Federal Council (Switzerland)

The Federal Council [1] is the seven-member executive council which constitutes the federal government of the Swiss Confederation and serves the collective executive head of government and state of Switzerland.

While the entire council is responsible for leading the federal administration of Switzerland , each Councilor heads one of the seven federal executive departments. The position of Federal President rotates among the seven Councillors on a year basis, with the year Vice President becoming next year’s President. Alain Berset is the incumbent president of the council since 1 January 2018.

Members of Council

The current members of the Federal Council are, in order of seniority:

Member of Council Photo Joined Council Party Canton Function
Doris Leuthard August 1, 2006 Christian Democrats Aargau Head of the Federal Department of Environment, Transportation, Energy and Communications
Ueli Maurer January 1, 2009 Swiss People’s Party  Zurich Vice President for 2018; Head of the Federal Department of Finance
Simonetta Sommaruga 1 November 2010 Social Democrats  Bern Head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police
Johann Schneider-Ammann 1 November 2010 FDP.The Liberals  Bern Head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research
Alain Berset 1 January 2012 Social Democrats Friborg President for 2018; Head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs
Guy Parmelin January 1, 2016 Swiss People’s Party  Vaud Head of the Federal Department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sports
Ignazio Cassis 1 November 2017 FDP.The Liberals  Ticino Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

Origins and history of the Federal Council

Origins of the institution

The Federal Council was instituted by the 1848 Federal Constitution as the „supreme executive and directorial authority of the Confederation“. [2]

When the Constitution was written, the constitution was still in its infancy, and the founding fathers of Switzerland had little in the way of examples. Heavily While They drew on the US Constitution for the organization of the federal state as a whole, They under the opt for the collegial Rather than the presidential system for the executive branch of government ( managerial system ). This accommodated the long tradition of the rule of collective bodies in Switzerland. Under the Old Regime , the cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy had been governed by pre-eminent citizens, and the laterHelvetic Republic (with its equivalent Directorate [3] ) as well as the cantons that had given themselves liberal constitutions since the 1830s had also had good experiences with that mode of governance. [4]

Today, only three other states, Bosnia and Herzegovina , Andorra and San Marino , have collective rather than unitary heads of state. HOWEVER the collegial system of government HAS found Widespread adoption in Modern Democracies in the form of cabinet government with collective responsibility.

Changes in composition

The 1848 constitutional provision for the Federal Council – and indeed the institution of the Council itself – has remained unchanged to this day, though. Swiss society has changed profoundly since. Nonetheless, some significant developments deserve to be mentioned here.

Party representation

Free Democratic hegemony, 1848-91
See also: Switzerland as a federal state

The 1848 Constitution was one of the few successes of the Europe-wide democratic revolutions of 1848 . In Switzerland, the democratic movement has been decisively shaped – by the Radicals (presently the Free Democratic Party , FDP). After winning the Sonderbund War (the Swiss Civil War) against the Catholic cantons, the Radicals at first used their majority in the Federal Assembly to fill the seats on the Federal Council. This made their war veterans, the Catholic-Conservatives (presently the Christian Democratic People’s Party , CVP), the opposition party . Only after Emil Welti’s resignation in 1891 after-referendum has failed one railway nationalization Did the Radicals decided to co-opt the Conservatives by Supporting the election of Josef Zemp .

Emerging coalition government, 1891-1959

The process of involving all major political movements of Switzerland in the responsibility of government continued during the first half of the 20th century. It was hastened by the FDP’s and CVP’s ​​gradually declining voting shares, complemented by the rise of the political spectrum . These Were the Social Democratic Party (SP) on the Left and the Party of Farmers, Traders and Independents (BGB; Presently the People’s Party , SVP) on the Right . In due course, the CVP received its second seat in 1919 with Jean-Marie Musy , while the BGB joined the Council in 1929 with Rudolf Minger. In 1943, during World War II, the Social Democrats were also included with Ernst Nobs .

Grand coalition, 1959-2003
Main article: Magic formula

The 1959 elections, following the resignation of four Councilors, finally established the Zauberformel , the „magical formula“ that determined the Council’s composition during the rest of the 20th century and established the long-standing nature of the Council as a permanent, voluntary grand coalition . [5] In relative relation to the parties‘ respective strength in the Federal Assembly,

  • Free Democratic Party (FDP): 2 members,
  • Christian Democratic People’s Party (CVP): 2 members,
  • Social Democratic Party (SP): 2 members, and
  • Swiss People’s Party (SVP): 1 member.

The FDP and the CVP are very slowly and steadily controlled by the SVP and SP, respectively.

End of the grand coalition, 2008
Main article: Swiss Federal Council election, 2007

The Governing Body was changed after the 2003 elections, when the President Christoph Blocher was appointed to the CVP ’s Ruth Metzler . Due to controversies, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf has a more moderate SVP politician, against party policy. This led to a split of the SVP in 2008. After liberal groups Including regional SVP Federal Councilors Widmer-Schlumpf and Schmid founded a new Conservative Democratic Party , the SVP Was Left in opposition for the first time since 1929, returned goal into the Council with the election ofUeli Maurer on 10 December 2008, who had the resigned seat held by Schmid, who had resigned. The SVP regained its second seat on the Council in 2015 , when Widmer-Schlumpf decided to resign after the SVP’s broad election gains in the 2015 election , being replaced by Guy Parmelin . [6] [7]

Women on the council

Women gained suffrage on the federal level in 1971. They remained unrepresented in the Federal Council for three further legislatures, until the 1984 election of Elisabeth Kopp . In 1983, the failed election of the first official female candidate, Lilian Uchtenhagen and again in 1993 the failed election of Christiane Brunner (both SP / PS), was controversial and the Social Democrats each time considered withdrawing from the Council altogether. [5]

There were two female Councillors serving simultaneously for the first time in 2006, when Simonetta Sommaruga was elected as the fourth woman in government of Moritz Leuenberger , putting men in minority for the first time in history. Also remarkable is the fact that the non-voting member of government, the Chancellor who sets the government agenda, is also a woman.

In total, there have been seven female Councilors in the period 1989 to present:

  • The first woman Councilor, Elisabeth Kopp (FDP / PRD), elected 1984, resigned in 1989.
  • Ruth Dreifuss (SP / PS), served from 1993 to 2002, was the first woman to become President of the Confederation in 1999.
  • Ruth Metzler (CVP / PDC), served from 1999 to 2003 and was re-elected to a 2nd term (see above).
  • Micheline Calmy-Rey (SP / PS), elected in 2003 and Doris Leuthard (CVP / PDC), elected in 2006, were the first two women serving simultaneously. Both were reelected in December 2007 for a four-year term.
  • Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf was elected in December 2007 and served until December 2015.
  • Simonetta Sommaruga was elected in September 2010. Together with Micheline Calmy-Rey, Doris Leuthard and Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, women had the majority in the Federal Council for the first time, until January 2012, when Alain Berset replaced Micheline Calmy-Rey. [8]

Regional balancing acts

Until 1999, the Constitution mandated that no canton could have more than one representative on the Federal Council. Until 1987, the place of origin was determined by the Federal Councilor was from. After 1987, the place of residence (or, for councilors who have been previously members of the Federal Assembly or of a Cantonal legislative or executive body, the canton from which they have been elected) has become the determining factor. [9]However, they have been abandoned in 1999. Since then, the Constitution has had a fair distribution of seats between the cantons and language regions of the country, without setting concrete quotas. Whenever a member resigns, he is also replaced by someone who is not only from the same party, but also the same language region. In 2006, however, Joseph Deiss , at French Swiss, resigned and was succeeded by Doris Leuthard , at German-speaking Swiss, and in 2016, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, German-speaking, was succeeded by Guy Parmelin, at French Swiss.

Historically, at least two Council seats have been held by French- or Italian-speaking Swiss. As of 2016 two members of the Federal Council are from the Canton of Bern; previously, there had never been more than one Federal Councilor for Canton in the Federal Council. From 2003 to 2007, however, two of the members of the Federal Council, Moritz Leuenberger and Christoph Blocher , have resided in the Canton of Zurich . In the 2010 election, the two new Councilors Simonetta Sommaruga and Johann Schneider-Ammann were both from the Canton of Bern . [8]

The language of the Council of the French speakers is one of two speakers, and one Italian speaker. In November 2017, Ignazio Cassis became the first Italian speaker to serve on the Council since 1999.

Operation of the Federal Council


Each year, one of the seven Councilors is elected by the United States Federal Assembly as President of the Confederation . [10] The Federal Assembly also elects a Vice President. By convention, the positions of the President and the Vice President rotate annually, each Councilor thus becoming Vice President and President.

According to the Swiss order of precedence , the President of the Confederation is the highest-ranking Swiss official. He / She presides over Council meetings and carries out certain functions which, in other countries, are the business of a head of state. [11] In urgent situations where a Council decision can not be made in time, it is empowered to act on behalf of the whole Council. Apart from that, though, he is a primus inter pares , having no power above and beyond the other six Councilors. [10]

The President is not the Swiss head of state; this function is carried out by the Council in the corpore , that is, in its entirety. However, it does not have the same effect as the President and is recognized as a leader in the state of the art, while the Council (also by convention) does not leave the country in corpore . More often, although, official tours abroad are conducted by the Councilor who is head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs . Visiting heads of state are received by the Federal Council in corpore .

Council meetings

The Federal Council operates at the Federal Palace in Bern ., [11] the seat of the Swiss federal government .

Apart from the seven Councilors, the following officials also waits for meetings:

  • Federal Chancellor Walter Thurnherr . As the chief of staff and head of the Federal Chancellery , he participates in the debate but has no vote in the Council’s decisions. [11] Nonetheless, his influential position is often referred to as that of an „eighth Federal Councilor“.
  • the Vice-Chancellor : André Simonazzi . Simonazzi is the spokesman of the Federal Council and conducts the weekly press briefing after the meeting.
  • the Vice-Chancellor : Thomas Helbling who is in support of the Federal Council Swiss sector dans le Federal Chancellery.

After the meetings, the Councilors always take lunch together. The Council also meets regularly in conclave to discuss important topics at length, and annually conducts its field trip to the President’s home canton. In that respect, the Council operates a majority of the board of directors of a major corporation.

Decisions and responsibilities

Each Federal Councillor heads a government department, much like the ministers in the governments of other countries. [12] Colloquially and by the press, they are often referred to as ministers, eg the head of the DDPS as „minister of defense“, even though no such post officially exists. However, as Council members, they are not only responsible for their own department, but also for the business of their colleagues‘ departments and for the conduct of the government and the federal administration as a whole.

Decisions to be taken by the Council are always prepared by the responsible department. [11] For example, a change in the employees of the Federal Department of Finance , to which the Federal Office of Personnel belongs. Before a vote is taken at a Council meeting, though, all proposals are circulated in writing to the heads of departments, which commission the senior career officials of their department – the heads of the Federal Offices – to prepare a written response to suggestions. This is called the co-report procedure ( Mitberichtsverfahren / co-reporting procedure), designed to build a wide consensus ahead of a Council meeting. [13]

To be prepared for important decisions, to be added to the public, to which the cantons, the political parties and major interest groups are invited, and in which all members of the public can participate. If a change in a federal statuteis proposed to the Federal Assembly, this step is mandated by law. In such cases, the consultation procedure may also be useful to identify the subject of a dispute .

The decisions themselves are made by majority vote of the Councilors present at a meeting. However, the majority of decisions are arrived at by consensus ; even though there is a trend towards more contentious discussions and close votes. by whom? ]


The meetings of the Federal Council and the results are not open to the public, and the records remain sealed for 50 years. This has been the subject of some criticism. In particular, the parties at the ends of the political spectrumargue that this secret is contrary to the principle of transparency . However, the Council has always maintained that consensus is necessary to reach consensus and to preserve the collegiality and political independence of the individual Councilors.

Despite the secrecy rule, details of the votes and the arguments in Council are sometimes leaked to the press, resulting in (fruitlessly) investigations and criminal prosecutions of the leaking staff member.

Constitutional conventions

Due to the Federal Council’s unique nature as a voluntary grand coalition of political opponents, its operations is subject to various constitutional conventions . Most notable is the principle of collegiality ; that is, the Councillors are not so to criticize one another, even though they are often political opponents. In fact, they are expected to publicly support all decisions of the Council, even against their own personal opinion or that of their political party. [11] In the eye of many observers, this convention has become more strained after the 2003 elections (see below).

Election and composition

The Federal Council is elected by the Federal Assembly (photo of the 2006 election).

Main article: Swiss Federal Council election

Election mode

The members of the Federal Council are elected by the Federal Assembly and the Federal Assembly . Each Councilor is Individually Elected by secret ballot by an absolute majorité of votes. Every adult is elected by the political parties and receives a substantial number of votes. The voting is conducted in several rounds, under a form of exhaustive nerd: in the first two rounds, anyone can enter their name; but in subsequent rounds, the person receiving the fewest votes is removed from the race until one candidate gains an absolute majority.

With Federal Council elections, the Federal Council elections are unexciting, pleasant affairs. Usually, the one which has a seat to the present two candidates with mainstream viewpoints to the United Federal Assembly, which then chooses one. This was not so, however, during the 2003 election, which was the most controversial in recent memory (see also above).

Once elected, Councilors remain members of their political parties. In fact, They Maintain usually has some political distance from the party leadership, Because under the rules of collegiality , They Will Often Publicly-have to Promote a Council decision qui does not match the political conviction of Their party (or of Themselves).


Once elected for a four-year-term, Federal Councilors can not be voted out of office by a motion of no confidence nor can they be impeached . Re-election is possible for an indefinite number of terms, and it has historically been extremely rare for the Council of Europe. This was only happened to Ulrich Ochsenbein in 1854, to Jean-Jacques Challet-Venel in 1872, to Ruth Metzler-Arnold in 2003 and to Christoph Blocher in 2007. [14] In practice, therefore, Councilors serve until they decide to resign and retire to private life, usually after three to five terms of office.

Status of Federal Councilors

Faces in the Crowd: In keeping with the spirit of Swiss direct democracy , the 2008 official photograph of the Federal Council depicted them as everymen .

Councillors‘ lives

Unlike most senior members of government in other countries, the Federal Councilors are not entitled to an official residence (however, the Federal Palace houses living apartments for the Federal Chancellor and President of the Confederation ). Mostly, however, they are entitled to use the Federal Council’s country estate, Lohn , for holidays; This estate is also used by the Swiss Confederation.

While Councillors can draw on an Army security detail, they are in need of protection (in particular during official events), it is more usual to meet them, restaurants and tramways of Bern. [15]Councilors are also entitled to a personal lease ( Weibel ) who accompanies them, in a colorful uniform, to official events. This tradition is directly traceable – through the republican governments of the ancient Swiss cantons – back to the lictors of the ancient Roman Republic .

The spouses of councillors do not play an official part in the business of government.

Councilors‘ salary

Federal councilors receive an annual salary of CHF 445,000 (about EUR 416,000 / USD 451,000), plus another CHF 30,000 annually for expenses. [16] The councillors pay tax on this income. [16]

Former councilors with at least four years of Service Receive a pension equivalent to half the salary of Federal Council members in office. [16] If a councillor leaves office for health reasons, he or she may receive this pension even if his or her length of service was less than three years. [16] Councilors who leave their offices after receiving a partial pension. [16] After leaving office, „to form federal councils, often pursue other lucrative activities,“ but „their earnings, when added to the pension they receive as an ex-federal councillor, may not exceed the salary of a federal councilor in office, otherwise their pension is reduced accordingly. “ [16]

Serving federal councillors „enjoy a certain number of special benefits, from a chauffeur-driven car for official business, a courtesy of each member of the Federal. Council aussi has the right to a first-class SBB GA travelcard (also in retirement). They are aussi Given personal security, qui est Often very discreet. “ [16]


Federal Councilors, like members of parliament, enjoy absolute legal immunity for all statements made in their official capacity. [17]

Prosecution for crimes and misdemeanors that relate to the Council of Ministers of the Federal Assembly. In such cases, Parliament may also suspend the Councilor in office (but not actually remove its or him). [18]

According to the Federal Chancellory Official, [19] in none of the few cases of accusations against a Federal Councilor has the permission to prosecute ever been granted. Such cases usually involved statements offensive by members of the public. However, one unnamed Councillor involved in a traffic accident has previously been reported to have been voluntarily waived his immunity, and Councilor Elizabeth Kopp has decided to resign upon inquiry into allegations of secrecy violations.

Assessment and calls for change

Historically, the collegial government of switzerland has been very much The Federal Council as a whole (ALTHOUGH not individual members) HAS Consistently maintained public approval and confidence rates in excess of sixty percent, Possibly aussi Because under the Swiss system of Direct democracy , voters can wind Their displeasure with government decisions When Deciding individual issues at the ballot box.

However, there is a growing contention that the Federal Council is often too slow to respond to the needs of the moment, too much to change and too weak to lead the powerful federal bureaucracy . Various changes have been proposed to these issues, including expanding the powers of the presidency, expanding the Federal Council itself or adding a second layer of ministerial between the Council and the departments. However, none of these proposals have developed much further.

List of firsts in the Federal Council

The first seven members, elected 1848

  • 1848: The first seven members elected: Ulrich Ochsenbein , Jonas Furrer , Martin J. Munzinger , Henri Druey , Friedrich Frey-Heros , Wilhelm Matthias Naeff and Stefano Franscini .
  • 1854: First (of only four so far) seated Federal Councilors, Ulrich Ochsenbein .
  • 1891: First Counselor of the Christian Democratic People’s Party of Switzerland , Josef Zemp .
  • 1893: First member whose father was a member of the Council: Eugene Ruffy , son of Victor Ruffy . In 2007, the 2nd is elected: Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf , the daughter of Leon Schlumpf .
  • 1911: First (and only) octogenarian in office, Adolf Deucher ( FDP ).
  • 1913: First (and only) native Romansh speaker, Felix Calonder (FDP).
  • 1917: First (and only) Councilor of the Liberal Party elected, Gustave Ador .
  • 1930: First Councilor of the Party of Farmers, Traders and Independents (BGB / PAI; now Swiss People’s Party ), Rudolf Minger .
  • 1943: First Councilor of the Social Democratic Party , Ernst Nobs .
  • 1983: First female candidate for the Council from a government party, Lilian Uchtenhagen ( SP ).
  • 1984: First woman Councilor, Elisabeth Kopp (FDP).
  • 1993: First Counselor of Jewish origin , Ruth Dreifuss (SP).
  • 1995: First Councilor living in a domestic partnership , Moritz Leuenberger (SP) (with architect Loewensberg Gret , whom he later married).
  • 1999: First woman President of the Confederation , Ruth Dreifuss (SP).
  • 2010: First Majority of Women in the Swiss Federal Council with the election of Simonetta Sommaruga (SP).

See also

  • List of members of the Swiss Federal Council (by date of election)
  • Composition of the Swiss Federal Council
  • Category: Members of the Swiss Federal Council (alphabetical list)
  • List of Presidents of the Swiss Confederation
  • Bellevue Palace Hotel

Notes and references

  1. Jump up^ German: Bundesrat , French: Federal Council ,Italian: Federal Council,Romansh: Cussegl federal .
  2. Jump up^ dCst. art. 174
  3. Jump up^ See:Directoratein German , French and Italian in the onlineHistorical Dictionary of Switzerland .
  4. Jump up^ Departments: Development on the Federal Levelin German , Frenchand Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland . Collegial Systemin German , French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland .
  5. ^ Jump up to:b Zauberformel in German , French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland .
  6. Jump up^ Jaberg, Samuel; Stephens, Thomas (October 28, 2015). „Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf to Stand Down“ . Swissinfo . Retrieved January 12, 2016 .
  7. Jump up^ Mombelli, Armando (December 10, 2015). „People’s Party Gains Second Seat in Cabinet“ . Swissinfo . Retrieved January 12, 2016 .
  8. ^ Jump up to:b „Elections Produce female majorité in office“ . Swissinfo.ch . SRG SSR Idée Suisse. 22 September 2010 . Retrieved 22 September 2010 .
  9. Jump up^ SeeFederal Councilin German , French and Italian in the onlineHistorical Dictionary of Switzerland .
  10. ^ Jump up to:b Information services of the Federal Chancellery (2008). The Swiss Confederation brief guide 2008 . p. 42.
  11. ^ Jump up to:e Information services of the Federal Chancellery (2008). The Swiss Confederation brief guide 2008 . p. 43.
  12. Jump up^ Information services of the Federal Chancellery (2008). The Swiss Confederation brief guide 2008 . pp. 44-45.
  13. Jump up^ Information services of the Federal Chancellery (2008). The Swiss Confederation brief guide 2008 . p. 46.
  14. Jump up^ Information services of the Federal Chancellery (2008). The Swiss Confederation brief guide 2008 . p. 13.
  15. Jump up^ Information services of the Federal Chancellery (2008). The Swiss Confederation brief guide 2008 . p. 41.
  16. ^ Jump up to:g Federal councilors‘ salaries and benefits .
  17. Jump up^ Art. 2of the Federal Law on the Responsibility of the Confederation and its Members of Authorities and Functionaries
  18. Jump up^ Art. 14of the Federal Law on the Responsibility of the Confederation and its Members of Authorities and Functionaries
  19. Jump up^ Jürg Sohm (30 May 2006). „Bisher stets immun: Wegen Albisgüetli-Rede steht die Immunität von Christoph Blocher erneut zur Debatte“ (in German). Der Bund .