At a Glance:
Year became a federation: 1848
Current constitution in force since: 1999
Constituent units: 26 Cantons (English: states)
Head of State: Federal Council
Head of Government: President
Upper House: Council of States
Lower House: National Council
Our work in Switzerland
Since 2002 the Forum has worked with local partners in Switzerland to organize learning events ranging from the 2nd International Conference on Federalism to a conference on new ways to integrate immigrants to Switzerland.
Federalism in Switzerland
Switzerland’s direct democracy means that all proposed amendments to the constitution are decided by referendum. Any other federal law can be put to a referendum if 50,000 citizens sign a petition - meaning that Switzerland’s federal system can be changed by its citizens.
While such changes may be slow, they do occur frequently. A plan for common standards for compulsory schooling was approved in 2010 by voters in 12 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons.
The official starting point of Swiss federal history is 1291 when three cantons created a defense union combined with a system of arbitration for conflict management. In 1798, Napoleon’s invasion and unsuccessful attempt to create a centralized state led to his introduction of a federal system. After Napoleon’s defeat, Switzerland opted again for a loose confederation. The people and cantons of Switzerland adopted a federal constitution in 1848 after a year of civil war that started in 1847.
There were two total revisions of the constitution in 1874 and 1999. However, the overall design has stayed the same. The federal constitution or Switzerland has provided the basis for the peaceful cohabitation of different cultural, linguistic and religious groups.
On 1 January 2000, a new federal constitution formulated the existing constitutional norms in modern language and introduced some new content, especially with respect to cooperative federalism.
* Development assistance program countries