to the public.

The following legislative commissions exist:

  • Foreign Policy Commissions APK
  • Commissions for Science, Education and Culture WBK
  • Social Security and Health Commissions SGK
  • Commissions for Environment, Spatial Planning and Energy UREK
  • Security Policy Commissions SiK
  • Transport and Telecommunications Commissions KVF
  • Commissions for economy and taxes WAK
  • State Political Commissions SPK
  • Commissions for legal questions RK

The following supervisory committees exist:

Other commissions, partly composed of a mixture of members from both chambers:

  • Pardon Commission BeK
  • Editorial committee RedK
  • Judicial Commission GK
  • Immunity Commission IK-N (National Council only)


With the approval of the respective office, commissions can set up sub-commissions from among their number. In doing so, the commission provides the sub-commission deployed with an order and stipulates the deadline for the sub-commission to report. The subcommittee draws up applications as part of its mandate. Several commissions can set up joint sub-commissions.


A delegation in the narrower sense is a sub-commission within a commission. Delegations are usually entrusted with special tasks. The National Council and Council of States have the following joint delegations:

Delegations, which are a special case of the commissions, are the delegations of international parliamentary assemblies. You have the task of representing the Swiss Federal Assembly in an international parliamentary assembly. The National Council and Council of States maintain delegations at:

Permanent delegations to maintain relations with parliaments of other countries:


Parliamentary groups in the Federal Assembly 2019–2023
35 48 16 44 41 62 
A total of 246 seats

The Federal Assembly is politically divided into parliamentary groups and not into parties. The parliamentary groups include members of the same party or like-minded parties. A parliamentary group is therefore not always identical to a party.

In order to form a parliamentary group, at least five members of a council are required. There are only informal groups in the Council of States. The political groups are important for forming opinions. They advise on important council matters (elections and business matters) and try to establish uniform positions that are represented by the council members in the council as well as in relation to the media and the public. In the National Council, membership of a parliamentary group is a prerequisite for sitting on a commission.

Parliamentary Services

The parliamentary services support the Federal Assembly in fulfilling its tasks. They provide a comprehensive service and thus enable parliamentarians to carry out in-depth and creative legislative work.

  • They plan and organize the sessions and the committee meetings;
  • they do the secretarial work and prepare reports, minutes and translations;
  • they obtain and archive documents and
  • they advise the council members on technical and procedural issues.

They are under the direction of the Secretary General of the Federal Assembly.


  • Leonhard Neidhart: The early federal parliament. The successful path to modern Switzerland. NZZ Libro, Zurich 2010, ISBN 978-3-03823-634-4
  • Parliamentary law and parliamentary practice of the Swiss Federal Assembly. Commentary on the Parliament Act (ParlG) of December 13, 2002. Edited by Martin Graf, Cornelia Theler, Moritz von Wyss; Scientific staff: Nicole Schwager; Scientific Advisory Board: Wolf Linder, Georg Müller, René Rhinow. Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel 2014, ISBN 978-3-719-02975-3

Web links

Commons : Swiss Federal Assembly  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a148.html Article 148 of the Federal Constitution (BV).
  2. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a156.html Article 156.1 BV.
  3. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a157.html Article 157.1 BV.
  4. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a164.html Article 164 BV. (All parliamentary business can be viewed on the Parliament's business database. See Web links: Curia Vista Business Database.)
  5. https://www.admin.ch/opc/de/classified-compilation/19995395/index.html#a167 , Article 167 BV
  6. https://www.admin.ch/opc/de/classified-compilation/19995395/index.html#a159 Article 159 BV
  7. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a166.html Article 166 BV.
  8. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a168.html Article 168 BV.
  9. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a169.html Article 169 BV.
  10. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a172.html Article 172 BV.
  11. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a170.html Article 170 BV.
  12. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a170.html Article 170 BV.
  13. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a173.html Article 173 BV.
  14. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a32.html Article 32 of the Federal Act on the Federal Assembly (ParlG).
  15. More about the history of the Parliament and the Federal Palace: see under Weblink Parliamentary History.
  16. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a151.html Article 151 BV; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a2.html Article 2 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a33d.html Article 33d of the business regulations of the National Council (GRN).
  17. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a151.html Article 151 Paragraph 2 BV.
  18. https://www.admin.ch/opc/de/classified-compilation/20010664/index.html#a2 Art. 2 Para. 3 ParlG
  19. Press release by Parliament of March 26th on the holding of the Extraordinary Session.
  20. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a2.html Article 2 Paragraph 2 ParlG.
  21. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a33d.html Article 33d lit. b GRN.
  22. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a160.html Article 160 para. 2 BV; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a76.html Article 76 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a50.html Article 50 GRN; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a38.html Article 38 of the business regulations of the Council of States (GRS).
  23. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a160.html Article 160 Paragraph 1 BV; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a6.html Article 6 Paragraph 1 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a45.html Article 45 Paragraph 1 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a62.html Article 62 Paragraph 2 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a107.html Articles 107–114 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a23.html Article 23 Paragraph 1 GRN; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a25.html Articles 25–29 GRN; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a19.html Article 19 Paragraph 1 GRS; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a21.html Article 21 GRS; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a22.html Article 22 GRS; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a25.html Article 25 GRS.
  24. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/101/a171.html Article 171 BV; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a118.html Articles 118–122 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a25.html Articles 25–29 GRN; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a21.html Articles 21–26 GRS.
  25. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a6.html Article 6 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a45.html Article 45 Paragraph 1 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a62.html Article 62 Paragraph 2 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a118.html Article 118 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a119.html Article 119 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a123.html Article 123 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a124.html Article 124 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a21.html Article 21 GRN; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a23.html Article 23 GRN; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a25.html Articles 25–29 GRN; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a17.html Article 17 GRS; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a19.html Article 19 GRS; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a21.html Articles 21–25 GRS.
  26. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a125.html Article 125 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a118.html Article 118 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a119.html Article 119 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a25.html Articles 25–29 GRN; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a21.html Articles 21–26 GRS.
  27. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a118.html Article 118 Paragraph 1 lit. d ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a119.html Article 119 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/a125.html Article 125 ParlG; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a25.html Article 25 GRN; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a29.html GRN; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a21.html Article 21 GRS; https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_14/a25.html GRS.
  28. https://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_13/a31.html Article 31 GRN.
  29. Referendum on the term of office of the National Council, the Federal Council and the Federal Chancellor. In: swissvotes.ch. March 15, 1931, accessed on March 16, 2020 (a legislature lasted three years until 1931).
  30. Art. 157 of the Federal Constitution, accessed on June 17, 2011.
  31. Other commissions ( Memento of the original from November 18, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. houses of Parliament  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.parlament.ch
  32. Markus Häfliger: Parliament leaves the fine-tuning of the law to its secretariat. In: Tages-Anzeiger of March 16, 2017
  33. parliamentary groups of the 51st legislative period 2019-2023. Accessed December 30, 2019 .