Direct democracy in Switzerland

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The direct democracy is in Switzerland designed so that the voters as a sovereign at all levels of government ( municipality , canton , state ) to decide conclusively on property issues as holder of the supreme power (sovereign). For the vast majority of Swiss people, direct democracy is a central element of the Swiss state system . In no other state in the world are there even remotely so extensive direct popular rights at the national level .

The Landsgemeinde ( Albert Welti 1910/12)

Concept and research object

The concept of democracy, as a social auxiliary concept, can be fundamentally different from country to country, despite outwardly identical constitutional features. The spiritual-political attitude of the individual peoples is decisive for its essential content. In Switzerland, this is based on a historically grown self-government system of the municipalities and the wide-spread decentralization of the administration. The term was used as early as 1618 in a source from the canton of Graubünden as an antithesis to monarchy and aristocracy and belonged to the political and social language of the old Confederation and the associated places .

Swiss direct democracy, with its specific political culture, developed very differently in the individual cantons in the 19th century, building on republican and communalist structures and being supported by the Enlightenment and the Helvetic Republic . There is little historical research into direct democracy in Switzerland. The main focus was on the social and economic history of democracy, while political history and its historical context remained largely unprocessed. Since 2006, the Forum for Research into Direct Democracy has been addressing this topic with various projects, working meetings and conferences.

Landsgemeinde, Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden , 2005

Recent research in constitutional history sees the roots of direct democracy in the continuity of the assembly-democratic political culture of the free communities ( community assemblies ) and the rural communities since the late Middle Ages, the federal referendum in the surrounding areas and the popular requests in the city republics. The municipality of freedom primarily includes the right of municipalities to adopt their own regulations and self-government. It was most developed in the Free State of Drei Bünden (today's Graubünden) in the 16th century.

The canton's development was also inspired by the Montagnard Constitution and the Girondist draft of 1793, both of which can be traced back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau .

From time to time the term semi-direct democracy is used. This indicates that indirect and direct democracy often occur at the same time. Some of the decisions are made by a parliament, some by the people.

Origin and development of democratic institutions

The direct democratic institution of the rural community had existed in some cantons since the Middle Ages. Direct democracy was most developed in the free communities of the Three Leagues . In modern times, democratic development in Switzerland was determined by the larger cantons with their more representative systems. In 1840 there were seven cantons with rural communities (Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Glarus, Nidwalden, Obwalden, Uri, Schwyz), six with semi-direct democracy (Baselland, Graubünden, Lucerne , St. Gallen, Valais, Zug), eleven with purely representative democracy ( Aargau, Bern, Basel, Freiburg, Geneva, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, Thurgau, Ticino, Vaud, Zurich) and one as a constitutional monarchy (Neuchâtel).

The confederation of the old Switzerland had a representative body with the daily statute, just like the new federal state with the federal assembly . The Federal Constitution of 1848 contained only a few elements of direct democracy, such as the initiative for a total revision of the constitution . The most important popular rights at the federal level were introduced in 1874 with the optional legal referendum and in 1891 with the constitutional initiative . At that time Switzerland became the state with the most developed direct democracy in the world.

Cooperative democracy in early modern Graubünden

After the de facto separation of the Three Leagues (Rhaetian Free State) from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499 , they developed into a structure that was unique in early modern Europe. The trilingual and, after 1520, also confessionally diverse Free State had been under communal rule since the 16th century, which made its decisions according to the majority principle. The citizens of Graubünden swore by their freedom of self-government and claimed that they had no master over themselves except God. Living in an association of independent political communities, they claimed the power to make and repeal laws , depending on the majority, to conclude alliances with foreign princes and communities, to determine war and peace and to discuss all other matters relating to force majeure and lesser power . Like the Confederation, the Free State remained a federal state made up of sovereign members. Despite the many dividing lines - for example, Latin statutes were drawn up in the Engadine which incorporated Italian developments, while German-speaking communities in the north simultaneously recorded their customary law in writing - common political institutions and a common political identity developed. Towards the end of the 16th century, this common awareness was also reflected in common values ​​and even regional historical myths. Around 1620 a plethora of texts appeared with communal ideas on political power and legitimacy , based on the political experience of a century of communal politics and a domestic and foreign political crisis.

The development of modern democracy in the cantons and municipalities

From the 1830s onwards, modern democracy developed in Switzerland in parallel with the expansion of the press and the constitutional anchoring of the freedom of the press, which had already existed during the Helvetic era. The press was an important factor in the political debate and the dissemination of direct democratic ideas. The theoretical foundations and legal justifications were laid in Switzerland in the 18th century by the French-speaking natural law school and Jean-Jacques Rousseau .

The development took place in the cantons and was initiated from below, by the democratic movements in the mostly rural communities and subject areas. In order to be able to enforce the various demands for the expansion of democratic rights, petitions and memorials were used to demand changes to the canton's constitutions. A decisive new direct democratic instrument to secure popular sovereignty was the popular veto (a forerunner of the optional legal referendum), with which the sovereign people reserved the sanction of all changes in the law.

The canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden was one of the first in which the cabinet policies of the ruling families in the rural community democracy were no longer tolerated by the people, and with the constitution of 1829 a modern democracy was established according to the people's taste .

The canton of St.Gallen achieved a pioneering achievement in 1831 with the introduction of the veto. It was the result of a political compromise solution between the bourgeois-liberal and rural-democratic currents in the Constitutional Council and the influence of the early theoretician of direct democracy, Franz Anton Good .

The canton of Basel-Land wanted to 1832 with the introduction of modern veto during the separation turmoil hedge directly democratically-won sovereignty and liberties. With the veto and especially with the obligatory referendum (1863), he actually played a pioneering role. No other canton had such a variety of direct democratic rights.

In 1841, the canton of Lucerne was the third canton to introduce a legal veto and the first to hold an actual veto debate in the press, parliament and the public. With the instrument of the veto to the veto communities, the Lucerne voters were given a say in legislation, alliances, contracts, etc. and thus became the highest legislative authority in terms of popular sovereignty. Nowhere else in the Swiss Confederation did a cantonal population have so much power. This debate was groundbreaking for the further development of direct democracy in the other cantons and at the federal level.

The new constitution of the Canton of Zurich , which was adopted by over 60 percent of the voters on April 18, 1869, was the first direct democratic constitution in Switzerland. Before Zurich, no canton had made such a radical change from a purely representative system to a model with far-reaching direct democratic elements. The idea of ​​pure popular rule was introduced in a form corresponding to modern cultural conditions.

The development of direct democracy at the federal level

In the 19th century, the political and cooperative culture (Landsgemeinden) from the late Middle Ages was continued and strengthened, which aroused great interest especially among the Swiss rural population (“Volkstage” as “Landsgemeinden” from 1830). Different forces on different theoretical paths were involved in the political process to develop direct democracy at the federal level:

The Catholicism had contributed to the development of direct democracy with its impact on the primary school and the secondary schools. The first organized form of community in Switzerland was the cooperative and decentralized church community (church members), which promoted community freedom (self-determination) on the basis of natural law.

The liberalism impressed with the liberal idea of the state of Enlightenment - and the French Revolution guiding principles of Swiss constitutions and promoted the elementary school, favored representative democracy, opposed direct democracy and federalism and negated the modern natural law.

The early socialists consolidated the direct democratic state foundations based on natural law and with reference to the cooperative tradition.

The decisive breakthrough of direct democracy at the federal level came about through the temporary connection and mutual fertilization of early socialist, liberal- radical approaches with Catholic- conservative ideas. With the resistance of the Catholic Conservatives (insistence on cantonal sovereignty) and the Sonderbund War in 1848, a federal-state solution was possible as a compromise. The common goal was the creation of direct democracy and thus the concretization of popular sovereignty. The popular movement of the rural population was the main carrier of direct democratic concepts and demands. In the end she was able to enforce direct democracy.

The dimensions of direct democracy in Switzerland

In order to understand direct democracy in Switzerland, in addition to its constitutional structure, its historical, ethical and educational dimensions must be examined more closely. The focus is on the concept of community freedom. The small space and the manageability are an ideal basic requirement for a functioning democracy. Large states can be loosened up according to small-state principles by giving the sub-states sufficient rights of sovereignty.

Historical dimension

Over the centuries, federal, decentralized states, the later cantons, emerged from the self-governing system of the free municipalities. The organizing element of order in the free municipalities was formed by cooperatives , which worked on the basis of self-administration , self-determination and self-help. The development of the cooperatives in the Middle Ages, which has to do with the special situation in agriculture in the Alpine region, forms the basis for the heart of Swiss direct democracy: the cooperatives in the valleys of central Switzerland and increasingly also those organized in guilds and guilds Cities on the Swiss Plateau succeeded early on in adopting their cooperative structure in the establishment of a state. Each canton has developed its own form of communal autonomy based on its individual historical and social development.

Ethical dimension

Studies by Adolf Gasser based on the mass extinction of European democracies after 1919 showed that the sustainability of democracies largely depended on the spiritual-political ethos (popular ethos) as the inner essence of democracy. Democracy failed above all in those states in which it was not possible to bring freedom and order into an organic connection and which had no specifically shaped democratic tradition. The design of local and regional self-government turned out to be the basic structural characteristic. The concept of communal community ethics coined by Gasser is determined by the spiritual-moral principles described, to which the individual must feel bound. The free community needs such a collective will for self-commitment in the form of an ethical collectivism for its existence and further development .

According to Gasser, the ethical dimension can be divided into various principles, as a kind of synthesis of civic vigilance on the one hand and civic self-discipline on the other : In Swiss democracy, community life is organized according to the coordination principle in the form of cooperative self-administration.

The communities organized as cooperatives were based on the principle of voluntariness . Working together in the commons , etc. represented a synthesis of freedom and order and was made possible by the will for free collective cooperation, which was inseparably linked with the will for free collective classification. By taking on honorary and part-time functions, a militia system was created that is still indispensable for the smooth functioning of social processes.

The principle of co-responsibility describes the inner bond created through voluntary work in the community, which promotes a system of collective responsibility and political tolerance.

The principle of collective compliance with the law as a collective legal disposition is central to municipal freedom . The states that are based on communal freedom and built from the bottom up have a different legal development than centralistically determined authoritarian states. In the co-operative-decentralized state, the old rights or the old freedom developed and later flowed into the Swiss civil law (ZGB Article 1) as customary law .

"The greatest merit for the legal realization is due to the community members who quietly realize the law with their behavior without further tutoring."

- Eugen Huber

The principle of collective trust characterizes the cooperative connection between freedom and law, which creates general political and social trust. The freedom from the fear of a political violation of the law by fellow citizens is an essential characteristic of all cooperative-decentralized communities.

The principle of collective compatibility means the compulsion in the free community to make compromises with political opponents. Getting used to responsible moderation strengthens the powers of reconciliation and balance. At the state level, it is used as a concordance system .

This federalist spirit also contains a model of peace and a model of compromise.

«This federalist ethos […] overcame the distrust between town and country, it put the small towns on a par with the big ones, it made it possible to withstand religious tension and to overcome internal disputes. It imposed moderation on the victor in the six civil wars that Switzerland had experienced, which prevented him from abusing his power. The inferior was never touched in his existence or in his character. The peace conditions were not measured according to the size of the weapon success, but according to legal principles that were compatible with the meaning of the federal treaties. To a certain extent, the victory in the civil wars was accepted as a divine judgment that had to decide between two different legal conceptions. "

Pedagogical dimension

The spiritual and moral dimension cannot be artificially introduced with a written constitution or with the freedom of parishes. It needs values ​​that have to be established with future voters through upbringing and education and which have to be exemplified in the political field. The citizen needs a qualitative state thinking. The community as an autonomous small area acts as a humanitarian citizen school that builds on values ​​and also creates values.

«Only in a clear, lifelike community can the normal citizen acquire what is usually called a political sense of proportion, a sense of human proportions. Only here does he learn to understand the legitimate concerns of his neighbors who are differently minded and interested in different things and to take them into account; only here does that minimum of community develop on the basis of freedom which can effectively curb the tendency towards authoritarianism and anarchy. In this sense, autonomous small areas are and will remain irreplaceable citizens' schools, without which the free-democratic state would have to wither in its roots. "

- Adolf Gasser

Swiss educators and writers such as Rousseau (1712–1778), Pestalozzi (1746–1827), Philipp Emanuel von Fellenberg (1771–1844), Jeremias Gotthelf (1797–1854) and Gottfried Keller (1819–1890) have found time and again in their works pointed to the indispensable requirement of a good and moral ( emotional intelligence ) popular education for the functioning of direct democracy. This has led to the establishment of the compulsory and free Swiss elementary school.

The cooperative roots

The name of the Swiss Confederation indicates that it owes its origin to the growing together of cooperatives. The studies by Elinor Ostrom on the construction principles of long-lived, self-organized and self-governing institutions in dealing with commons resources show that cooperatives have been successful in Switzerland for centuries. For example, written documents from the mountain community of Törbel go back to the year 1224. They report on the types of property and property transfers that have occurred in the village, as well as the villagers' rules for the five types of community property: alpine pastures, forests, wastelands, irrigation systems, and the paths that connect private and community property. On February 1, 1483, the residents of Törbel signed a statute, with which a cooperative was formally established for the purpose of better regulating the use of the alpine pastures, forests and wasteland. Like the largest corporation in Switzerland in terms of area , the Oberallmeindkorporation Schwyz , which is older than the Confederation, many cooperatives are still successful today with the original organizational principles.

The cooperative has elements that are cooperative and oriented towards the common good. Only through cooperation can the joint venture flourish and promote the individual economic prosperity of the members of the cooperative. Your economic success through cooperation is often better than the competitive principle. With its democratic procedures (one man - one vote) it became the gateway of democracy into society.

The philosophical foundations

The European Enlightenment helped individualism to break through, led to the emergence of critical science and the affirmation of freedom and tolerance, which guarantee a constructive development of society and the development of the individual. Its basis was Christian social teaching , which brought natural law and the idea of free communities with it.

The natural law school in western Switzerland ( École romande du droit naturel ) made a fundamental contribution to the discussion of natural law and the social and state foundations, thereby influencing human and international law based on natural law and the American constitution ( Virginia Bill of Rights , Declaration of Independence ), which in turn was a role model for the Swiss federal state.

The citizen of Geneva, Rousseau , experienced the small-state ideal of the res publica as a happy reality, which is why he proposed in his social contract to loosen up the large states according to small-state principles - in the sense of the most important of all separation of powers: that from below.

For the federalism researcher Proudhon, every political order was based on the dualism of authority and freedom. He said about the Swiss state structure:

“So the confederation is not actually a state. Rather, it is a group of sovereign and independent states allied by a treaty of mutual guarantee. "

- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

The federal system of Switzerland

The formerly autonomous cantons, which merged to form the Swiss federal state in 1848, have also retained a great deal of independence within the federal state (Federal Constitution Article 47). The various linguistic and cultural groups joined together of their own free will to form a nation of will , because through this union they promised the greatest possible freedom for the individual and the community. The cantons are entitled to all competences that the Federal Constitution does not expressly assign to the Confederation (Federal Constitution Article 3, 42). In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the Confederation only takes on those tasks which are beyond the power of the cantons or which require uniform regulation by the Confederation (Federal Constitution Article 43a). The cantons, often referred to as states or estates, all have their own constitutions, which have developed from the tradition and historical circumstances of the individual areas. The cantons levy their own state taxes and receive shares of federal taxes. To the most important competencies resp. Sub-competencies of the cantons include education, health, social affairs, work, police and justice, economy, energy, environment, construction and culture. In all of these areas, however, the federal government also has essential basic competencies (e.g. federal laws that limit cantonal competences). The cantons also determine their official languages ​​(Federal Constitution Article 70) and must take the traditional linguistic minorities into account. Fire brigade, sewerage and drinking water treatment, waste disposal, cemeteries, street cleaning and similar tasks of the communal infrastructure are usually the responsibility of the municipalities. The Swiss citizenship is not granted by the federal government, but by a community by awarding the municipality of citizenship that is both Canton Civil Rights (Federal Constitution Article 37, paragraph 1). This community thus becomes a place of citizenship or home.

Central elements of direct democracy in Switzerland

Understanding of the state

Because of their co-determination rights in direct democracy, many citizens identify with the state, they feel they are part of the state.

"We are linked by law and order, our state itself."

“We are very well aware that direct democracy is a state-building and integrating institution for the Swiss Confederation, perhaps even today, after the end of the Cold War, the identification factor par excellence. Direct democracy is an integral part of the Swiss state idea and therefore indispensable without loss of substance. "

The unity of Switzerland is based on the common will for peace, community and cooperation with the comrades of the oath in the Confederation. Its prerequisite is the preservation of the independence of the members, the recognition of the right of every small community, every single confederate to full self-responsibility in every question, which does not necessarily have to be transferred to a higher level of the state.

"The small state exists so that there is a place in the world where the largest possible quota of citizens are citizens in the full sense."

Armed neutrality and foreign policy

The cautious foreign policy , i.e. the non-interference in so-called foreign trades (these are armed conflicts between foreign states), is considered to be the basis for the historical success of the small state of Switzerland since the Stans Agreement . In 1647 the confederates decided in the Defensionale von Wil to perpetuate armed neutrality . This was confirmed by the European powers a year later in the Peace of Westphalia . Since the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Switzerland has been obliged under international law to maintain its neutrality. The law of neutrality is recognized under international law and has been codified in the Hague Agreement on Neutrality since 1907 . The Federal Constitution regulates the participation of the people and the cantons in foreign policy: In foreign affairs, the Confederation takes into account the responsibilities of the cantons and safeguards their interests (Federal Constitution Article 54 paragraph 3). The cantons participate in the preparation of foreign policy decisions that affect their responsibilities or affect their essential interests (Federal Constitution, Article 55).

On April 29, 1938, the Federal Council declared its return to integral neutrality due to the changed external circumstances :

«Swiss neutrality is different from any other. For Switzerland, it is one of the most essential prerequisites for peace at home and thus the independence of the country, which unites so many components of different types in terms of language and culture. (...) The preservation of this institution, which has existed for centuries, is no less valuable for the whole of Europe than it is for Switzerland itself. (...) For centuries, neutrality in Switzerland has brought tribes of different origins, languages ​​and denominations together into a single unit. "

- Swiss Federal Council

Neutrality is an instrument of Swiss foreign and security policy . The instruments of humanitarian foreign policy consist of humanitarian aid ( Swiss Humanitarian Aid , Rescue Switzerland , the support of the ICRC) and the pursuit of a global anchor, promotion and development of international humanitarian law , including as depositary of the Geneva Conventions .

In addition there is peacebuilding (so-called good offices , organization of peace initiatives and conferences), development cooperation, security policy (Swiss contributions to strengthening international disarmament and arms control regimes), human rights policy ( Human Rights Council in Geneva, organization of international congresses), refugee policy and the foreign economic policy.

Separation of powers or inhibition of violence

With the development of direct democracy in Switzerland, ways and means were sought from the beginning to prevent individual citizens from rising above others. Since 1540, the power of newly forming elites in the Three Leagues has been limited by the militia in the communities taking up arms and flags ( Fähnlilupf ), assembling in central locations and setting up a criminal court to rid the Free State of corruption and treason . The observance of the separation of powers is still closely monitored by the citizens today. The names of the authorities indicate that they are servants of the people and should carry out their orders. At the federal level, Switzerland has no government and no ministers, but the seven-member Federal Council as executive (executive collegial authority), from whose midst a federal president is appointed for one year , as primus inter pares , who, like his colleagues, continues to be the head of his department and alongside only performs representative functions. In the cantons there is no government, but the government council or the council of state as a collective authority. Switzerland also has no constitutional court , because the people represent the highest state authority and make the final decision. The Swiss Constitution itself presents itself in practice as “very volatile” due to the possibilities of direct democracy: “Articles can be written in the constitution, although they contradict other constitutional or legal articles. Various conflicts of norms were therefore decided by the courts only with reference to the ECHR or by the Court of Justice in Strasbourg itself. ”In the Federal Constitution of 1848, the organs for the executive, legislative and judicial branches were determined at federal level. As at the federal level, the separation of powers also exists at the cantonal and communal level.

Popular rights

The direct popular rights ( popular initiative since 1848, referendum since 1874) apply at all three levels of government (municipality, canton, federal government) and have comparatively very low quorums . The electorate exercises its sovereign rights as sovereign directly through elections and votes. It elects the authorities and makes decisions on factual issues. However, the members of the Federal Council (i.e. the executive branch ) and the Federal President are not elected by the people but by the United Federal Assembly. The numerous votes are an expression of comprehensive popular rights. Direct democracy plays an important role, especially at the community level. The principle of subsidiarity grants the municipalities as a cell of the state extensive autonomy. Direct citizen participation in community assemblies is considered the best school of direct democracy.

Further political rights at the cantonal level are the individual initiative , the popular motion and the popular proposal (also constructive referendum ).

Democratic self-determination

In Switzerland, democratic self-determination is organized according to the principle of subsidiarity, starting from the municipality from the bottom up. Only the tasks that the lower level cannot solve itself are delegated to the next one. The tasks of the federal government are conclusively regulated in the federal constitution. All other tasks fall within the competence of the cantons and communes.

Compromise and Concordance

Compromise and concordance are important prerequisites for a politics that is supported by the whole people and at the same time prevent individuals from gaining power. Democracies need a consensus in order for them to function. The political system in Switzerland is therefore called consensus or negotiation democracy . With the referendum, the people are forcing the parties to concordance. The people's rights thus have an integrative function. This means that the parties have to work together again even after very strong arguments. This means that voters can assume that elections will not change much in the composition of the government or in its policies.

Majority principle

The majority principle describes the making of decisions in democratically organized groups. The minority who lost a vote is bound by the decision made by the majority. In Switzerland, the principle of armed neutrality prevents a majority from opting for a war of aggression. Popular initiatives are checked in terms of their content to determine whether they comply with the provisions of mandatory international law and whether their concerns can be implemented. The structuring of the two parliaments at the federal level according to the number of inhabitants (National Council) and cantons (Council of States) and the number of estates in votes forms a corrective in favor of the less populous rural cantons to the majority principle.

Publicity principle

Appropriate democratic decisions require a high degree of publicity from state institutions. In Switzerland, parliamentary sessions and criminal courts are regularly open to the public. In the consultation process, every citizen can propose changes. In the run-up to referendums , a broad discourse takes place that is characterized by four characteristics: The proposals are compared with alternatives and the financial consequences. The intensity of the discourse depends on the importance of the template. The discourse takes place at different levels of the culture of conversation in organizations, parties or among individuals (regulars' table). In the course of the discourse, a learning process takes place that can lead to a more detailed rethinking of the two-sided arguments. In a democracy, the public service media have a statutory supply mandate. You must inform the people as neutrally as possible about events and ensure balanced reporting. In addition to the broadcasts in four national languages, this is one of the reasons that Switzerland has the highest radio and television fees in Europe.

Militia system

The militia system , in which responsible citizens carry out public tasks on a part-time basis and on a voluntary basis, is a classic Swiss solution and a foundation of direct democracy. Direct democracy only works if there is a balance between rights and duties: Each person takes responsibility for himself and contributes to the management of tasks in the state and society to the best of his ability (Federal Constitution Article 6).

The militia system has a long tradition and can be continuously and flexibly adapted to new challenges. It is used at all three levels of government, in the army, in countless associations, parties and also in federal humanitarian aid. The small-scale, deliberately decentralized municipal structures in Switzerland could not be maintained without the militia system, because it is the cheapest option and therefore close to the people. The election to the office of an executive member, school or church clerk, etc. by the voters is a vote of confidence and promotes responsibility for the common good. The national parliament is a militia parliament, the parliamentarians of the Estates and National Council exercise a profession in addition to their council work. The army is a militia army and consists for the most part of soldiers and officers who are called up for weekly refresher courses as part of general conscription after the recruit or officer school and who practice a civilian profession. The militia system protects the freedom of the individual because the state should only take on those tasks that private individuals cannot solve themselves.

Economic Aspects of Direct Democracy

The state's 150-year history is a success story. Switzerland was not only spared from wars, it has developed from one of the poorest countries to a state with one of the highest standards of living. While many Swiss emigrated to America for economic reasons in the second half of the 19th century, Switzerland has become a country of immigration with the highest proportion of foreigners in Europe. Switzerland owes this positive development above all to its federal structure and the direct popular rights, which enable citizens to identify strongly with their political system.

The systematic research with the help of economic-statistical procedures shows that direct democracy usually scores better than (purely) representative democracy. Studies show that Switzerland's direct democracy is not only modern and successful, but also capable of development and even export.

The economist and happiness researcher Bruno Frey examined the possibilities of political participation in the cantons and found that people are happier where there is more participation and the hurdles for direct referendums are smaller.

The efficiency of direct democracy can be seen, for example, in the fact that in the 1990s, with the consent of the people and despite the influence of interest groups, it was possible to implement drastic measures to limit the state deficit and expenditure as well as to reduce debt ( debt brake ).

As comparative studies show, direct people's rights mean that, on average, around thirty percent less taxes are evaded and government spending and government debt are lower. Political institutions are more efficient and the economic system is more productive.

Creator of identity and lived solidarity

Direct democracy needs common values, which through upbringing and education have to be established for future voters and which have to be exemplified in the political field. In the Swiss federal state, different cultures and language communities live side by side and with one another. Respect for diversity and the desire to preserve the greatest possible freedom both internally and externally form the basis of the federal state structure as well as the balance between the strong and the weak in the sense of mutual help and solidarity. Humanitarian actions were spreading around the world as early as the 19th century. The Swiss National Donation Foundation for our soldiers and their families (SNS), established in 1919, is a sign of the strong solidarity between the civilian population and the militia army.

The International Committee of the Red Cross , founded in 1863 by the Swiss Henry Dunant , whose neutrality is based on that of Switzerland, became a global model for humanitarian ideas and legal principles. This also includes the regular donation campaigns by the Swiss population - such as the Swiss donation after the Second World War - to alleviate the misery in the world.

Time and again, people and institutions have contributed to the development of direct democracy in Switzerland in order to build the state not in the service of rule, but rather for the common good:

Niklaus von Flüe (1417–1487) mediated a serious conflict between town and country towns (Stans verdict) and thus prevented the collapse of the Confederation. He advised turning away from great power politics and the neutrality policy maxim. Johann Rudolf Wettstein (1594–1666) achieved the independence of the Confederation from the Holy Roman Empire in the negotiations for the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

The new national self-confidence found its center in the most important nationwide association, the Helvetic Society , founded in 1761 , and this is where the idea of ​​a Switzerland transcending the separation of denominations and cantons arose.

Friedrich Schiller created a timeless literary model for Switzerland in 1804 with his drama Wilhelm Tell about the tension between individual freedom and human solidarity. The Swiss Charitable Society , founded in 1848, was the most important social and socio-political organization in the creation of the federal state. In 1859 she bought the Rütliwiese and donated it to the Swiss Confederation. From 1860 to 1874 (revision of the Federal Constitution) democratic popular movements were formed, which aimed for direct democratic changes.

The Geneva Guillaume Henri Dufour (1787-1875) was involved in many ways in the development of the Confederation into a federal state. With the Dufour map he created the first national map of Switzerland and made the proposal for the national coat of arms with the white cross in the red field. In the Sonderbund War of 1847, Dufour was not only able to prevent the collapse of the Confederation through the intervention of foreign powers, but by strictly adhering to humanitarian principles in the fighting, he created a basis for reconciliation that enabled the divided cantons to form a common federal state as early as 1848 some. He campaigned for credible armed neutrality by co-founding the first federal military school in Thun, where he taught as a military educator, built fortresses and, as a general , prevented attacks on Switzerland in the event of conflicts ( Neuchâtel trade , Savoy trade , etc.) As a representative of a cosmopolitan, humanitarian Switzerland, he played a key role in founding the International Committee of the Red Cross and became its first president.

The federal holidays as well as the federal festivals held at national level also create identity, each of which represents the culmination of a branched network of cantonal and regional club festivals , where the associations organized at community level compete in peaceful competition and showcase their skills to the Swiss population: the federal Wrestling and Alpine Festival took place for the first time in 1805, when Switzerland was suffering from French rule, as an alpine shepherd festival in Unspunnen , specifically to raise Swiss national awareness. Gottfried Keller described the Federal Shooting Festival, which took place for the first time in 1849, in his novella The Flag of the Seven Upright People , in order to combine the joy of the country with a salutary criticism . This has included the Federal Gymnastics Festival since 1832 , the Federal Costume Festival since 1926 and the Swiss national exhibitions since 1883 .

It was part of the tradition of the Confederation to hold penance and thanksgiving ceremonies at the daily statutes in order to strengthen cohesion among urban and rural populations, Reformed and Catholics, the various language regions and also the social classes. Because of the impending invasion by the French revolutionary troops, the Diet of 1796 decided to hold the day of prayer on September 8, 1796 for the first time as a general federal celebration. The national holiday of the Swiss Confederation , which is intended to commemorate the oldest (in the Federal Letter Museum) still preserved federal letter from 1291 of the original cantons , has been celebrated throughout Switzerland on August 1st since 1891 and is a public holiday there .

The Cabaret Cornichon (1934–1951) strengthened thousands of visitors in difficult times against the totalitarian threat and mobilized the country's internal defenses to a decisive extent. The Pro Patria association , which emerged from the Swiss Federal Celebration Committee founded in 1909, promotes, among other things, youth exchanges as a bridge between the language communities (collection 2011).


After the Second World War , there were signs that the Federal Council no longer wanted to move away from the so-called powers of attorney, which it and Parliament had claimed as a result of the war and the economic crisis. For this reason, the Federal People's Initiative "Return to Direct Democracy" was launched, which was narrowly approved in the referendum on September 11, 1949.

Perception abroad

Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1622–1676) wrote about Switzerland at the time of the Thirty Years' War in Simplicissimus :

«The country seemed as strange to me compared to other German countries as if I had been in Brasilia or China; then I saw the people trading and walking in peace, the stables were full of cattle, the farmyards were full of chickens, geese and ducks, the streets were safely used by travelers, the inns were full of people making fun of themselves; there was absolutely no fear of the enemy, no fear of looting, and no fear of losing one's property, body or life; Everyone lived safely under his vine and fig tree, in sheer lust and joy, so that I would consider this country an earthly paradise, although it seemed to be of a kind smoke enough. "

- Hans Jakob Christoph von Grimmelshausen

Georg Büchner , who fled to Zurich in 1836, wrote in a letter of November 20, 1836 to his parents:

“As for the political hustle and bustle, you can be very calm. Just don't let the old wives' tales in our newspapers bother you. Switzerland is a republic, and because people usually don't know what to do other than saying that any republic is impossible, they tell good Germans every day about anarchy, murder and manslaughter. You will be surprised when you visit me; Already on the way there are friendly villages with beautiful houses everywhere, and then, the closer you get to Zurich and even to the lake, a sweeping prosperity; Villages and towns have an appearance that we have no idea of. The streets here are not full of soldiers, accessists and lazy public servants; you don't risk being run over by a noble coach; but a healthy, strong people everywhere, and for little money a simple, good, purely republican government, which is supported by a property tax, a kind of tax that would be proclaimed everywhere as the height of anarchy. "

- Georg Büchner

The Scottish state theorist James Bryce described Swiss democracy shortly before the First World War in his multi-volume work Modern Democracies (1921):

“The advantages that a foreign observer discovers in the government of Switzerland when he makes a comparison with other full-fledged democracies of antiquity and modern times can be summarized as follows: A stability that is noticeable in the Confederation and in the cantons, if also not to the same extent, but still fairly general. (...) An administration that is incomparably thrifty and generally efficient (...) For all branches of education, except in a very small number of cantons, extensive provisions are made. (…) The roads are excellent considering the difficulties of a mountainous country where landslides and floods occur after the snowmelt. (...). Individual freedom is respected, the tone of public life is high, and politics is not tainted by corruption. The strong feeling for state obligations is evident in the extensive services provided in the cantons and municipalities. "

- James Bryce

Alfred de Zayas , American international lawyer, UN special rapporteur for the promotion of a democratic and just international order, commented on direct democracy in Switzerland as follows:

«The only democracy I know is the Swiss one. She is not perfect. But it is the only one in which there is some correlation between the will of the people and actual politics. (...) I have to say to the Swiss citizens: You have to fight to preserve Swiss direct democracy. It's not just for you, it's also a model for the world. "

- Alfred de Zayas

Winfried Kretschmann , at the Europa Forum Luzern 2015, April 27, 2015:

“Europe, too, can only be something like a nation of will, as Switzerland has always been. ... It will not be any different in Europe in the future, because Europe is also multilingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural. In this respect, Switzerland is a good blueprint for Europe. "

See also


Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Times

  • Walter Aemisegger: The common federal activity of the daily statute 1649-1712. Dissertation . Winterthur 1945.
  • Andreas Auer (ed.): The origins of direct democracy . Colloquium from 27.-29. April 1995 Research and Documentation Center Direct Democracy, Faculté de Droit et le Center d´Etudes. Geneva, Verlag Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel / Frankfurt am Main 1996
  • Peter Blickle: Peace and Constitution. Requirements and consequences of the Confederation of 1291. In: Central Switzerland and early Confederation. Anniversary publication 700 years of the Swiss Confederation. Ed. Historical Association of Five Places. Volume 1, Olten 1990, pp. 13-202.
  • Randolph C. Head; Association for Bündner Kulturforschung (Ed.): Democracy in early modern Graubünden. Social order and political language in an Alpine state, 1470–1620. Chronos, Zurich 2001, ISBN 3-0340-0529-6 .
  • Jon Mathieu, Hansruedi Stauffacher: Alpine community democracy or aristocratic rule? A comparison of two Swiss regions in the ancien régime. In: M. Mattmüller (Ed.): Economy and society in mountain areas. (= Itinera. 5/6). Basel 1986, pp. 320-360.
  • Ernst Walder: The Stans Declaration. A chapter in Swiss history. Stans 1994.
  • Historisches Museum Basel (ed.): Wettstein - Switzerland and Europe 1648. Basel 1998.

19th and 20th centuries


  • Jean-François Aubert: This is how Switzerland works. Shown using a few specific examples. 3rd, corrected edition. Cosmos-Verlag, Muri bei Bern 1982.
  • Edgar Bonjour : History of Swiss Neutrality. Four centuries of federal foreign policy. 9 volumes. Basel / Stuttgart 1965–1976.
  • Anna Christmann: In which political direction does direct democracy work? Right fears and left hopes in Germany compared to direct democratic practice in Switzerland. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2009, ISBN 978-3-8329-4204-5 .
  • Jean-Daniel Delley (Ed.): Direct Democracy and Swiss Foreign Policy. Basel 1999.
  • Andreas Ernst, Albert Tanner, Matthias Weishaupt (eds.): Revolution and innovation. The conflict-ridden emergence of the Swiss federal state in 1848. Chronos Verlag, Zurich 1998, ISBN 3-905312-66-2 .
  • Adolf Gasser: History of the people's freedom and democracy. Sauerlander, Aarau 1939.
  • Adolf Gasser: Community freedom as the salvation of Europe. Basics of an ethical conception of history. Book friends, Basel 1947.
  • Adolf Gasser: Construction from below or compulsion from above. A contribution to the question of federalism. Dr. Riederer-Verlag, Stuttgart 1947.
  • Rolf Graber: Democracy and revolts: The emergence of direct democracy in Switzerland. Chronos , Zurich 2017, ISBN 978-3-0340-1384-0 .
  • Andreas Gross : The unfinished direct democracy. 1984–2015: Texts on Switzerland and beyond., Thun / Gwatt 2016, ISBN 978-3-03818-092-0 ( about the book ).
  • Thomas Hildbrand, Albert Tanner (ed.): In the sign of the revolution. The road from Switzerland to the Swiss federal state 1798–1848. Zurich 1997.
  • Alfred Kölz : Modern Swiss constitutional history. Publishing house Stämpfli, Bern 1992.
  • Alfred Kölz: Switzerland's way to the modern federal state: 1789–1798 - 1848–1998. Historical treatises. Rüegger, Chur / Zurich 1998, pp. 145 ff .: On the significance of the Zurich cantonal constitution of April 18, 1869: The Zurich constitution of 1869 introduced extensive direct democratic institutions for the first time in a larger state and in this respect, even Rousseau did not consider this to be possible Held realized.
  • Alfred Kölz: Freedom and Democracy - On the hundredth birthday of Zaccaria Giacometti. In: Zaccaria Giacometti. Selected Writings. Zurich 1994, p. 331 ff.
  • Wolf Linder: Direct Democracy. In: U. Klöti u. a. (Ed.): Handbook of Swiss Politics. 1999, pp. 109-130.
  • Robert Nef: Communal autonomy , direct democracy and tax competition in Switzerland. Liberal Institute of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Potsdam 2009.
  • Leonhard Neidhart: Plebiscite and pluralistic democracy. Franke publishing house, Bern 1970.
  • Alois Riklin : Handbook of the Political System of Switzerland. Volume 1, Bern 1983, ISBN 3-258-03197-5 .
  • Gregor A. Rutz: Direct democracy - a discontinued model? Verlag Schweizerzeit, Flaach 2002, ISBN 3-907983-39-4 .
  • Martin Schubarth : Constitutional jurisdiction. Comparative law - historical - political - sociological - legal-political, including the European courts of law , Verlag Stämpfli, Bern 2011, ISBN 978-3-7272-8786-2 .
  • Rainer J. Schweizer, Ulrich Zelger: All power to the people! The draft constitution by Senators Heinrich Krauer and Johann Melchior Kubli from 1800 as a milestone in Swiss constitutional history. In: Bernd Marquardt, Alois Niederstätter (Hrsg.): The law in cultural-historical change: Festschrift for Karl Heinz Burmeister on retirement. Konstanz 2002, pp. 305-339.
  • Brigitte Studer (Ed.): Stages of the federal state. State and nation formation in Switzerland, 1848–1998. Zurich 1998
  • Alois Stutzer, Bruno S. Frey: Stronger People's Rights - More Satisfied Citizens: A Macroeconomic Study for Switzerland. In: Swiss Political Science Review. 6 (3), 2000. (PDF; 751 kB)
  • Wolfgang von Wartburg : The great Helveticians. Important personalities in turbulent times. Schaffhausen 1997.
  • Werner Wüthrich: Economy and direct democracy in Switzerland . History of the free and democratic economic constitution in Switzerland. Verlag Zeit -fragen, Zurich 2020, ISBN 978-3-909234-24-0


  • Benjamin Adler: The Origin of Direct Democracy. The example of the Landsgemeinde Schwyz 1789–1866. Verlag NZZ, Zurich 2006, ISBN 3-03823-163-0 .
  • Roger Blum : The political participation of the people in the young canton of Baselland. 1977.
  • Andrea Ghiringhelli: Il Cittadino e il voto: materiali sull'evoluzione dei sistemi elettorali nel Cantone Ticino 1803–1990. Dadò Publishing House, 1995, ISBN 88-86315-11-2 .
  • Adrian Vatter: Cantonal democracies in comparison. Reasons, interactions and effects of political institutions in the Swiss cantons . Leske + Budrich Verlag, Opladen 2002, ISBN 3-8100-3431-2 .
  • René Roca: Bernhard Meyer and the liberal Catholicism of the Sonderbund period: Religion and politics in Lucerne (1830–1848). Diss., Verlag P. Lang, Bern 2002, ISBN 3-906769-85-2 .
  • René Roca: «True popular sovereignty» or «Ochlocracy»? The debate about direct democracy in the canton of Lucerne during regeneration. In: The history friend. 156th Volume, Altdorf 2003, pp. 115-146. doi: 10.5169 / seals-118789
  • René Roca, Andreas Auer (ed.): Paths to direct democracy in the Swiss cantons. (= Writings on democracy research. Volume 3). Center for Democracy Aarau and Verlag Schulthess AG, Zurich / Basel / Geneva 2011, ISBN 978-3-7255-6463-7 .
  • René Roca: If popular sovereignty is really to become a truth ... Swiss democracy in theory and practice - the example of the Canton of Lucerne. (= Writings on democracy research. Volume 6). Center for Democracy Aarau and Verlag Schulthess AG, Zurich / Basel / Geneva 2012, ISBN 978-3-7255-6694-5 .
  • Martin Schaffner : The democratic movement of the 1860s. Description and explanation of the Zurich people's movement of 1867. Basel / Frankfurt am Main 1982.
  • Stefan G. Schmid: The Zurich Vetopetitions from 1837 to 1842. A source study on the development of the direct democratic state idea. In: Zürcher Taschenbuch 2010. Zurich 2009, pp. 143–225.
  • Andreas Suter: Direct Democracy - Historical Reflections on the Current Debate. Epilogue. In: Benjamin Adler: The emergence of direct democracy. The example of the Landsgemeinde Schwyz 1780–1866. Zurich 2006, pp. 219–278.
  • Alexander Trechsel, Uwe Serdäne: Kaleidoscope of people's rights: the institutions of direct democracy in the Swiss cantons 1970–1996. Research and Documentation Center Direct Democracy, Faculté de Droit de Genève, Verlag Helbing and Lichtenhahn, Basel / Geneva / Munich 1999, ISBN 3-7190-1749-4 .
  • Bruno Wickli: Political culture and “pure democracy”. Constitutional struggles and rural popular movements in the canton of St. Gallen 1814/15 and 1830/31. St. Gallen 2006.
  • Franz Schnyder : «The Sovereign - Lived Democracy» . Documentary in Emmental, Canton Bern, Swiss short film 1947.

Web links

Commons : Direct Democracy in Switzerland  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Federal Constitution Article 148, Paragraph 1 : The Federal Assembly exercises supreme power in the Federation , subject to the rights of the people and the classes.
  2. According to the Univox II B survey on direct democratic institutions 2006/2007, 58% of those questioned would like to maintain the status quo of direct democratic institutions, 25% are for an expansion and less than 10% for a restriction .
  3. 2015 - New Year's Address by Federal President Simonetta Sommaruga. ( Memento from January 2, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  4. a b Gebhard Kirchgässner , Lars P. Feld, Marcel R. Savioz: The direct democracy: Modern, successful, developable and exportable . Helbling & Lichtenhahn, Basel / Geneva / Munich 1999, ISBN 3-7190-1837-7 .
  5. ^ Paths to direct democracy in the Swiss cantons .
  6. ^ Forum for Research into Direct Democracy. ( Memento from February 21, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  7. ^ Randolph C. Head: Democracy in early modern Graubünden. Chronos-Verlag, Zurich 2001, ISBN 3-0340-0529-6 .
  8. ^ Democracy in Switzerland - Country Report 2008/2009 .
  9. For example by Vimentis in the article « The political system of Switzerland ».
  10. Direct democracy: the people decide ,, December 9, 2009.
  11. Gebhard Kirchgässner: Direct Democracy. University of St. Gallen, 2010.
  12. a b Randolph C. Head; Association for Bündner Kulturforschung (Ed.): Democracy in early modern Graubünden. Social order and political language in an Alpine state, 1470–1620. Chronos, Zurich 2001, ISBN 3-0340-0529-6 .
  13. Eduard His : Lucerne constitutional history of the modern time (1798-1940). Lucerne 1940.
  14. NZZ of April 17, 2019: The day on which Zurich opts for a “truly democratic” constitution
  15. René Roca (ed.): Catholicism and modern Switzerland. Contributions to the study of democracy. Volume 1, Schwabe Verlag , Basel 2016, ISBN 978-3-7965-3498-0 .
  16. René Roca (Ed.): Liberalism and modern Switzerland. Contributions to the study of democracy. Volume 2, Schwabe Verlag, Basel 2017, ISBN 978-3-7965-3639-7 .
  17. René Roca (Ed.): Early Socialism and Modern Switzerland . Contributions to the study of democracy. Volume 3, Schwabe Verlag, Basel 2018, ISBN 978-3-7965-3819-3 .
  18. a b c Gasser: Community freedom as the salvation of Europe. Basics of an ethical conception of history . Verlag Bücherfreunde, Basel 1947.
  19. Eugen Huber , author of the Civil Code
  20. ^ A b Wolfgang von Wartburg: History of Switzerland . Munich 1951.
  21. Elinor Ostrom: The constitution of the commons: beyond state and market . Mohr, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-16-146916-X .
  22. Torsten Lorenz: The emergence of the European cooperative idea. In: Dresdner Hefte. Issue 91, 2007.
  23. US Department of State: Hillary Clinton , Secretary of State, July 29, 2011: America's Founders were inspired by the ideas and values ​​of early Swiss philosophers like Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui and Emer de Vattel, and the 1848 Swiss Constitution was influenced by our own US Constitution. Swiss commitment to democracy is an example for nations and people everywhere who yearn for greater freedoms and human rights. ( Memento from December 3, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) In: Statement On the Occasion of Switzerland's National Day. July 29, 2011.
  24. Patrick Henry , Speech on the ratification of the American constitution by Virginia on June 5, 1788: Switzerland is a confederation consisting of different governments. It is an example that proves that governments with different structures can form an alliance. This allied republic has held out for 400 years; and although several of the individual republics are democratic and the remainder aristocratic, this inequality has led to no evil; they have defied all the might of France and Germany during that long period. The Swiss spirit, sir, held them together; they have encountered immense difficulties and have overcome them with patience and steadfastness. In the neighborhood of powerful and ambitious monarchs, they have maintained their independence, republican simplicity and valor.
  25. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: About the federal principle. 1863.
  26. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi 1815 in Hans Aebli - Twelve Basic Forms of Teaching , 2006.
  27. Bernhard Ehrenzeller , NZZ from 20./21. March 1999.
  28. Stephen P. Halbrook: Switzerland in sight. Novalis 2000.
  29. (PDF; 52 kB) Martin Schubarth: Problems of constitutional jurisdiction .
  30. Kaspar Surber: Right Confederates , in Le Monde Diplomatique , Nov. 2018, p. 2
  31. Bruno S. Frey: How do direct democracy and economy get along? In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. March 19, 2014.
  32. Marcel Amrein: Debt brake: This cow deserves to be holy In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung from October 19, 2016
  33. Economic Research Center of the ETH Zurich: A debt brake for the German federal budget, Zurich March 2007. ( PDF )
  34. ^ Gebhard Kirchgässner : Effects of direct democracy on public finances: Empirical results for Switzerland. (PDF) In: Swiss Journal for Economics and Statistics , 2002, Vol. 138 (4), pp. 411–426.
  35. ^ Elsie Attenhofer : Cornichon. Memories of a cabaret . Benteli Verlag, Bern 1975, ISBN 3-7165-0040-2 .
  36. ^ Project Gutenberg: Georg Büchner - Briefe
  37. ^ Peter Dürrenmatt : Swiss history. Hallwag AG publishing house, Bern 1957.
  38. James Bryce: Modern Democracies.  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  39. ^ Alfred de Zayas: Sovereignty, law and democracy versus power politics
  40. Renate Kuenzi: "Switzerland is a good blueprint for Europe" . May 1, 2015, swissinfo .ch