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Das politische System der Schweiz.



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SwiSS Political SyStem
Switzerland is a small country in Western
Europe with 7.8 million inhabitants. With
its 41,285 square kilometres, Switzerland
accounts for only 0.15 % of the world’s total
surface area. It borders Germany in the
north, Austria and Liechtenstein in the east,
Italy in the south and France in the west.
The population is diverse by language as
well as by religious affiliation. Its historical
roots date back to 1291, whereas the
modern nation state was founded in 1848.
Switzerland’s population is 1.5 % of Europe;
however, the country is economically com-
paratively strong.
Switzerland is a federation; the territory is divided
into 26 cantons. The cantons themselves are
the aggregate of 2,600 municipalities (cities and
The political system is strongly influenced by
direct participation of the people. In addition to
the participation in elections, referenda and ini-
tiatives are the key elements of Switzerland’s
well-established tradition of direct democracy.
The consensus type democracy is a third char-
acteristic of Swiss political system. The institu-
tions are designed to represent cultural diver-
sity and to include all major political parties in a
grand-coalition government. This leads to a non-
concentration of power in any one hand but the
diffusion of power among many actors.
After the elaboration of these three important
elements of the Swiss political system, a com-
parative perspective shall exemplify the main
differences of the system vis-à-vis other western
Switzerland is a federal state with three
political levels: the federal govern-
ment, the 26 cantons and around 2,600
An important element of the Swiss federal
system is the non-centralised division of
At the same time, the Swiss federal system
is characterised by several forms of vertical
and horizontal co-operation between the
different levels.
The traditionally strong position of the
cantons is also mirrored in the institutional
provisions how they can influence the deci-
sion making at the federal level, among
which the most typical is the second cham-
ber of parliament.
Within the constitutional framework of the
cantons, also the municipalities retain a strong
position in the federal system, based on the
bottom-up development of the federation.
The decentralised division of powers is
also mirrored in the fiscal federal structure
giving the cantonal and municipal level own
tax bases.
An important reason for a federalist nation
building in the 19th century lies in the fact
that the Swiss society is composed of differ-
ent religious and linguistic groups. Federal-
ism promised to combine national unity with
multicultural diversity.
Because of globalisation and internation-
alisation, the Swiss federal system faces
several problems and reform needs, which
are however difficult to achieve.
Because of the historical development of the fed-
eration, the cantons retained important powers
of their own and a non-centralised distribution of
responsibilities is in place. All new powers are
vested with the cantons and when the division of
powers is changed, cantons enjoy a kind of veto
power. This distribution and the attempt to solve
issues at the lowest possible level – known as
the subsidiarity principle – are the cornerstones
of Swiss federalism.
Distribution of powers and responsibilities
Municipalities have exclusive powers in local ser-
vice delivery (building and surveillance of local
roads, gas, electricity and water supply, removal
services, election of teachers and building of
schools). Cantons especially retained powers
that are important for their identity (culture,
education, languages, religion) but also issues
related to social policy (health and social ser-
vices). In policy areas that either directly concern
national sovereignty (army, monetary policy, or
external relations) or require special co-ordi-
nation (social security, environment, energy, or
infrastructure), the federal level has exclusive
powers or can promulgate framework legisla-
tion. All three levels, the federal, the cantonal
and the municipal level, have the right to raise
taxes and thus have a certain level of financial
Change in distribution of powers
In Switzerland, as in other federal states,
centralisation or decentralisation of responsi-
bilities is a constant political issue that prompts
ideological, social and economic conflict. By
constitutional rule, the Swiss government can
assume new responsibilities only if the double
majority of the people and the cantons agree
in a popular vote. This has two consequences.
Firstly, it is the cantons who are responsible for
any new tasks in the first place. Secondly, the
constitutional rule protects the autonomy of the
cantons. In the past, many projects for a new
responsibility of the Federal Government failed
in the first run of a popular vote, and one of the
strongest arguments was opposition against
centralisation. In these cases, the bill passed in
a second vote if central government presented a
modified, less centralising project.
Subsidiarity principle
The Swiss federal system exhibits a marked
preference for extensive cantonal and local
autonomy that is based on the idea of subsidiar-
ity. The idea of subsidiarity proposes that a cen-
tral authority should perform only those tasks
which cannot be performed effectively at a more
immediate or local level. In Switzerland, this idea
had a long tradition, already before subsidiarity
has become a constitutional guideline in 2000.
In fact, surveys show that Swiss citizens expect
less responsibilities to be taken by the state than
do citizens from neighbouring countries, and that
they prefer decentralised solutions whenever
possible. The strong autonomy of the cantons
and their communes therefore still corresponds
to the preferences of Swiss citizens today.
Swiss citizenship
Based on the Swiss Constitution
Based on cantonal constitutions
Depending on cantonal
Organisation of federal
Foreign affairs
Army and civil protection
National streets (highways)
Nuclear energy
Postal services and
Monetary policy
Social security
(pensions, invalids)
Civil law, criminal law
Civil and criminal procedure
Education (technical universities)
Energy policy
Principles for zoning
Protection of the environment
Federal taxes
Organisation of cantonal
authorities (own constitution,
own anthem, own flag)
Cross-border cooperation
Relations between religion and
Public health
Cantonal streets
Forests, water, natural resources
Education (secondary schools
and universities)
Protection of the environment
Protection of nature and heritage
Cantonal taxes
Education (kindergarten and
primary schools)
Waste management
Municipal streets
Local infrastructure
Local police
Municipal taxes
Cantons and capitals with date of entry in the Swiss Confederation
During the first years of the modern federa-
tion, a clear distinction and division of powers
between the federal level, the cantons and the
municipalities was in place. This clear division
of responsibilities, however, has subsequently
been overruled by the mechanisms of inten-
sive co-operation between the three levels of
the federal system. The complexities of mod-
ern infrastructure, economic intervention and
social programmes stimulated the completion
of federal legislation by the cantons, the imple-
mentation of federal programmes by cantonal
and local authorities, and extensive finance and
revenue sharing. Thus, a net of vertical and
horizontal co-operation between and among the
three levels has been established.
Most federal policies are implemented by the
cantons and the communes. Thus, the cantons
do not only have their own powers and respon-
sibilities, but they have also the possibility to
influence the implementation of federal policies.
No parallel federal administration with its own
agencies or courts has been established. This
form of co-operation between the federation and
the cantons is controversial. In the past, fed-
eral legislation was of a rather general nature,
leaving considerable discretion for cantonal
implementation. Today, when uniform imple-
mentation is required, federal legislation is more
detailed, and cantonal actors have to report to
federal authorities on its implementation. There-
fore, cantons typically take the view that their
autonomy is endangered if federal legislation
is too detailed, giving them no leeway in imple-
mentation and therefore leading to informal
centralisation. Cantons consider the right to be
different as a central element of federalism.
Swiss asylum policy
Vertical co-operation
Besides the vertical co-operation between the
federal and the cantonal level through imple-
mentation of federal laws through the cantons,
there are further forms of vertical co-operation.
As a consequence of internationalisation and
globalisation, foreign relations have become
an important example of vertical co-operation
between the cantons and the federal authori-
ties. Lately, new forms of co-operation have
been introduced, comprising all three levels
of government: the Tripartite Agglomerations
Conference is a political platform of the federa-
tion, the cantons and the cities. It is designed
to prepare political solutions to the problems of
cities, especially big agglomerations like Zurich
and Geneva, which are outreaching cantonal or
even national borders.
Horizontal co-operation
The cantons have the right and are encour-
aged to co-operate amongst each other. Today,
there are more than 700 intercantonal treaties
in different policy fields; however, most of these
are concluded between two cantons only. They
concern mainly finances and taxes, education,
police, infrastructure and health. For these spe-
cific policy areas, different conferences of min-
isters of the cantons (e.g. education, police,
health, finances) have been established already
a long time ago. A younger institution of horizon-
tal co-operation is the Conference of the Govern-
ments of the Cantons, a conference of all execu-
tives of the cantons. Its aim is amongst others
to develop common cantonal positions vis-à-vis
the federal authorities, especially in questions of
foreign policy. As the conference cannot issue
binding guidelines but only recommendations, it
relies on consensus among the cantons.
Besides the non-centralised distribution of pow-
ers, the cantonal participation in the decision-
making process at the federal level is another
important characteristic of Swiss federalism.
The most important formal institutions for this
are the second chamber of parliament, the dou-
ble majority of cantons in a popular vote and the
possibility for cantons to use the instruments of
cantonal initiative and referendum. Moreover,
the informal process of pre-parliamentary con-
sultation has become an important instrument of
influence. Through this process, cantons have
a strong voice in the decision-making process
when a new law is designed.
Second chamber of parliament
Cantons are represented in the second cham-
ber, the Council of States. Following the federal
principle of equal representation of all cantons,
it is composed of one member from the cantons
Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft, Obwalden
and Nidwalden, Appenzell Innerrhoden and
Appenzell Ausserrhoden and two members from
each of the other 20 cantons so that there is a
total of 46 members. The members of the Coun-
cil of States are not bound to any mandate by the
canton. The cantons themselves determine the
modes of election of their representatives. The
composition of the second chamber leads to a
strong overrepresentation of the small cantons:
the fourteen smallest cantons represent less
than 20 % of the people but can, with 23 votes,
block every decision in the Council of States.
Double majority of cantons in popular vote
In addition to the second chamber, the Swiss
cantons have further possibilities to influence
decision making at the central level. For every
constitutional amendment (mandatory refer-
endum or popular initiative) the approval of a
majority of the people but also of a majority of
the cantons is required. For the majority of the
cantons, Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft,
Obwalden and Nidwalden, Appenzell Innerrho-
den and Appenzell Ausserrhoden count half a
vote while the remaining 20 cantons count one
vote. Thus, for the majority of the cantons 12 of
23 cantonal votes are required.
Instruments of direct democracy
Every canton is entitled to hand in proposals for
a federal bill. This is called the right of cantonal
initiative. The proposal has to be approved by
the Federal Assembly, and if it is rejected by one
of the chambers it fails. In addition a collective of
eight cantons has the right to demand a popular
vote on every bill passed by the Federal Assem-
bly. This provision was used for the first time in
2003 when cantonal governments were strongly
opposed to a new federal tax bill.
First cantonal referendum 2003
Pre-parliamentary consultation process
Cantons can influence decision making during
the pre-parliamentary consultation process. It is
the most usual way of cantonal influence rather
than in later decisions of parliament or popu-
lar vote. However, the cantons are not the only
actors that are given a voice in the consultation;
the associations and the political parties take
part, too. Often, the cantons retain the most
influence when they are responsible for the
implementation of a law.
Members of the National Council
by Cantons
Members of the Council of States
by Cantons
Swiss municipalities, about 2,600 in number,
differ strongly in geographical dimension and
population size. Not only the cantonal but also
the municipal level is constitutionally protected.
Communes have the right to choose their local
political organisation within the boundaries of
the cantonal legislation and they have the right
to impose municipal taxes and decide on the tax
rates. Municipalities are closest to the people
and often develop solutions that are tailor-made
for local problems.
Constitutional guarantees
Within the limits of cantonal organisation, the
municipalities have a constitutional right to exist,
including the freedom to merge with other munic-
ipalities or to remain independent, which cannot
be withdrawn by the cantons. This means that
the reform of local government “from above”, as
can be observed in other federations when small
municipalities are for example forced to merge,
would be rather impossible in Switzerland.
Indeed the number of communes (about 3,000
until the early 1990s) had barely decreased
for decades. Since then, about 400 municipali-
ties have merged into larger units, which is not
astonishing because more than half of the Swiss
municipalities count approximately 500 inhabit-
ants. The following figure shows the geographi-
cal borders of the municipalities in Switzerland.
Political organisation
The municipalities have the freedom to choose,
within the boundaries of cantonal legislation, an
adequate political structure and administration.
There are cantons with numerous small munici-
palities and others with fewer but larger ones,
and the degree of autonomy of the municipalities
varies from canton to canton. In small municipal-
ities, local government consists of a few elected
part-time officials who are poorly remunerated.
The larger cities have a parliamentary coun-
cil and a full-time political executive heading
professional services. This leads to somewhat
strange proportions: the 20,000 local govern-
ment officials in Zurich, the country’s largest city
with about 385,000 inhabitants, outnumber the
total population of the smallest canton, Appen-
zell Innerrhoden, which has 15,500 inhabitants.
Local taxes
The municipalities have the right to impose taxes
and to decide the rates by themselves. This is
certainly the most important element in assuring
the autonomy of local government. Fiscal auton-
omy not only allows municipalities to decide on
local infrastructure, services, land-use planning
or other public utilities according to their own
preferences. It also establishes responsibility on
both sides of local government: authorities are
held responsible for using their resources accord-
ing to the people’s needs, and citizens have to
contribute with their taxes to the services they
demand. Thus, decentralised governance brings
the state closer to the people. With more than
30 % in the long-year average, the proportion of
the municipalities of total revenue and expendi-
ture of the three federal levels is considerable.
Drug policy in Swiss cities
Municipalities and Cantons of Switzerland 2009
Each level of government in Switzerland is attrib-
uted with several revenue sources, even though
the cantons collect some taxes for the federal
level. Based on the autonomy of the cantons,
they have also the possibility to determine their
tax rates freely, which leads to tax competition.
However, possible negative effects of this com-
petition are mostly cushioned by several instru-
ments of a financial compensation. Overall, even
though the aim of the fiscal federal system is not
to promote equality of living conditions it is still
based on regional solidarity.
Each level has its own financial resources
All three government levels, the federation,
the cantons and the municipalities, raise direct
taxes (taxes on income as well as profit of enter-
prises). Income is taxed by all three levels, the
federation, the cantons and the municipalities.
The right of the federal level to raise direct taxes,
however, is based on only a temporary arrange-
ment which has to be periodically renewed by the
Federal Parliament. Other tax bases are exclu-
sively attributed to one state level. The value
added tax, certain consumption taxes as well as
the stamp and withholding tax are attributed to
the federal level. The cantons have the exclusive
right to raise taxes on the capital of enterprises
as well as other types of taxes within the limits of
the Swiss Constitution, e.g. inheritance taxes. At
the municipal level, besides direct taxation user
fees on public services (e.g. water, sewage and
purification plants or garbage collection) are the
main sources of revenues.
Collection of revenues
Cantons collect cantonal taxes, and as a service
to the centre, federal direct taxes as well as the
federal withholding and stamp tax. All other –
indirect – federal taxes are collected by the fed-
eral level itself. Municipalities sometimes collect
taxes for the cantons besides their own taxes;
however, in a majority of cantons the canton
collects the municipal taxes for the municipality.
As a rule, each level of state receives the taxes
it raised. Taxing is based on self-declaration of
the citizens and not subtracted directly from the
salary as in other European countries.
Tax competition
The cantons can determine their tax rates freely.
This results in different tax loads in the cantons
for the same revenue (see following graph), but
also in tax competition among cantons. This
competition could lead to a so-called “race to
the bottom”, in which all cantons will find it more
and more difficult to generate sufficient revenue.
However, several mechanisms have a moderat-
ing effect on tax competition, mainly the system
of financial compensation.
Impact of fiscal federal system
System of financial compensation
The Swiss cantons vary with regards to their
size and topography, but also with regards to
their number of inhabitants and the sociode-
mographic structure. To mitigate the resulting
effects of lower capacities and of higher service
costs of certain cantons, Switzerland introduced
a system of fiscal equalisation. Both the federal
as well as the cantonal level contribute to this
equalisation. The aim is not the equality of living
conditions but to compensate for differences
of resources between the “rich” and the “poor”
cantons. Besides these equalisation measures
among all cantons, cantonal tasks which have
spillover effects must be performed in contrac-
tual co-operation so that cantons that profit from
services provided by another canton have to
pay compensation to the service provider. Fur-
thermore, some cantons are compensated for
delivering services in the national interest.
Financial equalisation between the State
and the Cantons (in mio. CHF, 2008)
Non-promotion of equal living conditions
but regional solidarity
Swiss federalism does not promote equality of
living conditions among the cantons. The price
of diversity and autonomy is a certain degree of
socio-economic inequality between cantons and
communes which has to be accepted. Equality of
living conditions would mean centralised policies
and regulations, which would not be accepted
by the majority of the Swiss. Even so, federal
policies are characterised by the objective of
regional solidarity. Thus, the federation guaran-
tees minimum standards in public services, for
example in primary schooling, or provides public
transports not only between big cities but also
up to remote mountain regions.
Tax load in percentage of revenue,
income in thousand francs
Distribution of profit from Swiss National
Bank to the cantons
The Swiss National Bank conducts the coun-
try’s monetary policy as an independent central
bank. Its primary goal is to ensure price stability,
while taking due account of economic develop-
ments. In the distribution of profit, not only the
federal level but also the cantons are included.
One-third of the net profit is accrued to the fed-
eral government, two-thirds go to the cantons.
The cantons receive their shares depending on
the number of their inhabitants.
Switzerland is composed of cantons of different
languages and religions. Federalism is appropri-
ate for these conditions, because it ensures cul-
tural diversity of the cantons within the national
unity. Federalism helped to mitigate conflicts
between Protestants and Catholics and to pre-
vent divisions between the language groups.
Still, federalism was not always successful in
integrating cultural and linguistic minorities. The
canton of Jura is an example where integration
failed. The Jura region seceded from the canton
of Bern.
Dealing with the separatist issue
Multicultural society
64 % of the Swiss population speak German,
20 % French, 6.5 % Italian, 0.5 % Romansh and,
due to immigration, 9 % speak another language
as their mother tongue (data of 2000 census).
Linguistic groups are territorially concentrated.
There are cantons with German-, French-
respectively Italian-speaking populations. Most
cantons are monolingual. Only three of the 26
cantons (Valais, Bern and Fribourg) are bilingual
and the canton of Graubünden is trilingual. The
Romansh-speaking community is the only one
that does not form a majority in any canton. The
two predominant religion groups are the Catho-
lics (44 %) and the Protestants (37 %). Today,
they are distributed more evenly than in the 19th
century, when there were cantons of clear Cath-
olic or Protestant majorities. However, even in
cantons with religious and linguistic diversity
most communes are relatively homogeneous.
Multicultural state
The Swiss nation does not consist of the eth-
nic or cultural unity of its people. Switzerland,
from the very beginning, considered itself as a
multicultural state, recognising different lan-
guages and religious beliefs as equal. Thus, the
constitution of 1848 stated that Switzerland con-
sists of 25 cantons and their peoples. The iden-
tity of Switzerland does not consist in the afl-
iation of its people to the same ethnic group,
religious belief or culture but relies on the iden-
tical citizenship within the same constitutional
democracy. The political institutions helped to
develop a common Swiss society which in 1848
did not exist yet.
Federalism and the overcoming of
cultural cleavages
In the first decades of the Swiss federation, Prot-
estants and Catholics were deeply divided on the
question of the separation of the state and the
church. Linguistic divisions also showed up, for
instance at the beginning of World War I, when
French speakers were on the side of France,
German speakers on the side of the Germans.
Overcoming these cultural cleavages was vital
for Switzerland.
Despite federalism, countries like Belgium or
Canada have serious conflict between their
linguistic groups. Obviously, the integration of
cultural minorities is difficult. The success of
integration in the case of Switzerland had sev-
eral reasons:
Federalism granted high autonomy to the
cantons, which allowed linguistic and religious
minorities to foster their cultural particularities.
Linguistic and religious minorities were given
proportional representation in the Federal Coun-
cil and other federal authorities, which was
beneficial for their political integration.
Most political parties did not evolve as regional
but as national parties. In elections, national
parties need votes from all over the country;
therefore, they were not interested in blowing up
Language distribution in Switzerland
linguistic conflicts. This served national unity.
The constitution of 1848 united cantons of dif-
ferent language and religion. However, linguis-
tic and religious cleavages did not coincide.
Amongst the French-speaking cantons, we find
some with a Catholic majority, while others are
predominantly Protestant. This is an important
feature. It led to changing majorities in parlia-
ment and popular votes: the minority of French
speakers, when voting with the Protestant major-
ity, had a chance to belong to the winners, and
the same was true for Catholics voting with the
German speakers. Consequently, linguistic and
religious conflict could not escalate to one single
and dominant cleavage.
The strong religious cleavage of the 19th century
cooled down when the conservative Catholic
party accepted the separation of church and the
state as requested by the radical majority. The
constitution defines German, French, Italian and
Romansh as the four official languages of the
country. Freedom of language gives the cantons
the right to define their own official languages.
Under these conditions, linguistic conflicts did
not escalate. Even though, we find popular votes
with different behaviour of French- and German-
speaking cantons. A prominent example is the
vote on the European Economic Area in 1992.
The popular vote on the membership of
the European Economic Area (EEA)
Federal Resolution on the EEA-joining 1992
In contrast to the German-speaking part of the
country, French cantons are more inclined to
support European integration, individual liber-
ties or welfare politics but are more critical in
questions of the army. Yet these differences are
less important than the rising social cleavages
between capital and workforce or between rural
and urban populations.
Besides all the positive attributes of Swiss fed-
eralism, it is also faced with several challenges.
Firstly, in a globalised world, the borders of the
relatively small federal entities in Switzerland
are challenged. Secondly, the overrepresen-
tation of the smaller, more rural cantons leads
to a strong imbalance of the political weight of
a person’s vote. Thirdly, the question arises
whether the many small cantons of Switzer-
land can survive in the long run. Fourthly, strong
immigration of the last decades has led to new
problems of multicultural integration. Federalism
cannot offer solutions to these social problems.
Swiss federalism in a globalised world
Switzerland is one of the most decentralised
and federalised countries in the world. How-
ever, the autonomy of the cantons as well as of
the municipalities is challenged in an economy
which becomes more and more globalised. In
globalised politics, the federal government con-
cludes international treaties which may fall into
the responsibility of the cantons. The question
is how to involve the latter in the decision-mak-
ing process. Taking the example of the Euro-
pean Union, the cantons have taken their own
initiatives. They have their own representative
in the Swiss mission to the European Union
in Brussels. Furthermore, cantonal delegates
in several federal departments are concerned
with EU policies. Finally, the Conference of
the Cantonal Governments is channelling the
opinion-making process among the 26 cantons
so that they are able to speak “with one voice”
when they enter a negotiation with the federal
level. Internationalisation and Europeanisation
of politics, however, lead to undeniable loss of
political autonomy of the federation, the can-
tons and the communes as well.
How the vote of an Uri citizen outweighs
35 votes of a Zurich citizen
Democracy insists on the equal representa-
tion of every individual, that is, one person one
vote. Federalism guarantees equal representa-
tion to the member states of a federation, that is,
one canton one vote. If the two modes of deci-
sion-making are used to decide the same ques-
tion, they can lead to different results. This can
happen not only in the two chambers of parlia-
ment but also in popular votes: a constitutional
amendment can get the majority of the people
but is rejected by the cantons or the reverse.
The federalist veto then plays an important role:
in theory, the smallest 13 cantons, with only
11 % of the voters, can form a stalemate of 11.5
cantonal votes. This means that the “federalist
veto”, representing only 11 of the voters, can
block any constitutional amendment against the
wishes of an 89 % democratic majority. This fed-
eralist overruling, however, is rare. There have
been eight cases only in the past 20 years, and
the federalist veto represented between 20 and
25 % of the voters. Even so, in every constitu-
tional vote, one citizen from Uri may outweigh
35 citizens from Zurich. The Zurich citizen may
say this is unfair while the Uri citizen will sug-
gest that in all countries, correcting democratic
majorities is downright the idea of federalism.
Are the federal boundaries still viable?
Most economic, social or environmental prob-
lems transgress the borders of Swiss cantons
and their communes. Thus, there is a need
for more cooperation in larger regions among
municipalities and cantons, and also for co-
operation with neighbouring countries in cross-
border activities. During the last decades, differ-
ent forms of vertical and horizontal co-operation
have developed. Many of them are performing
well. Their success is flawed, however, by the
fact that they lack transparency, direct partici-
pation of the people or even adequate political
control by parliament.
Territorial reform
Some experts criticise that the 26 Swiss can-
tons are too small and too many in number to
successfully cope with most future problems.
They propose a profound territorial reform: for
instance merging the existing units into six larger
cantons, each of them comprising a population
of about one million inhabitants. Experts think
that such a reform could make federalism more
effective. Such propositions, however, would
hardly be accepted by the people. In a popular
vote in 2002, both the peoples of Geneva and
Vaud rejected the ideal of merging their can-
tons. This is a proof for the findings of many sur-
veys: a great majority of the Swiss citizens are
strongly attached to their canton. Time for ter-
ritorial reform of the cantons has not come yet.
Authorities, therefore, are confined to further
strengthening interstate co-operation. This situ-
ation differs from the one of the communes: the
merging of municipalities has become frequent
over the past decade.
Territorial reforms on municipal but not
on cantonal level
New problems of social integration
Due to permanent immigration from many coun-
tries over the past 50 years, more than 20 % of
the resident population of Switzerland is of for-
eign origin. Today, more than 500,000 people
speak a foreign mother tongue, and the religious
communities of Muslims count about 400,000
people. This leads to new and severe problems
of cultural integration. Can the new minorities
profit from federalism, as did Swiss minorities
in the past? For two reasons, the answer is no.
Firstly, only a small part of immigrants acquires
Swiss citizenship, which is a prerequisite for
political participation. Secondly, federalism can
protect minorities only under certain conditions:
a minority must be locally concentrated in a
sub-national unit, where it constitutes a politi-
cal majority, as for instance the 6 % minority of
Italian speakers in Switzerland, who constitute
a more than 90 % majority in the canton Tessin.
This is not the case of immigrants. To the con-
trary, they are geographically dispersed over the
whole country. These are the limits of federalism
regarding minority protection. Social integration
of immigrants must therefore be sought by other
ways and means.
Elections in Switzerland take place at
all federal levels. The most important are
the ones to the Federal Assembly, the
National Council and the Council of States
as well as the popular votes of the cantonal
Besides representative democracy, Swit-
zerland has developed a system in which
popular initiatives and referendums give
citizens the opportunity to participate
regularly in the political decisions of their
In Switzerland, popular votes are impor-
tant and take place frequently. The voting
campaigns give insights in the willingness
and the competency of the voters to par-
ticipate in politics. Direct democracy and
representative democracy are not contra-
dictory but complement each other.
Direct democracy is one of the most valu-
able parts of Swiss political culture and has
made its proof for more than 150 years. For
the future, there are still some challenges:
can direct democracy survive and cope with
the globalisation of politics?
The Federal Assembly is the highest political
authority in Switzerland. It is composed of the
National Council, representing the people, and
the Council of States, representing the cantons.
In contrast to the federal level, the executives of
the cantons and the municipalities are elected
by the people. At the cantonal level, there are
only unicameral parliaments, and 80 % of all
municipalities don’t have a parliament, as a citi-
zen’s assembly is the highest authority.
The Federal Assembly
Legislative power in Switzerland is exercised by
parliament, the so-called Federal Assembly. It
is a bicameral parliamentary body representing
the people (National Council) and the cantons
(Council of States). Both chambers have equal
powers. The Federal Assembly exercises the
supreme authority of the federation, having the
legislative power to make all federal laws, and
appointing the members of the Federal Council
and the Federal Court, the military commander-
in-chief (in times of war) and other major fed-
eral bodies. It supervises all authorities of the
Swiss federal government, and approves the
annual budget prepared by the Federal Council.
The parliament meets four times a year for three
weeks. If required, special sessions are called.
Part-time members of parliament
While in most countries the mandate of a
parliamentarian is a full-time job, in Switzerland,
most parliamentarians still have a profession
aside being a parliamentarian. Therefore, the
Federal Assembly is characterised as a semi-
professional parliament. Members of parlia-
ment devote an average of 60 % of their work-
ing hours to their parliamentary duties (sessions,
preparation, commission or parliamentary group
meetings). Because of the high workload, there
are regular calls for a full-time organisation of
parliament. However, a semi-professional sys-
tem allows parliamentarians to feel closer to
their constituency and to bring their professional
experience into parliamentary work. Also at the
cantonal and the municipal level most politicians
work on a part-time basis.
National Council
The National Council represents the people.
The elections of its 200 members are held in 26
electoral districts, since every canton forms a
separate electoral district. Each canton is enti-
tled seats proportional to its population. The
canton Zurich, which has the biggest population,
is represented with 34 seats, Bern has 26 and
small cantons like Appenzell Innerrhoden or Uri
have just one seat. In the most populous canton
of Zurich, a political party can gain a seat in the
National Council with less than 3 % of the can-
tonal votes, while in small cantons like Schaff-
hausen or Jura with two seats 33 % of the votes
at least are needed to have a seat for sure.
Voting procedure
The electoral system is an open list proportional
system and each canton is an electoral district.
Voters have different possibilities how to choose
candidates. They can freely write the name of
their preferred candidates on a blank list or use
a preprinted list of candidates provided by a
party. If they choose the second option, there
are three different possibilities how to amend
the list: firstly, candidates can be struck off the
list; secondly, candidates can be replaced by a
candidate from another list/party and thirdly, a
candidate can be put on a list twice to enhance
his or her election prospect.
Council of States
The Council of States consists of 46 members.
Every canton is represented by two members,
with the exception of Basel-Stadt and Basel-
Land, Obwalden and Nidwalden, Appenzell
Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden all
represented by one seat. The election to the
Council of States is a cantonal matter. All can-
tons introduced direct elections and all, except
for the canton of Jura, apply the majoritarian sys-
tem. As a rule, in a first round, each of the two
candidates per canton must receive an absolute
majority of votes; in the second round, a rela-
Parliament Building in Bern
National Council
tive majority is sufficient. The canton of Geneva
forms an exception: in the first round, a relative
majority of more than a third of the votes suffices.
Cantonal elections
In contrast to the federal level (where the
government is elected by parliament), in the
cantons, the government is elected directly by
the people (see table). In most cantons, the
election of these governments is based on the
majoritarian system, although the cantons of
Zug and Ticino elect their government members
according to the proportional system. Another
distinction to the federal level is that in the can-
tons, there is only one chamber of parliament.
Similar to the National Council, a majority of can-
tons elect their representatives to the cantonal
parliament based on the proportional system.
Municipal elections
In the municipalities, the executives are also
elected by the people. Only about 20 % of all
municipalities, especially the cities, have an
Municipality in the canton of Glarus
Executive power Legislative power Judicial power
Federation Federal Council Federal Assembly Federal Supreme
Seven federal coun-
cillors elected by
the Federal Assem-
bly. The federal
councillors are
the heads of the
seven government
National Council:
200 national coun-
cillors elected by
the people directly
using proportional
rule. The number of
cantonal represen-
tatives depends on
population size
Council of States:
46 state council-
lors, two for each
canton. Popular
election according
cantonal rules
3548 full-time and
additional substitute
supreme judges
elected by the Fed-
eral Assembly
Cantons Cantonal Council Cantonal Parliament Cantonal Court
Election by the
people every four to
five years. The
cantonal Council
consists of five to
seven members
Election by the people using proportional
Election by the
Cantonal Council or
Cantonal Parliament
Municipalities Municipal Council Municipal Assembly District Court
Election by the
In small municipalities usually formed
of all citizens, in larger municipalities
parliaments elected by the people
Election by the
people of a num-
ber of municipalities
forming a district,
or appointed by
cantonal authorities
elected parliament. In the other municipalities,
the citizen’s assembly is the highest political
authority, so aside the Municipal Council, no
elections take place. With regards to the Munici-
pal Council, both majoritarian and proportional
electoral processes are in place. Even though
most municipalities elect their Municipal Coun-
cil in a majoritarian process, 30 % of all Swiss
municipalities opted for an election of the execu-
tive in a proportional system. Especially bigger
municipalities tend to opt for the second option,
to have a better representation of the smaller
political parties.
Direct democracy is one of the most important
features of the Swiss political system. It allows
the people to have the last word on important
decisions of parliament or to formulate propo-
sitions of law. Since the building of the modern
nation state, at the municipal, the cantonal as
well as at the federal level, different instruments
of direct democracy have been introduced. The
most frequent instrument at the national level is
the mandatory referendum, meaning that every
constitutional change requires a popular vote.
The other two instruments that citizens can initi-
ate themselves are the optional legislative refer-
endum and the popular initiative.
Fundamentally, direct democracy is a perma-
nent control of political elites and gives impor-
tant political decisions higher acceptance and
As an indirect effect we note that direct democ-
racy helped to transform the political system
from a majoritarian democracy to a democracy
towards compromise and consensus.
Relevance of direct democracy
Direct democracy allows people to have the last
say on important parliamentary decisions or to
propose new projects of law. Direct participation
has not replaced the parliamentary process but
is an important corrective of parliamentary deci-
sions and a permanent control of the political
elites. By means of the referendum and the pop-
ular initiative, the people participate on all federal
levels. The decisions subject to a popular vote
are defined by the constitution, and the people’s
decisions are binding. Direct democracy, by its
nature, is an instrument of the opposition, cuts
back the political elites to modest policy innova-
tion and incremental change. Moreover, direct
democracy has profoundly transformed the
Swiss system from a winner-take-all democracy
into a system where decisions by mutual accom-
modation and compromise have most chances
to be accepted by the people.
Relevance of representative democracy
Even though referendums and popular initia-
tives constitute an important element of Swiss
democracy, they have neither produced revolu-
tions nor resulted in “people’s legislation”. The
crucial players in the political decision-making
process in Switzerland are still parliament and
the government. By far the greatest number of
simple decisions of parliament and the Federal
Council, those with a more limited scope, are not
subject to referendum. In this regard, the Swiss
system functions like any other parliamentary
Historical development
Forms of the referendum and the popular initia-
tive were used in the cantons as early as the
1830s. In 1848, when the modern nation state
of Switzerland was founded, the constitution
included only the mandatory referendum for con-
stitutional amendments. It was complemented
by the optional referendum for parliamentary
law in 1874, and by the popular initiative in 1891.
The referendum on international treaties was
introduced in 1921 and extended in 1977 and
2003. Besides these instruments, several other
kinds of referendums and initiatives have been
introduced (see table). At the municipal and
cantonal levels, a variety of further instruments
have been developed, such as the referendum
in financial matters, road planning or important
infrastructure projects.
The mandatory or constitutional referendum
Any constitutional amendment proposed by par-
liament has to be approved by a majority of the
people and the cantons. It means that the pro-
Type, year of introduction and of
eventual revisions
for application
Constitutional referendum
(1848), membership to
supranational organisations
(1921, 1977)
In cases of revision of the constitution, in cases of
amendments and, since 1977, in decisions con-
cerning membership to supranational organisa-
tions. All mandatory referenda must win a double
majority- more than 50 % of the votes nationwide
and a majority of votes in a majority of cantons.
Legislative referendum (1874),
referendum on international
treaties (1921, 1977, 2003)
Optional: 50,000
signatures or
proposition of 8
Any law of the Federal Assembly and any impor-
tant international treaty may be challenged. If a
popular majority votes no, the law is nullified.
Abrogative Referendum I (1949) Optional:
“Urgent” laws become immediately valid but may
be challenged by way of an optional referendum
during the first year after enactment.
Abrogatives Referendum II
“Urgent” laws without constitutional base become
immediately valid but have to be submitted to
a mandatory vote within one year. They are
abrogated if the law is not accepted by the double
majority of the people and the cantons.
Popular initiative for
constitutional amendments
Citizens’ proposal for a constitutional amendment.
Government and parliament propose to reject or
endorse the popular initiative. It is accepted if it
gets the majority of the people and the cantons.
Popular initiative for the total
revision of the constitution
The proposal is submitted first to the people. If a
popular majority agree, parliament is dissolved
and a new one is elected to draft a new constitu-
tion. The draft will then be submitted to a refer-
endum, in which it must gain a double majority.
This process has been launched once, in 1935,
by the so-called Frontist Movement, and the first
proposal was rejected.
posal must be accepted by the people (the major-
ity of the valid votes cast in the whole country)
and by the cantons (voters must accept the pro-
posal in a majority of the cantons). The majority
of the cantons is calculated as follows: The pop-
ular majority of each of the cantons counts as
one vote, with the exception of Basel-Stadt and
Basel-Land, Obwalden and Nidwalden, Appen-
zell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden
counting a half vote. Thus, a constitutional bill
proposed by parliament has to get the majority
of 12 of the 23 votes. 11.5 votes of the cantons,
however, can block a constitutional amendment
even if the people accept in their majority.
As any new competency of the federation has
to be enshrined by a constitutional amendment,
mandatory referendums are frequent. From
1848 to 2009, 187 amendments went to a vote,
and 139 were accepted (see table). The many
defeats of government and parliament show the
“breaking effect” of the referendum. Sometimes,
the government and the parliament are defeated
in votes on important issues. An illustrating
example is the vote on the European Economic
Space in 1992.
The popular vote on the membership of
the European Economic Area (EEA)
Effect of the constitutional referendum
In the long run, direct participation in constitu-
tional affairs had a considerable influence on the
development of the Swiss state. It has slowed
down centralisation, has confined the develop-
ment of the welfare state, and led to modest
public expenditure and a small bureaucracy.
The optional legislative referendum
A group of citizens may challenge a law that has
been passed by parliament through an optional
legislative referendum. They have to gather
50,000 signatures against the law within 100
days after it has been passed. If they have been
successful, a national popular vote is sched-
uled in which a simple majority of voters decide
whether to accept or reject the law. Eight can-
tons together can also call such a referendum.
Cantonal referendum
Compared with the number of all parliamentary
bills passed, the optional referendum is rare: in
only about 8 % of the 2,260 laws from 1848 to
2006, the referendum was taken by opposition
groups. If the referendum challenge is realised,
however, the chances of the opposition are
high: over 40 % opponents were successful and
defeated the government (see table). In all, how-
ever, 97 % of all laws of parliament pass.
Effect of the optional referendum
Political elites anticipate all possible referendum
challenges in their legislative policy. By negotia-
tion, they try to find compromises that satisfy all
interest groups and parties. Thus referendums
are prevented in most of the cases. Swiss poli-
ticians have the discretionary power neither to
make an issue subject to a referendum nor to
delete a vote from their list. Parliament cannot
Number Accepted Refused
Popular initiative 169 16 153
Mandatory referendum 187 139 48
Optional referendum 164 91 73
Source: w
circumvent referenda, even though for some
decisions it may be particularly difficult to obtain
a majority. New taxes, for example, are not very
popular in any state.
Introduction of new taxation
The obstacles for success are high, not only for
amendments of the constitution where the dou-
ble majority of the people and the cantons is
required. In ordinary lawmaking, the parliament
can never rule out that its decision will finally
be challenged by a referendum and is therefore
bound to be cautious in lawmaking. For these
reasons, the referendum is an instrument of the
opposition and favours the status quo.
The popular initiative
Contrary to the referendum, where citizens
intervene at the end of a decision-making
process, the initiative forms its point of depar-
ture. It enables citizens to put new proposals
on the political agenda, which might have been
neglected by the political elite. To do so, they
propose a constitutional amendment which
has to be signed by 100,000 citizens within 18
months. After deposition of the necessary sig-
natures, the government and the parliament
discuss the initiative and advise the people
to accept or – as in most cases – to refuse it.
Government and parliament are not allowed to
change the text of an initiative; however, they
may make a counterproposal (direct or indirect)
to the initiative which is then at the same time
submitted to the popular vote. The popular initia-
tive is restricted to constitutional amendments.
In practice, this does not exclude any political
Collected signatures for a popular initiative
issue – from most important ones such as the
abolition of the Swiss army down to speed limits.
But, as constitutional amendments, any popu-
lar initiative needs a double majority of the peo-
ple and the cantons to be accepted. Only about
10 % of all popular initiatives pass the hurdle of
the popular vote.
Effect of the initiative
Despite their low success, popular initiatives
influence the shaping of policy. This is due to
four reasons: Firstly, the popular initiative can
be an instrument for the minority groups in par-
liament. The latter hope that their issue will be
popular enough to find the majority in the vote.
Secondly, federal authorities pick up ideas from
the initiatives by drafting a counterproposal or
simply by fitting them into a current legislative
bill. This way the long shots of popular initiatives
are transformed into proposals that are more
in line with conventional wisdom and therefore
stand a better chance of being accepted. Thirdly,
initiatives widen the political agenda and give
voice to problems that remain non-issues as far
as the elites’ policy is concerned. Fourthly, politi-
cal parties and social movements use the popu-
lar initiative as a platform for electoral success.
Abolition of the Swiss army
As in other countries, not all citizens partici-
pate in votes. People with higher education and
income, men, and older people participate gen-
erally more in votes than their counterparts. In
the average, approximately 40 % of the people
participate in votes; however, participation var-
ies strongly depending on the issue. The vot-
ers form their opinion during campaigns. Their
decision is influenced by several factors such
as tradition, self-interest and political values.
An important question is how propaganda can
influence voters. Popular votes in Switzerland
include a very broad range of issues, from the
abolition of the army to the change in the health
care system. The system in Switzerland shows
that both direct and representative democracy
can complement each other.
Who is allowed to vote?
“The people” comprises all adult men and women
who hold a Swiss citizenship, including those
who live abroad. People under the age of 18
and foreign nationals have no political rights at
the federal level. In the cantons of Neuenburg
and Jura, also foreign nationals are allowed to
vote on the cantonal and municipal level. The
cantons of Vaud and Fribourg introduced this
right only at the municipal level. Additionally,
there are some individual municipalities that
introduced the right for foreigners to vote in the
cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Graubün-
den. Women have the right to vote at the federal
level since 1971. The last canton to introduce
women’s right to vote was the canton of Appen-
zell Innerrhoden in 1992, obliged to do so by a
decision of the Federal Court.
Who does vote?
As in other countries, people with higher educa-
tion or income are more likely to vote than their
less educated or working-class counterparts.
Besides education and income, there are other
sociodemographic characteristics that influence
political participation: younger citizens, women,
and non-married or divorced people participate
less than their counterparts. Moreover, some
political characteristics make a difference: peo-
ple with no party affinity, with no confidence in
the authorities participate less, and the most
important single factor that determines partici-
pation is political interest.
What is subject to a vote?
As there are no restrictions on the issues or
topics that the Swiss people can vote about, one
can find a broad range of subjects of past popu-
lar votes (see table).
What is the voting procedure?
There are two possibilities for voting: on the one
hand, by personally putting the ballot paper in a
box on the day of the vote, on the other hand by
postal voting. Almost half of the voters make use
of this second possibility and do not go to the
ballot stations themselves. There are now pilot
projects concerning electronic voting in the can-
tons of Geneva, Neuchâtel and Zurich. These
projects show that the interest in e-voting is
high among the citizens. Future will show if the
costs and the opposition against a centralised
electronic register are not too high to introduce
e-voting at the federal level.
Level of participation in direct democracy.
Only about one-quarter of the voters are regular
voters, while about half of them occasionally go
Issue Type Year
UN membership CR 1986, 2002
Maternity insurance LR 1987, 1999
Protection of moor landscapes I1987
Forty-hour work week I1988
Raise motorway speed limit to 130 kph I1989
Abolition of the army I1989
Moratorium to build new nuclear power plants I1990
International Treaty of the European Economic Area (EEA) CR 1992
Naturalisation for foreigners CR 1994, 2004
New railways (transit through the Alps) LR 1992
Remuneration for members of parliament LR 1992
Restrictions for persons living abroad to acquire real estate LR 1995
New Federal Constitution CR 1999
Dispensing of heroin to drug addicts LR 1999
Bilateral treaties with the European Union LR 2000, 2005
Abortion to go unpunished LR 2002
Regulation on asylum abuse I2002
Law about the research on embryonic stem cells LR 2004
Statutory regulations for homosexual couples LR 2005
Financial aid to East European countries CR 2006
Flexible age for retirement pensions I2008
Against construction of minarets I2009
I = popular initiative; CR = mandator y (constitutional) referendum; LR = optional (legislative) referendum
A database with all votes that took place since 1848 can be found on
to the ballot, and a good 20 % are non-voters.
At an average about 45 % take part in popular
votes. This seems to be very low, but participa-
tion in direct democracy is very demanding. Vot-
ers in Swiss democracy are supposed to vote on
issues that are sometimes complicated. To read
the official documentation on several proposals
takes time. Together with votes on cantonal and
local affairs, a voter is supposed to give his or
her preference on up to 20 or 30 issues a year.
However, in controversial issues participation is
much higher than average, as in the vote on the
EEA treaty (79 %) or on UN-membership (58 %).
The deciding majority and its democratic
The proportion of qualified voters in Switzer-
land is about 65 % of the total population. Those
under the age of 18 and foreign residents are
not allowed to vote. Then again not all those who
do qualify take part in a vote. If voters are split
roughly 50:50, the deciding majority becomes
rather small, about 15 %. Figure 1 shows the
deciding majority in federal votes as a percent-
age of the total Swiss population since 1880.
It accounts for the facts that women were not
allowed to vote until 1971, that participation var-
ies between 20 and 80 % and that majorities dif-
fer from vote to vote.
Even so, direct democracy decisions are consid-
ered to be of the highest democratic legitimacy.
The reason for this is simple: direct democracy is
not so much about the majority of a democraphic
survey but about direct participation of active
citizens in a binding procedure, giving their deci-
sion credibility as an act of self-determination.
Campaigning: can votes be bought?
Weeks before the vote, interest groups, political
parties, and the authorities try to mobilise and
to convince voters for a “yes” or “no” to the pro-
posal at stake. Out of the mixed chorus of pro-
paganda, party slogans, newspaper editorials,
workplace discussions, TV appearances by poli-
ticians, and government information brochures
the citizens have to make up their own minds.
Today, campaigning has become highly profes-
sionalised, and budgets are uneven: sometimes,
one side can raise twenty or even thirty times
more money than the other. Can votes therefore
be bought? Current studies indicate that indeed,
under certain circumstances, money and one-
sided propaganda can be a deciding factor. This
is the case if a narrow result is expected and big
money is put into propaganda. However, money
is just one factor among many having an impact
on the voting result.
Semi-direct democracy –
an exceptional system
The Swiss system is at odds with mainstream
political thought. It contradicts theories of repre-
sentative democracy that consider the people’s
capacity too limited for reasonable direct choice.
Switzerland illustrates that intensive political
Voting by putting the ballot paper in a box
Deciding majority in proportion to the
total population
participation beyond occasional election of a
political elite is possible and can play an impor-
tant role. Direct participation has neither led
to unreasonable choices, nor has it derogated
the functioning of parliamentary politics. Rather,
parliament and the people are complementary
actors: they share decision making in the impor-
tant political issues. Therefore, we can call this
system a “semi-direct democracy”, a system in
which political elites still shape the policies but
must be sensitive to the people’s preferences
and needs. It has made its proof in the past, but
we mention a few challenges for the future.
Voting campaign
As can be shown for the Swiss case, one should
not underestimate the general capacity of ordi-
nary citizens to directly decide on questions of
high politics. Thanks to political parties which
in the past renounced from populism, direct
democracy was able to overcome even deep
conflict. The hope is that this will last in the years
to come. Finally, globalisation and the interna-
tionalisation of politics constitute a challenge
and some new risks for direct democracy.
Are ordinary citizens capable to decide
high politics?
It is often argued that ordinary citizens can elect
authorities but are unable to decide high politics.
Studies show, indeed, that many voters do know
little about the issue they vote upon. However,
they are able to form a rational choice. They rely
on party recommendations or slogans of propa-
ganda - which simplify the question. However,
voters do not blindly follow cues but also follow
rational arguments of the political elite and make
intelligent use of heuristics. The ability of vot-
ers to assess political issues in a rational way
should not be underestimated.
Depending on the issue to be decided, people’s
political behaviour is more influenced by tradi-
tional social ties, by self-interest or by social
values suggesting solidarity or altruism. There is
thus no general answer to the question whether
the Swiss vote more with their hearts, their
purses or on the basis of traditional ties.
The lure of populism
With regard to societal conflicts, direct democ-
racy is ambiguous. On the one hand, the people’s
vote has high legitimacy, is a final decision and
ends conflicts. On the other hand, it gives politi-
cal opposition a privileged stage for permanently
articulating social conflicts and divides. Political
parties, in the past, have made use of “issuewise
opposition” occasionally and in a rather restrain-
ing way. Direct democracy, in the 20th century,
was able to deal with salient conflicts, thanks
to political parties that renounced on populism.
The hope is that this will last in the 21st century.
Direct democracy in international affairs
As mentioned earlier, direct participation was
gradually extended in international affairs.
Today, every important international treaty is
subject of a mandatory or an optional referen-
dum. In domestic affairs, defeat in a popular
vote is not a problem because the authorities
can present a better project in a second vote.
If an international treaty is rejected in a popular
vote, however, this is not guaranteed: the inter-
national partner is not bound to co-operate and
may prefer not to negotiate a new treaty. Thus,
direct democracy in growing international affairs
bears an additional risk: the Swiss government,
if it cannot guarantee the acceptance of its
negotiation treaties, may lose credibility in the
international arena.
Switzerland is a consensus democracy.
Its most important characteristics are
the government coalition composed of
all big political parties, the cooperation
of these parties in parliament and the
political decision-making by negotiation
and compromise.
The seven members of the Federal Coun-
cil (federal executive) form a permanent
grand coalition. The major political par-
ties proportionally share the seats in the
executive body according to their electoral
Power sharing in the executive is only one
element of consensus democracy. Co-oper-
ation of political parties in a grand coalition
can also be observed in parliament.
The aim of consensus democracy is to let
participate all important political actors in
federal politics. The development of Swiss
consensus democracy was influenced by
the cultural diversity of the country, by fed-
eralism, by the voting system and by direct
The policy-making process is character-
ised by negotiation and compromise. This
is an essential difference to majoritarian
Consensus democracy bares lights
and shadows. For a good functioning of a
consensus democracy, there are favour-
able and unfavourable conditions. Current
changes in the party system and growing
political polarisation cause challenges for
Swiss consensus democracy.
The Swiss executive is a body of seven members
elected by parliament. According to constitutional
provision, care must be taken to ensure that the
various geographical and language regions of
the country are appropriately represented. Polit-
ical criteria are even more important: the stron-
gest political parties are represented in the Fed-
eral Council proportionally to their electoral
power, and lately gender representation has
become an issue, too. The executive is organ-
ised as a collegiate body: all seven ministers
take the important decisions collectively. There
is no prime minister with prerogatives. The func-
tion of the president, who rotates every year and
acts also as the head of the state, is purely for-
mal. Finally, each federal councillor is the head
of one of the seven ministries.
Election of the Federal Council
The members of the Federal Council are elected
by the Federal Assembly for a full term of four
years. There is no vote of no-condence; thus,
the Federal Council need not resign when it is
defeated in parliament, or in a referendum. This
means that the Federal Council’s policy is rather
independent from parliament. But also parliament
is independent from the Federal Council, it can
refuse governmental drafts without consequences.
Until recently, the members of the Federal Coun-
cil were re-elected after four years without excep-
tion so that the average term of ofce is more than
two full terms, around nine years. Nonetheless,
the informal rule of re-election of incumbent mem-
bers of the Federal Council as a routine started
to change in the last years, which might lead to
more changes in the body of the Council.
The voting out of federal
councillors and the “crisis of
consensus democracy” in 2008
From a one-party government to the
grand coalition
Today, the Federal Council is composed of a
grand coalition. This is not regulated by law but
the result of a long historical process of politi-
cal integration. During the rst fty years, the
Federal Council was dominated by the Radi-
cals. In 1891, the rst member of the Catho-
lic Conservative Party (today Christian Demo-
crat People’s Party) joined the government and
more then twenty years later, it received a sec-
ond seat. In 1929, the rst member of the Farm-
ers Party, today the Swiss People’s Party, was
elected. The Social Democrats, despite being
the biggest political party in the 1930s, were
excluded from participation in the government
until 1943. In 1959, full proportional representa-
tion, the “magic formula” was agreed amongst
the parties. The four governmental parties are
represented according to their electoral strength.
For more than 40 years, the Federal Council was
composed by two Radicals, two Christian Demo-
crats, two Social Democrats and one representa-
tive of the Swiss People’s Party, which represent
together about three-quarters of the voters.
Reasons that led to a grand coalition
Three factors favoured the transformation of the
majoritarian regime into a power-sharing system.
The first one is federalism. The small, mostly
catholic cantons had a veto position in federal
decision-making right from the beginning. This
forced the ruling radicals to make political com-
promises. The second is the introduction of a
proportional electoral system in 1918, which was
the success of a coalition of Catholic conserva-
tives and social democrats fighting the radical
predominance. As a consequence, the radicals
lost their majority in parliament, and the party
system became fragmented in the following
elections. The third and most important factor is
direct democracy. The referendum, in the period
after World War II, has become a strong incen-
tive for the major political parties to co-operate
in an oversized coalition because otherwise the
risk of defeat in the popular vote is too high.
Regional, linguistic and gender
Aside the claim of proportionality of the parties,
there are other formal and informal rules about
the composition of the Federal Council. Arti-
cle 175 of the constitution states that “in elect-
ing the Federal Council, care must be taken
to ensure that the various geographical and
language regions of the country are appropri-
ately represented”. Thus, linguistic and regional
representation remains an important element
in government elections. Since 1848, the three
linguistic regions have been fairly represented
according to the population size of German,
French and Italian speakers. The three larg-
est cantons, Zurich, Bern and Vaud, have had
virtually permanent representation in the past.
Religion no longer plays a role in the election
of a federal councillor. Thirteen years after the
introduction of women’s voting right, the first
woman, Elisabeth Kopp, a Radical Democrat,
was elected in 1984. In 2010, we found four
women in the Federal Council.
Functioning along the principle
of collegiality
According to the constitution, the Federal
Council reaches its decisions as a collegial
body. Thus, it is collectively responsible for its
activities and decisions. Even though unanim-
ity cannot be reached in every case, intensive
discussions and preliminary consultation often
guarantee consensus among all members. All
federal councillors have the same legal rights.
The president of the Confederation rotates every
year. He chairs the Council but does not have
special powers and the office is limited to repre-
sentative functions.
Organisation along seven ministries
The constitution states that “for the purposes of
preparation and implementation, the business
of the Federal Council shall be allocated to its
individual members according to department”.
Because the Federal Council consists of seven
members, seven departments have been set
up (see figure on page 42). As all government
action is organised in seven ministries, a mem-
ber of the Swiss government is responsible for
more policy areas than his counterparts in other
European countries. For example, one minister
is responsible for energy, transport and envi-
ronmental protection, while another is respon-
sible for culture, education and research, as
well as health and social insurance. This leads
to high exposure of the members of the govern-
ment, especially in international co-operation.
Even though several reforms for this problem
have been proposed, none of them has been
Departmental Structure of Federal Administration 2011
Risk aversion against successful referenda led
to permanent co-operation of political parties in
government and in parliament. The four govern-
mental parties – the Swiss People’s Party, Radi-
cals, Christian Democrats and Social Democrats,
representing about 80 % of the electorate – try
to find compromises in all their decisions. How-
ever, compromise can fail. It may be even a gov-
ernmental party which, opting for an issuewise
opposition, calls a referendum. Even so, the pol-
itics of compromise is successful. While most
constitutional amendments are accepted by the
people and the cantons, few legislative bills are
challenged by a referendum. Changing coali-
tions among different parties engender mutual
trust and respect with all different partners of the
grand coalition.
Co-operation in parliament
Integrating the main political parties into a govern-
mental coalition was important. Co-optation, how-
ever, was not a free lunch but a deal. The new
members of the government coalition were also
expected to co-operate in parliament, supporting
legislative compromises strong enough to have
success in a referendum. In earlier times, this was
not always the case, and the lack of co-operation
between government and parliament as well as
missing willingness to nd compromises led even
to a crisis of the Swiss political system.
Crisis of the Swiss political system
during the worldwide economic crisis
of the 1930s
Issue-specific opposition
In the ideal case, all governmental parties support
a legislative project unanimously in a consensus.
This ideal situation, however, is relatively rare.
More frequently, the political elites are split: one
or more of the political parties defect and play the
game of an issue-specific opposition. This may
happen already during parliamentary proceed-
ings, or later by decision of the political parties,
which not always back the position of their own
parliamentary faction. In all these cases the risk
of defeat for the government increases consid-
erably. In earlier times the center-right coalition,
as a natural majority after all, was able to win
two out of three votes against left-wing opposi-
tion. Today, with the Swiss People’s Party seek-
ing a stronger right-wing profile by way of issue-
specific opposition, the center-right coalition is
often split, which puts the government project at
risk. If two parties leave the consensus, defeat
of the governmental project is predictable with a
high probability.
The importance of changing coalitions
Changing coalitions that differ from issue to issue
are important for the culture of negotiation and
compromise. Political actors, opposed today on
a particular issue, may find themselves as coali-
tion partners tomorrow on a different issue. The
parliamentary factions of Social Democrats and
Christian Democrats, today opposed in financial
policy, may be the core coalition in welfare poli-
cies the other day. Every political party has to
get acquainted to find itself in the role of both
the winner and the loser. This favours mutual
respect. Changing coalitions in parliament are
an important reason why consensus democracy
still works, despite growing polarisation.
The weak spot is, however, that conditions for
changing coalitions are not always given. In
the 1980s, for instance, the three parties of
the centre-right alliance regularly overruled the
green-left coalition in the major issues of pub-
lic finance, energy or environment. The ruling
majority refused accommodation and compro-
mise, and was not exposed to the risk of loos-
ing power through competitive elections as in a
majoritarian system. Thus, as the big change
of opposition and government parties is miss-
ing in the Swiss political system, the small
changes in the issue-specific coalitions between
the different parties is all the more important.
Compromise in parliament and direct
Less than 10 % of law projects passed by
parliament are challenged by an optional refer-
endum. If the parliament seems to have a good
flair for avoiding the referendum risk, this is due
to several factors. The draft coming from the
pre-parliamentary procedures has a story to tell:
parliament knows which issues were controver-
sial and which were accepted unanimously, and
they are familiar with the positions of the impor-
tant interest groups and of the Federal Council.
Parts of the members of parliament have intense
relations to interest groups whose points they
support. The modifications of all phases of the
procedure are documented for every article of
the new bill. Thus, the members of parliament
and the factions know all about the difficulties
and fragilities of any compromise that has been
reached, and about the robustness of a solution.
Parliament’s factions, too, try to avoid the risk of
a referendum being called, and look for a com-
promise that is supported by as many parties as
Semi-direct democracy: the interaction of
representative and direct democracy
Most decisions in Swiss politics are taken by the
parliament and the executive as in any other rep-
resentative system. In cases, however, defined
by the constitution, the people have the last
word on the decision. To put it simply, we may
say that for the most important issues (constitu-
tion) it is always the people, for important issues
(laws) it may be the people, and for all decisions
of lesser importance it is the parliament or the
executive who have the last word. This is why
the Swiss system is referred to as a “semi-direct
democracy”, which means that the decision-
making system is composed of elements of rep-
resentative and direct democracy as well.
Federalism, power sharing and direct democ-
racy let a multitude of actors participate in the
political process. In contrast to parliamentary
democracy, which concentrates most power in
the majority of parliament and its executive, we
can find four different arenas where decision-
making takes place, in which one particular
actor plays a leading role: these are the Federal
Council, the interest groups, the parliament, the
people and the federal administration. On the
one hand, decision-making by negotiation and
compromises takes more time and allows less
innovation than decisions by simple majority. On
the other hand, political decisions are accepted
also by the political and societal minorities. This
allows for political stability, unity and integration.
The Federal Council in the decision-making
The main function of the Federal Council is the
steering of the entire political process. Giv-
ing the go-ahead for most formal steps of deci-
sion making, setting priorities in substance and
time, the Federal Council has a substantial influ-
ence on the political agenda. It disposes of all
the professional resources of the administration,
which allow it to prepare its own policy projects.
Political leadership of the Federal Council is
restricted, however, for two main reasons: First,
consensus in the all-party government is lim-
ited. Second, parliament is not obliged to sup-
port the government because there is no vote of
confidence. Therefore, it can always turn down
the propositions of the Federal Council. In for-
eign policy, however, the position of the Federal
Council paramount: the Federal Council leads
the proceedings of international diplomacy while
parliament is restricted to accept or to reject
international treaties as a whole.
Interest groups in the decision-making
The prime arena of inuence of interest groups
(associations, NGOs, environmental organisa-
tions) is the pre-parliamentary procedure, which
was institutionally formalised after World War II.
They have more inuence than pre-parliamen-
tary lobbying to be found in other countries. The
high bargaining power of interest groups lies in
the fact that they can use the referendum threat
as a pawn. Moreover, interest groups play an
important role in “semi-private” or “para-state”
arrangements. Social partnership between
labour and capital, or public-private partnerships
once played a predominant role with the design
and the implementation of economic and social
policies and are still important. The pre-parlia-
mentary procedure, sometimes preceded by
deliberations of expert committees, serves the
objective of integrating group interests, so as to
reduce the risk of a future referendum.
The parliament in the decision-making
The parliament’s main function is law mak-
ing. Besides deciding the budget it has many
instruments at hand to move new projects, to
influence the agenda in domestic politics, and
to supervise the administration. However, its
freedom of action is restricted by direct democ-
racy, by the interest groups who intervene in the
pre- parliamentary process, and by the Federal
Council and its administration who largely con-
trol the agenda of foreign policy.
The people in the decision-making process
The people intervene in two ways. Firstly, using
the referendum, they can defeat projects of
the political elites. In contrast, if the project is
accepted by the people, the bill has the high
legitimation of democratic self-rule. Secondly,
using the popular initiative, the people can
propose constitutional amendments, a way to
bring issues on the political agenda which have
been neglected or rejected by government and
The federal administration in the
decision-making process
With the growth of social and economic activ-
ities of the central government after World
War II, the federal administration has acquired
greater political influence for two reasons. First,
it has its own experts, who often direct the pre-
parliamentary process. Second, it has all the
feedback knowledge of implementation, which
often stimulates proposals for legislative reform.
The administration plays an important role in the
definition of problem solving as well as in the
promotion of its own interests.
The law-making process can be shown as an
ongoing process of problem solving or policy
cycle. It starts with the first ideas and proposi-
tions for a new law or a constitutional amend-
ment. In parliament, each project has to find
a majority of both chambers. However, parlia-
mentarians and the government know that every
decision can be challenged by a referendum. If
a proposition has passed parliament without a
vote or has been supported by the people, the
government starts implementation, a process
carried by administrations of the federation and
the cantons as well. At every stage of the policy
cycle, negotiations result in modifications, rad-
ical changes or even the abandonment of the
project. If the new programme enters the phase
of implementation, this is not the end of the pro-
cess: sooner or later the experience of imple-
mentation will lead to propositions for a new
reform, and a second round of the policy-making
process begins.
Pre-parliamentary arena
The process starts with propositions for a new
law or a constitutional amendment. It can be
handed in by ways of a popular initiative, a
parliamentary motion, or by the administra-
tion which is the informal gateway for pressure
groups seeking reform. If the Federal Council
carries the proposition, it organises the pre-
parliamentary stage of the process. According
to the situation, it charges the administration or
mandates an expert committee to draft a first
project. The subsequent consultative process
involves further organisations, who each try to
formulate a position that represents the view of
their members. When evaluating the results of
the consultative procedure, the administration
seeks to maintain only those reforms that have
found sufficient support. The Federal Council
then proposes this to the parliament.
Parliamentary arena
Each project has to find the majority of both
chambers. If proceedings in the Council of
State and the National Council end up with a
difference in substance, negotiation procedures
between the chambers are organised to align
on the same solution. If this is not possible, the
project has failed. Only about 7 % of law proj-
ects passed by parliament are challenged by an
optional referendum. This means that the cham-
bers seem to have a good flair for avoiding the
referendum risk. This is due to several factors.
The draft coming from the pre-parliamentary
procedures has a story to tell: parliament knows
which issues were controversial and which
were accepted unanimously, and they are famil-
iar with the positions of the important interest
groups and of the Federal Council.
Direct democratic arena
The most important case is the referendum chal-
lenge by a governmental party, when the four
partners of the grand coalition have not reached
consensus. If one party sees too much dam-
age for the interests of its voters, it practises
issuewise opposition. Social Democrats and the
Swiss People’s Party do this more often than the
centrist parties of the Radicals and the Christian
Democrats. Small political parties, too, interest
groups or even grass-roots movements are able
to launch a referendum, and in rare cases they
may even be successful. Finally, if the consen-
sus of the political elites is fragile, a small out-
sider can trigger a chain reaction in which other
actors or even a governmental party defect the
compromise and join the referendum.
Therefore, the political elites can never rule out
the possibility of a referendum, and they accept
occasional defeat of their projects. The verdict of
the people is binding and has immediate effect.
In cases of referenda, the project is enacted or
has failed.
Implementation arena
Once a law project has passed the parliament’s
decision or got the majority in a popular vote,
it comes into effect. The implementation is
an important part of the policy cycle. In many
Policy Cycle
cases, policy programme for proper implemen-
tation have to be developed or revised. As most
programme are implemented in co-operation
with the cantons, negotiations with their admin-
istrations take place. It is one of the character-
istics of federalism that the federal authorities
have little means of coercion and thus have to
respect the autonomy and the preferences of the
cantonal authorities in the implementation pro-
cess. Resistance from the cantons may impede
implementation. Conversely, negotiation and
compromises may lead to intense co-operation,
which facilitates implementation of federal poli-
cies. Thus, we may speak of a form of vertical
power sharing.
Consensus democracy is more than a political
style. Its institutions are different from those of
majoritarian democracy, as shows a comparison
between Switzerland and Great Britain. Consen-
sus democracy is demanding. The possibility to
establish consensus may be difficult. It depends,
among others, on the economic situation and the
issue at stake. Therefore, consensus democ-
racy needs political elites that are able to reach
compromise and consensus also under difficult
Main characteristics of powersharing
The entire political process aims at the achieve-
ment of a political compromise. Instead of a
majority that imposes its solution to a minority,
we find mutual accommodation: no single win-
ner takes all, everybody wins something (see
Consensus democracy). Some people attri-
bute this behaviour to a specific peculiarity of
Swiss culture. From a political science perspec-
tive, however, the effect of institutions seems to
be paramount. The referendum challenge, the
strong influence of the cantons and the multi-
party system are veto points that do not allow for
majority decisions and compel political actors
to co-operation and compromise. The upcom-
ing table shows the differences between Great
Britain, a typical majoritarian democracy with
opposition and government, and Switzerland, an
example of consensus democracy.
Consensus depends on economic situation
The idea that “no single winner takes all, ever y -
body wins something” has not always worked
out. Mutual adjustments were most successful
in the period up to the 1970s, when economic
growth also allowed the distribution of more
public goods. Optional referenda were few and
the success rate of obligatory referenda was
high. Consensus became more difficult after the
recession of the 1970s. With lower economic
growth after the first oil crisis, there was less sur-
plus to distribute. Political redistribution became
a zero-sum game, spending more money for
one group meant giving less to another. Eco-
logical sustainability became a political issue
and prompted new conflicts. The party system
fragmented and new social movements arose.
At the end of the 1980s important legislation
failed or remained incomplete. In the last two
decades, globalisation functioned as pressure
from the outside, leading to quicker and larger
steps of political innovation, but also to higher
polarisation, to winners and losers of globalisa-
tion and Europeanisation, and to the deepening
of old cleavages .
Consensus depends on issue
The feasibility of the idea “no single winner takes
all, everybody wins something” also depends on
the issue. In financial affairs, consensus can be
found easily by compromise: if proponents for a
100-Swiss-franc raise of rents face an opposi-
tion that wants no raise, a 50-Swiss-franc raise
may be a compromise that is accepted by both.
Yet, there are indivisible public goods, for which
consensus becomes difficult. In 1977 the Fed-
eral Council proposed to introduce daylight sav-
ing time as many Western European countries
were doing at the time. Farmers were opposed
to put their clocks one hour forward in the spring
and then back again in the autumn, claiming
that cows would give less milk. A compromise
of putting the clocks 30 minutes forward would
have helped nobody. Thus, the farmers’ oppo-
sition led to an outright refusal of daylight sav-
ing time. However, living on a “time isle” in the
centre of Europe did not prove to be very practi-
cal, and daylight saving time was introduced two
years later. Similarly, compromise can be diffi-
cult in issues involving fundamental values such
as abortion. Whether or not a woman should be
given the right to have an abortion is considered
by many people to be a question of principle. In
Switzerland reform of the abortion law led to a
long-lasting debate and to several popular votes.
Political elite in a power-sharing system
Power sharing engenders strong formal and
informal contacts amongst the entire political
elite. This gives rise to criticism that power shar-
ing leads to a cartel of “the political class”, which
neutralises electoral competition and democratic
representative, majoritarian democracy
semi-direct, consensus democracy
Strong competition between parties.
Winner takes all.
Weak party competition.
Proportional representation.
Salient elections, lead to periodical alternation of
Low salient elections; power sharing amongst
political parties prevents alternation of power.
Enactment of the political programme of the
government, backed by the parliamentary majority.
Comprehensive innovation possible.
Integration of cultural minorities and of conflicting
group interests; changing coalitions for different
issues. Incremental innovation.
Political legitimation through changes in power or
re-election of government satisfying the voters’
Underlying idea: politics for the people.
Institutional legitimation through different forms of
participation: the most important decisions being
taken by the people, important ones by parliament
and the rest by government.
Underlying idea: politics through the people.
Participation as a form of general and program-
matic influence: voters elect a government and its
programme for the entire legislative period.
Direct participation as “single-issue” influence:
people vote on specific questions. No strategic
government policy, no influence of voters on a
specific government programme.
control. In the Swiss case it may be argued that
indeed elections do not lead to a change of roles
between government and opposition and there-
fore play a minor role for democratic control.
Direct democracy, however, leads to a perma-
nent control of the elites. Every political party
and its leaders have to defend their compro-
mises in the people’s vote. Direct democracy
imposes limits to elitism.
Institutions of power sharing can engender
mutual trust amongst the political elites. There is
one thing, however, which depends on the elites
themselves. It is the “spirit of accommodation”.
It means the will of politicians to develop a com-
mon way of problem solving, leading to creative
compromise. Success of consensus democracy
depends on politicians willing to develop per-
spectives reaching beyond the interests of their
Consensus democracy cannot guarantee
equal chances of political influence to all inter-
est groups. Chances of influence in political
negotiation are unequal because they depend
on resources. The influence of many powerful
interest groups has no democratic legitimation.
Consensus democracy favours the status quo;
therefore, Swiss politics have to content them-
selves with incremental steps of innovation. Dur-
ing recent years, the Swiss system has become
more polarised – this also showed the fragility of
consensus democracy. Still, the model of con-
sensus democracy seems to be able to face all
these challenges.
Inequality of political influence
Consensus democracy cannot guarantee fair
competition in the sense that all interest groups
and political parties have equal chances of influ-
ence. In negotiations and lawmaking by mutual
adjustment, the haves are better off than the
have-nots, whose refusals have no trade-in.
Moreover, organisations defending exclusive
and short-term benefits for their members are
likely to be stronger than those promoting gen-
eral and long-term interests. Environmental
groups for instance face the problem of having
to fight for a long-term public good. They are
popular and outnumber the biggest political par-
ties in membership. Faced with vested industrial
interests, however, they are not able to articulate
comparable threats, and consumers’ willingness
to renounce on the cheap gasoline in favour of
ecology is limited. One may object, however,
that these inequalities are not a peculiarity of
Swiss consensus democracy. In fact they are a
flaw of all pluralist and democratic systems.
Political influence of interest groups
Interest groups are able to organise referenda.
Using this possibility as a threat or as a pawn
in negotiation gives them additional influence
in all matters of legislation. Thus, direct democ-
racy, instead of being the voice of the people,
has partly become the instrument of vested
interests. Indeed, this critique has some strong
arguments, especially for the long period of time
when the Swiss Parliament was weak and often
adopted the pre-parliamentary compromise
between the interest groups without major modi-
fication. Today, however, the image of a state
of vested interests that dominate parliament
may less correspond to political realities for sev-
eral reasons. Not only has parliament become
stronger in shaping legislation, but the adminis-
tration can also be a strong counterpart. Even-
tually, the strength of some interest groups is
fading. With the process of globalisation, some
of the strongest interest groups of the domestic
market, such as those of agriculture and indus-
tries, have significantly lost political influence,
and many traditional coalitions, such as those
of industries or between employers and unions,
are split today, thereby neutralising each other.
In contrast, globalised industries such as the
pharmaceutical lobby or the banks seem to gain
additional influence.
Lack of innovation
Negotiation and compromise have provided
important advantages. In the absence of elec-
toral change, there are no abrupt discontinuities
in federal policy. The sobering effect of nego-
tiation cools down ideological exaggeration and
promotes pragmatic solutions. The elites’ coop-
eration in committees, in government and in
parliament leads to mutual adjustments where
learning processes occur over the substantive
issues of legislation. However, elections do not
provide the possibility of the government and
the opposition changing places the way they
do in parliamentary democracies. Therefore the
Swiss system also lacks the larger innovatory
process brought about by changes of power in
parliamentary democracies. It has to rely on
incremental reform.
Revisions of the invalidity insurance
Consensus democracy in a polarised
Polarisation, stimulated by the political parties of
the right and of the left, leaves its traces in polit-
ical culture. Pluralism, positive belief in com-
promise and co-operation, tolerance towards
differences, or willingness to accept adverse
decisions are declining among parts of the polit-
ical elite and of the electorate as well. Adher-
ents of the Swiss consensus democracy worry
about the loss of the “spirit of accommodation”.
As a strategy towards majoritarian politics, how-
ever, the politics of confrontation would not be
enough. Reducing the veto points of federalism
and of direct democracy would be necessary.
Even gradual transformation towards majoritar-
ian politics seems feasible only under electoral
change which sees a leading party capable to
formulate a convincing political programme but
also to carry the necessary institutional reforms.
Prospect of the Swiss powersharing system
Since the 1990s, pressure from the outside –
globalisation and Europeanisation – stimulates
innovation. Power sharing, despite growing
polarisation, is working. The grand government
coalition is sometimes defeated in referenda,
but not more often than in earlier times. In par-
liament, one sees growing antagonism between
the conservative right and the welfare factions
of the left. Yet, compromise still happens in
changing issue-specific coalitions in which the
political centre plays an important role. The par-
tial break-up of the bourgeois camp has made
this possible. Under the conditions of a tripar-
tite system of the right, the centre and the left,
consensus democracy has the chance to work
even better than in the 1980s when the bour-
geois majority made the left a permanent loser.
Consensus politics may change, but the popular
rights still urge the important political actors to
practice co-operation and compromise.
In this chapter, the three main elements
of the Swiss political system are pre-
sented in a comparative perspective.
Federalism in Switzerland guarantees
“unity in diversity” and is a safeguard for
cultural minorities. Other countries have
different meanings of federalism. There is a
variety of “federalisms”.
Direct democracy is not only used in Swit-
zerland, but also in many other countries.
However, Swiss citizens are the only ones
having the right of direct participation at all
levels of government.
The Swiss system of consensus democ-
racy contrasts sharply with the model
of ma-joritarian democracy as known
for instance in Great Britain. Consensus
democracy can be an appropriate way to
resolve problems in multicultural societies.
The Swiss system, facing Europeanisation
and globalisation, has to deal with multiple
challenges, not only with regard to the rela-
tions to the European Union but also with
regard to internal social conflict.
The most important function of Swiss federal-
ism was the overcoming of cultural cleavages
between different segments of society and the
linguistic regions of the country. Can federalism
protect minorities also in other countries? Com-
parative studies show that structures, processes
and the culture of federalism vary significantly.
Not all countries practise federalism with the
objective of guaranteeing cultural diversity, and
the experience with regard to minority protec-
tion. A way to protect minorities without territo-
rial segmentation is non-territorial or corporate
federalism. Federalism can interfere with the
democratic principle of “one person, one vote”.
The essentials of federalist institutions
Federalism is a political answer to provide a com-
mon biosphere for segmented parts of a larger
population. The antagonism between unity and
diversity is bridged by giving the different seg-
ments of society utmost autonomy within the
confines of a national whole. Yet it is an answer
to territorial segmentation of a society only. Fed-
eralism is responsive to cultural minorities only
to the degree that the latter dispose of a polit-
ical majority in some of the subnational units.
Federalism institutionally splits political power
into parts, and this can be done in different
ways. An important part is played by the politi-
cal culture. Federations, despite the heteroge-
neity of subnational units, need the political will
of a society to constitute and remain a nation
or state. Lack of political will can lead to the
collapse of political unity as in former Czecho-
slovakia or Yugoslavia.
Federalism – a structure, a process and a
political culture
Federalism is more than a structure. Besides
varying structural settings, the political process,
too, can be organised in different ways. More-
over, different equilibriums of power imply differ-
ent appropriate behaviour, which may crystallise
into political cultures: the USA and Switzer-
land are similar in structure. Both developed
by a bottom-up process, the subnational units
keeping much of their “sovereign” rights as for-
merly independent states. The political culture,
however, is different. The main aim of Ameri-
can federalism is not the protection of cultural
minorities but above all the separation and con-
trol of state power. In Switzerland, the canton’s
high veto power has engendered a non-hierar-
chical co-operation between the national and
the subnational level. The process of accommo-
dation of the federal authorities with the subna-
tional units is an appropriate behaviour to find
solutions. It has become an element of political
culture, mostly informal, and just occasionally
prescribed as a legal procedure.
Federalism as a guarantee for cultural
difference and diversity
Federalism is sometimes used as a synonym of
the guarantee for cultural difference and diver-
sity, regardless of history or socio-economic cir-
cumstances. But is federalism really capable
of protecting cultural difference and diversity, if
this is the project? The experience is mixed. In
South Africa, federalism seems to play an impor-
tant role for the consolidation of a deeply divided
society. Under the common roof of India’s or
Nigeria’s immense cultural diversity are some
shadows: In-depth studies provide evidence that
in situations of serious crisis federal structures
in both countries are not used to ease a conflict.
In Belgium, which grants its two segments of
French and Flemish speakers utmost autonomy,
national unity is said to be fading. In any case, to
achieve effective minority protection, federalism
must be embedded in other institutional devices
such as a non-religious, non-ethnic concept of
the central state, a strong and effective tradition
of human rights, and institutional elements of
political power sharing.
Federalism and democracy
Democracy, basically, is majority rule founded
on the number of votes cast, each vote hav-
ing equal weight, whereas federalism implies
equal representation of uneven units. Inevitably
votes of individuals or representatives of mem-
ber states with a small population are weighted
more heavily than those of large member states.
They can organise a veto to block democratic
majorities. Federalism interferes with democ-
racy. It has, however, two main advantages
that can compensate for this cost. First, once
conflicts arise, federalism is a constraint that
“forces” democratic majorities to bargain with
federal minor-ities, and therefore encourages
constructive compromise. Second, costs of fed-
eralism at the central level can be compensated
for by democratic gains in the subnational units,
where the political rights of the citizens have a
much greater significance.
Non-territorial federalism
Non-territorial or corporate federalism allows
a minority to maintain its own public institu-
tions without territorial segmentation. Reli-
gious communities, for instance, can be given
the right to have their own schools. This raises
two questions. The first is: what are the limits
of cultural minorities’ right to run their own pub-
lic institutions? This eventually depends on the
concept of the state, of the constitution and on
a society’s idea of pluralism as well. The second
question deals with the consequences: can non-
territorial federalism keep the balance of unity
and diversity, or do parallel institutions, exclu-
sively reserved to cultural minorities, lead to
deeper social divide and undermine unity? The
discussion remains controversial: while some
observers fear the latter, others see non-territo-
rial federalism as a promising approach to “iden-
tity politics”.
Non-territorial federalism in Belgium
Switzerland is the country holding the most
popular votes but not the only country to prac-
tise direct democracy. On the subnational level,
many countries show examples for the intensive
use of direct democratic devices. Direct democ-
racy in the US states shares many similarities
with the Swiss practice. Direct participation by
the people is possible in many different ways.
Experiences of direct democracy compared
In a majority of countries all over the world
nationwide popular votes were held sometime
or other. The distribution of votes that have ever
taken place, though, is very uneven. In most
of the countries the number is below ten, while
more than half of the nationwide votes have
been held in Switzerland. Concerning the issues
of votes, one can distinguish three general cat-
egories. The first one comprises the establish-
ment or secession of a state, of a new consti-
tutional order or regime. A second category,
relatively new, comprises decisions on member-
ship in transnational organisations or changes
of the status of membership. The third category
deals with important national policy decisions for
which a government wants to be given additional
legitimacy. All in all there is a vast variety of
occasions on which people are able to express
their preferences. The following table shows a
classification of direct democratic devices.
The practice of direct democracy
in the US states and Switzerland –
similarities and differences
US direct democracy is fundamentally differ-
ent from Switzerland’s in one point: it is limited
to state or local level. Yet, the US states’ and
Switzerland’s experience of direct democracy
are the richest; the instruments of the referen-
dum and the popular initiative are practically
the same, and one can find many similarities in
their use. Examples for similarities are the facts
that direct democracy can influence the political
agenda in favour of issues important to less well
organised interests, that campaigns and propa-
ganda influence the outcome of a vote and that
direct democracy is an additional control of polit-
ical elites. As an important difference to Switzer-
land, direct democracy in the US states is not
an element of political power sharing and has
not led to co-operation between political parties.
Direct democracy on subnational level
While in Switzerland direct democracy is known
on all federal levels, some other countries prac-
tise direct participation only on the sub-national
levels. This is the case, for instance, in Germany
where votes are held in some Bundesländer and
their municipalities or, as already mentioned,
in the US states where direct democracy is as
widely institutionalised and used as it is in Swit-
zerland. In all US states, with the exception of
Delaware, any amendment of the constitution
requires a popular vote. In about half of the
states we find one or another type of referendum
for parliamentary laws, often complemented by
a financial referendum. Moreover, citizens in
many states can propose legislation by means of
the popular initiative, or initiate a “recall”, which
allows voters to remove or discharge a public
official from office. In no other part of the world
but California have citizens had so much oppor-
tunity to express their political preferences: from
1884 to 2003, Californians voted on nearly 1800
More direct democracy – a worldwide trend
The idea of direct democracy is spreading out
all over the world. Numerous referenda have
been held during regime changes and the build-
up of democracy in Central European coun-
tries. Moreover, plebiscites on EU affairs have
become more and more frequent both in old and
new member states.
The Irish votes on the Lisbon treaty
New social movements, grass-roots politics,
non-governmental organisations, and new infor-
mation technologies have made civil society
more active in daily politics. They claim more
and better influence on politics. New instruments
of direct participation, especially at the local and
the subnational level, developed in many forms.
Main characteristic Description
Binding and non-binding referenda It is obvious that binding referenda have a higher
impact than non-binding votes which are merely
consultative or advisory.
The authority empowered to call a popular vote With regard to who has the authority to demand
that a popular vote be held, we can distinguish four
basic types of participation:
government-controlled referenda
constitutionally required referenda
referenda called by the people
popular initiatives
National and subnational referenda While in Switzerland direct democracy is known
on all federal levels, some other countries practise
direct participation only on the subnational levels
(e.g. USA, Germany).
The Swiss system widely corresponds to an ideal
type of consensus or power-sharing democracy,
in contrast to majoritarian democracy. In multi-
cultural societies, consensus democracy can be
a better device to resolve political conflict than
majoritarian democracy.
Majoritarian and consensus democracy –
a comparison
If there is a continuous thread in Swiss politi-
cal history it is probably the desire to prevent
winners from taking all, leaving losers with
nothing – or in other words, power sharing. Yet,
power sharing is practised not only in Swit-
zerland but also in Belgium, the Netherlands,
Northern Ireland, South Africa or India. Power-
sharing or consensus democracy distinguishes
them fundamentally from the type of majoritar-
ian democracy, which can be found in Great
Britain or New Zealand. Arend Lijphart, a promi-
nent scholar comparing political institutions, has
called this “consociational”, “power sharing” or
“consensus” democracy, in contrast to the type of
“majoritarian” or “Westminster” model of democ-
racy. The two models of democracy represent
coherent and therefore ideal polities maximising
the basic ideas of either enabling decision by
majority or decision by consensus. Next table
shows a direct comparison of majoritarian and
consensus democracy. It is easy to identify Swit-
zerland and Great Britain as two polities that
correspond to most criteria of one of the models.
Democratic power sharing – a key to
resolving conflicts in multicultural societies
The predominant model of democracy is
majoritarian. In multicultural societies, how-
ever, majoritarian democracy may encounter
serious difficulties. Cultural values, beliefs and
languages are not only heterogeneous, but may
lead to different political preferences that do
not change. In case of conflict, minorities have
no voice or are even permanently excluded
from political influence and power. Consensus
democracy, in contrast, gives societal minorities
a chance to participate in political power und
have a voice in the policies of the government,
which cannot be overheard. By mutual agree-
ment and compromise, societal divides may be
eased or even overcome. An example for this
is Northern Ireland. For decades, the majoritar-
ian Protestant regime, excluding the Catholic
minority from power, could not prevent violent
conflict and the divide of society. Recently, the
two parties agreed on a power-sharing govern-
ment, hoping to overcome societal division and
political conflict.
The culture of power sharing
How can trust between political opponents in
multicultural societies develop? It is obvious
that there is a vital need for co-operation, which
can be driven or even forced. Proportional
representation is a universal key to power shar-
ing. Its effects are the chance of mutual recog-
nition of even antagonistic actors as equal part-
ners. Under these conditions accommodation
becomes feasible. If none of the partners of a
grand coalition has a majority position, rotation
of majorities for different issues become likely.
This stimulates mutual respect and prevents
minorities abusing their veto. Permanent co-
operation in political decision making enables
elites of different cultures, language or religion
to overcome mutual prejudices and to deal bet-
ter with their differences. Once the political elites
have developed better mutual understandings,
such a culture can trickle down to larger parts
of society.
Also under favourable conditions, development
of mutual trust and of a culture of accom-moda-
tion take time. The process is vulnerable and
can fail. The institutions of power sharing are
not a guarantee for overcoming societal division
and deep conflict. However, they offer better
chances for political integration than majoritar-
ian democracy.
e.g. Great Britain
e.g. Switzerland
1. Executive Concentration of power in one-
party and bare-majority cabinet
Power sharing in broad coali-tion
2. Relations executive /
Cabinet dominance Balance of power
3. Political parties Two-party system Multiparty system
4. System of elections Majoritarian and disproportional Proportional representation
5. Influence of interest
Pluralism Corporatism
6. Government structure Unitary and centralised Federal and decentralised
7. Parliament Concentration of legislative
power in unicam-eral legislature
Strong bicameralism
8. Type of constitution Flexibility, simple procedure
of amendment, or unwritten
Rigidity, complex procedure of
9. Judicial review Absent or weak Strong
10. Central bank Controlled by executive High degree of autonomy
Switzerland is exposed to the dynamics of Euro-
peanisation and globalisation, which provoke
conflicts in the interior. The country is divided
on the question of European integration. Rising
polarisation between the right and the left makes
power sharing more difficult. Swiss democracy
is not an export model. Its experience, however,
can serve as an example to other countries
looking for their own way of federalism, power
sharing or direct democracy.
Switzerland in the process of globalisation
Since 1992, when the Swiss people, in a popular
vote, turned down membership of the European
Economic Area (EEA), the Swiss government
and the EU have managed to find another way
to develop their relations: the “bilateral way”.
The bilateral treaties between
Switzerland and the European Union
It has led to a number of treaties between the
EU and Switzerland, which were all accepted in
popular votes. They give Switzerland partially
access to the European market, under condition
that EU regulations apply on the Swiss market.
Swiss authorities pretend that the bilateral way
best serves the autonomy of the country. How-
ever, Switzerland is fully exposed to the dynam-
ics of Europeanisation and globalisation as
well. This not only creates new winners and
losers but widens the divide between liberal
pro-Europeans and conservative nationalists.
Swiss politics have become much more polar-
ised. The old cleavages between capital and
labour, and between urban and rural regions,
are becoming more salient. Polarisation, the
strategy of both the right and the left, makes
consensus more difficult and is detrimental to
the spirit of accommodation.
Internationalisation of law
The future of the bilateral way
Future success of the bilateral way is uncertain.
If bilateralism does no longer guarantee national
autonomy, the question of EU membership will
have to be put on the political agenda again. Yet,
the majority of Swiss voters consider the Euro-
pean Union as an elitist project, bureaucratic
and centralistic. EU-membership would not
stand a chance in a popular vote. Direct democ-
racy, while being the main obstacle for member-
ship, is at the same time the most robust politi-
cal institution that holds the Swiss together. It
forces the political elite to share power, main-
tain co-operation, negotiation and compromise
despite all other transformations of the Swiss
polity, despite growing divides, and despite the
ongoing difficulties induced by Europeanisation.
Swiss democracy – not an export model
but subject of dialogue
Every country has to find its own way of devel-
oping its political institutions on the basis of its
cultural heritage, history, economic and social
situation. This is the reason why the “Swiss model
of democracy” cannot be exported one-to-one –
neither to industrialised nor to developing coun-
tries. So, if the Swiss want to aid democracy,
they should choose a way of dialogue. Partners
interested in the Helvetic model of democracy
will find out that the Swiss system is unique as
is their own system. However, the concepts of
federalism, power sharing or direct democracy
are not: they can be realised in different coun-
tries in specific ways. So far, partners may find
the Swiss experience useful for their own way.
Introduction ................................................................................................................... 2
FEDERAL SYSTEM ....................................................................................................... 3
Decentralised division of powers: bottom up .................................................................. 4
Co-operative federalism ................................................................................................. 7
Cantonal participation in federal decision making .......................................................... 9
The importance of local government ............................................................................. 11
Fiscal federalism in Switzerland ....................................................................................13
Federalism in a multicultural state ................................................................................16
Challenges and the limits of Swiss federalism...............................................................20
ELECTIONS AND DIRECT DEMOCRACY .....................................................................23
Elections ......................................................................................................................24
Direct democracy ..........................................................................................................28
Voters and campaigning in direct democracy ................................................................33
Challenges of direct democracy ....................................................................................37
CONSENSUS DEMOCRACY ........................................................................................39
The Federal Council .....................................................................................................40
Consensus seeking in parliament ..................................................................................43
The political decision-making process and its actors ......................................................45
The policy cycle ............................................................................................................47
Favourable and unfavourable conditions for consensus democracy ..............................50
Problems and prospects of consensus democracy ........................................................53
COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVES ..................................................................................55
Federalism compared ...................................................................................................56
Direct democracy compared .........................................................................................58
Consensus democracy compared .................................................................................60
Epilogue – the Swiss system in the future .....................................................................62
Contents .......................................................................................................................64
Impressum ...................................................................................................................65
Publication data
Publisher Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA, Presence Switzerland
Authors Prof. Dr. Wolf Linder and Dr. Andrea Iff; University of Bern,
Institute of Political Science
Reference to the Text Wolf Linder, Swiss Democracy – Possible Solutions to Conflict in
Multicultural Societies. 3rd Edition, 2010.
French Translation
and Revision
Prof. Dr. Bernhard Waldmann and Dr. Nicolas Schmitt;
University of Fribourg, Institute of Federalism
German Translation Prof. Dr. Wolf Linder
Spanish Translation
and Revision
Lingua-Communications, Köniz
English and German
Rotstift AG, Bern
Concept and Design Presence Switzerland and Screenlight Interactive AG
Technical Realisation Screenlight Interactive AG, Zollikerberg
Photos Copyright Presence Switzerland, Swiss Parliament, Imagepoint, IRI, 123rf
Publisher Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA, Presence Switzerland
Production and Scripts Tina Hirschbühl
Video Editing and Sound Mix
TV Footage Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen SRF, Zurich;
Radio Télévision Suisse RTS, Geneva; Telepool GmbH, Zurich;
RTS Mise au Point, Geneva
Script Translation SRG SSR Media Services
Speakers English Tina Hirschbühl and Michael Morris
Speakers French Isabelle Eichenberger and Bernard Lechot
Speakers German Regula Siegfried and Urs-Peter Wolters
Speakers Spanish Patricia Islas and Jaime Ortega
Copyright FDFA / SRG SSR 2011
A Swiss citizen has a triple citizenship, the one of
a municipality, of a canton and of the federation.
If non-natives want to acquire Swiss citizenship,
they have to start with the local citizenship. The
latter must be acquired before one can apply for
the cantonal, and then for the federal citizenship.
The procedure is burdensome, and the highest
hurdle is at the local level. Applicants must have
lived a number of years in the same commune.
A local commission demands proof that the
applicant speaks one of the Swiss languages
and has a basic knowledge on the Swiss politi-
cal system, history and society. Furthermore, in
smaller communes of some cantons, the citi-
zens’ assembly finally decides on the applica-
tions in a direct democratic vote.
In the late 1990s, when discrimination happened
against applicants from certain countries, the
Supreme Court intervened, defining standards
of fair procedure for the people’s assembly.
While this decision was acclaimed by the liberal
side, it was criticised by conservatives: in their
eyes, the courts’ instructions were an offence
against the liberty and the sovereignty of the
local people.
Swiss citizenship
Asylum policy is one of the examples of co-oper-
ative federalism where the federal level sets
the law and the cantons implement the policy.
The federation and the cantons co-finance the
asylum relief. In 1998, it was decided to shorten
the allowance for asylum seekers to reduce the
financial burden. The cantons had two possibili-
ties how to reduce their costs, either to repatriate
asylum seekers more quickly and thus shorten
their stay in Switzerland or to raise the number
of asylum seekers that are allowed to work. Both
possibilities were used extensively and thus, the
cantons implemented different practices. Urban
and Latin speaking cantons preferred the second
option, rural cantons the first. Still, the problem
remains that there is no equal treatment for all
asylum seekers in all Switzerland.
Swiss asylum policy
At the beginning of the 1980s, there were
so-called “open drug scenes” in several Swiss
cities, such as Zurich, Bern, Olten and Solo-
thurn. As a consequence, the miserable state of
drug addicts was becoming increasingly visible.
That’s why every city developed its own public
and social services to help the addicts and protect
them against HIV and Aids. The Swiss Federal
Office of Public Health supported many of these
services. Because of the different experiences
that the cities made with their own programme,
in the 1990s, Switzerland introduced new mea-
sures to reduce the problems associated with
drug use and adopted a new national drug strat-
egy. Only because of the local experiences,
successes and failures, it was possible to elabo-
rate an innovative and coherent federal strategy.
It consists not only of repressive measures, but
also of prevention, harm reduction and therapy.
Important international agencies, then focused
on repression, were sceptical about the Swiss
strategy. By now, however, the Swiss drug policy
has won international recognition.
Drug policy in Swiss cities
What is the relevance of this system for the
Swiss citizens in their daily life? The differences
in taxes can be shown with an example of a
family with two children and a taxable income
of 1–50,000 Swiss francs. In 2003, in Delémont,
the capital of the canton of Jura, such a family
had to pay approximately 24,000 Swiss francs
in cantonal and local taxes. That same family
would have paid less than half of this amount,
only 10,000 Swiss francs, in the canton of Zug.
At the same time, because of the equalisation
system, the families have more or less equal
living standards in their cantons and the same
possibilities with regards to schooling and infra-
Impact of fiscal federal system
The canton of Jura represents an exception to
Swiss integration of cultural minorities. The Jura
region, which is mainly Catholic and French-
speaking, was incorporated into Protestant,
German-speaking Bern in 1815. As a minority
located at the northern periphery of the canton,
the people of Jura felt they were being discrimi-
nated against both politically and economically.
An escalation of political clashes after Second
World War gave rise to a separatist movement,
which triumphed in 1978 when the new Jura
canton was created.
Things were complicated by the fact that the
population of Jura was itself divided: three south-
ern districts had been Protestant since the 16th
century, were economically better off and had
traditionally better relations with the old can-
ton. Thus the deepening conflict was not only
between Jura and Bern, but also between “sepa-
ratists” and (Bernese) “loyalists” within the Jura.
The government of the canton of Bern there-
fore proposed a procedure which allowed the
districts to decide by popular majority whether
they wanted to stay with Bern or join the new
canton. In 1974 and 1975 the people of Jura
then voted according to this procedure which
was first accepted as a constitutional amend-
ment to the Bernese constitution.
In the first vote the inhabitants of all the Jura dis-
tricts voted 37,000 for and 34,000 against inde-
pendence. The cleavage between separatists
and loyalists was clear: the northern districts
voted for separation by three to one, whereas
the three southern districts voted by almost two
to one to stay with the old canton. Two of the
three districts confirmed their preference to stay
in the canton of Bern in the second vote in 1975,
but in one of the southern districts the vote was
split. Here a third vote was held: Moutier, the
main city of the district, decided to stay with
Bern whilst some northern municipalities in the
district chose to join the new canton. After these
votes the boundaries of the new canton, Jura,
were known, and in 1976 its people elected a
constituent assembly which then drew up a draft
constitution for the new canton. The constitution
was accepted by the people of Jura in 1977, and
one year later the Swiss people and the cantons
accepted Jura as the twenty-sixth canton of the
Sooner or later, the Jura question will come up
again. Indeed, a popular initiative in the Jura of
2004 charges the cantonal parliament with work-
ing out a constitutional framework for a “United
Jura” which includes the southern districts. Bern
authorities, so far, follow a different path: they
propose a status of partial autonomy for the
southern districts.
The case of the Jura secession is relevant for
several reasons. Firstly, the procedure of sepa-
ration had to be invented at a time when the con-
flict was escalating. Its success is rather aston-
ishing. The people of Bern canton conceded a
right for secession to the Jura people, and the
Swiss people, in the last vote, accepted the Jura
as a new canton. Federalism made a successful
proof. Secondly, the separation was not based
on the grounds of ethnic affiliation but on prin-
ciples of direct democracy: the popular major-
ity of each district decided on secession. Thirdly,
the Jura case had its particular historical back-
grounds. But it shows also the risks of conflict
if several cleavages coincide: the northern part
of the Jura felt discriminated as a linguistic and
Dealing with the separatist issue
religious minority, and as a poor region as well.
This situation was exceptional and can hardly
be found in other regions. This may have saved
problems of secession to other cantons.
An initiative to merge the cantons of Geneva
with the canton of Vaud had no chance in a
popular vote in 2002. The voting campaign was
intense but it soon became visible that the idea
of a merger was merely academic and had no
backing in the population. The initiative was
turned down in both cantons with a high major-
ity of over 70 %. In contrast, on the municipal
level, territorial reforms are common. During the
1990s, the number of municipalities decreased
from over 3,000 to approximately 2,600 and is
still decreasing. The most prominent example is
the canton of Glarus: in 2006 its people decided
to reduce the number of its communes from 25
to three.
Territorial reforms on municipal but not on cantonal level
In a democracy where people can challenge
any law through a referendum, the government
has to find encompassing majorities. One policy
area that exemplifies this problem are taxes. If
the government needs more revenue it must
theoretically encounter tax resistance from all
citizens. However, it may propose a solution that
gets a majority of voters, for instance reducing
the tax burden for a majority of modest-income
households by a small amount and raising taxes
for the smaller group with higher incomes. By
doing so the government may expect a political
majority for its project of a net fiscal gain. How-
ever, these hopes may be dashed: Firstly not
only higher income groups affected by higher
taxes might vote against the bill but also two
other groups, namely lower-income groups vot-
ing as if they are of higher income status (an
often observed situation). Secondly, voters of
all income groups may agree that higher taxes
are unavoidable but prefer cantonal taxes for
regional public goods. In practice, the federal
authorities in Switzerland were able to raise
revenue in the past but seemed to be aware of
these difficulties: consumer taxes, disliked by
most households, are lower than in other coun-
tries, and federal revenue relies much more on
income than on consumer taxes. Progression of
income tax is high – a minority of people with
high income contribute much more to federal
revenue than all other households. Finally, a
good part of federal revenue is paid back to the
cantons in the form of transfers.
Introduction of new taxation
On 6th December 1992 the Swiss people, in a
popular vote, turned down membership of the
European Economic Area (EEA) which would
have brought economic integration in a Euro-
pean market without responsibilities and rights
of membership in the EU. Whereas the other
members of the European Free Trade Associa-
tion (EFTA) – Austria, Finland, Iceland, Norway,
Sweden and Liechtenstein – decided to become
integrated into the European market, Switzer-
land chose to remain outside. The result of the
vote was already obvious in the early afternoon,
when only the small cantons have been counted.
Already 30 % of the overall votes were enough
to turn down the vote because of the missing
majority of the cantons. Finally, 19 cantons
rejected the treaty. Also the people rejected the
adhesion, but only with a very small majority of
50.3 %.
No other political decision since World War II has
been of such crucial importance to Switzerland
than this decision. This policy change was highly
controversial, and the popular vote of December
1992 left behind a divided nation. Whereas the
treaty was of immediate economic importance,
its significance went far beyond economics.
Many people feared for the country’s political
neutrality, direct democracy and sovereignty.
The referendum, therefore, was a vote on Swit-
zerland’s political future and national identity.
The popular vote on the membership of the
European Economic Area (EEA)
This possibility has never been used by the
cantons until 2003, when the cantons joined
together to fight budget cuts implied by a new
federal law. For the first time, the cantons
have been successful in calling a nationwide
vote challenging a decision of parliament. The
cantons of Vaud, Basel-Stadt, Bern, St.Gallen,
Graubünden, Solothurn, Valais and Obwalden
supported the referendum. The aim was to pre-
vent a federal tax reform, as it would have been
a great financial burden for the cantons. The
people supported the cantons in the referendum
and voted against the federal law in May 2004.
Cantonal referendum
On 27 November, 1989 the New York Times
reported the following news from Switzerland:
“Switzerland today voted to keep its army as
the best way of maintaining its neutrality. An
initiative to abolish the army was turned down
by a margin of almost two to one. ‘A majority of
the states rejected it’, a government spokesman
said. Only in Geneva and Jura did the major-
ity vote in favour of the proposal. The initiative,
forced by a petition signed by 111,300 citizens,
set off a fierce national debate on the useful-
ness of an army in a small neutral country.” The
initiative on the abolition of the Swiss army is a
prominent example for mobilising effect of initia-
tives. From the very beginning, the proponents
of this initiative were aware that they would
not win a majority of the vote but used the four
years’ discussion to change political attitudes on
the formerly taboo subject of Swiss military and
peace politics, with considerable success.
Abolition of the Swiss army
The old rule of re-election of incumbent federal
councillors has been broken in recent times. In
the parliamentary election of 2003 the Swiss
People’s Party had become the strongest party,
while Christian Democrats were amongst the los-
ers. Christoph Blocher was elected as the Swiss
People’s Party’s second representative, while
incumbent Federal Councillor Ruth Metzler from
the Christian Democrats was not re-elected.
However, in 2007, a coalition of Social Demo-
crats, Christian Democrats and Greens, opposed
to his politics, successfully boycotted Blocher’s
re-election and brought another member of
the Swiss People’s Party, Eveline Widmer-
Schlumpf, into office. The Swiss People’s Party
did not accept this manoeuvre and expelled
Widmer-Schlumpf as well as Samuel Schmid,
the second representative out of the party. As
a consequence, the Swiss People’s Party was
divided and the two federal councillors joined a
new party. The Swiss People’s Party, no longer
represented in the Federal Council, declared
the end of the grand coalition and announced its
determination to practise fundamental opposi-
tion because they didn’t feel represented in gov-
ernment. One year later, however, Ueli Maurer
– the official candidate of the Swiss People’s
Party – was elected as the successor of out-
going Samuel Schmid.
This episode shows two things: First, the “crisis
of consensus democracy” was very short. The
Swiss People’s Party soon realised that political
chances of permanent opposition of one single
party against a coalition of three are not favour-
able. The governmental parties, on their side,
were also interested in restoring the grand coali-
tion. The election of Maurer was the first step.
Second, non re-election of incumbent federal
councillors might recur in the future. This can
be seen as a loss of stability of the government,
but also as a chance for more personal change
in the Federal Council.
The voting out of federal councillors and the
“crisis of consensus democracy” in 2008
In the period of worldwide economic depression
in the 1930s the bourgeois coalition not only
came under pressure from the political left but
also from their “own” interest groups who chal-
lenged bills put forward in the federal chambers.
Moreover extremist forces, impressed by Nazi
and fascist propaganda in Germany and Italy,
tried to undermine trust in democracy and par-
liamentary institutions. Their so-called “Frontist
Initiative”, which proposed a new political order,
was overwhelmingly rejected in a popular vote,
but the legislative process became blocked by
referenda challenges from all sides. The Swiss
political authorities had to learn that the referen-
dum could also be successfully used by small
groups, and that it was difficult to obtain a suf-
ficient majority even with the support of inter-
est groups and parties. In the years before the
Second World War the Federal Council and the
parliament extensively used an “urgency clause”
of the constitution, allowing to enact laws with-
out a referendum. Direct democracy was practi-
cally suspended. After World War II, measures
were taken to avoid the collapse of the legis-
lative process in the future: urgency legislation
was restricted and a consultation process was
introduced to give cantons and interest groups
the possibility to articulate their interests before
the parliamentary process.
Crisis of the Swiss political system during the worldwide
economic crisis of the 1930s
Since many years, the Swiss invalidity insur-
ance has had considerable financial problems.
Thus, the insurance has been reformed several
times. Every time, discussions in parliament
were highly controversial. Right-wing politicians,
above all the Swiss People’s Party, and eco-
nomic associations wanted savings by cutting
back the benefits, while left-wing politicians,
above all the Social Democrats, and unions
were fiercly opposed to all cutbacks. Consen-
sus was found but the measures were modest,
far from resolving the financial problems of the
Not only in parliament, but also in the popula-
tion, discussions about invalidity insurance were
controversial. Twice in the last ten years, there
was a popular vote on a revision of the invalidity
insurance. In 1999, the Swiss people rejected
saving measures adopted by parliament. Organ-
isations of disabled people, with the support
of left parties, had challenged the revision by
optional referendum. In 2007, there was another
referendum vote on a revision of the invalidity
insurance. Again, the organisations of disabled
people could not support the cutback of benefits.
This time, the parties on the right succeeded and
the bill was adopted by the people.
This means that the departure from the status
quo must remain very small and only incremen-
tal reforms have a possibility to succeed.
Revisions of the invalidity insurance
Belgium is the most prominent example where
federalisation since 1970 has taken territorial
and corporate forms as well. The country is
divided into the regions of Flanders, Wallonia
and Brussels. But Belgium is also divided into a
Flemish-speaking community (comprising both
the geographically defined area of Flanders and
the corporately defined group of Flemish speak-
ers in Brussels), a French-speaking commu-
nity (comprising both the region of Wallonia and
Francophone Bruxellois), and a German-speak-
ing community (Eupen/Malmédy).
Non-territorial federalism in Belgium
Ireland held two referenda on the European
Union’s Lisbon treaty in 2008 and 2009. The
Irish people had to decide whether to accept
or to reject the provisions of the treaty. On 13th
June 2008, 53.4 % of Irish voted “no”, and the
rejection of the treaty plunged the EU into a
crisis. Its political elites became aware that their
decisions, even the most important ones, do not
always correspond with the people’s preference
and that the popular vote of a single country
can block the institutional mechanisms of the
EU. The Irish government decided to hold a sec-
ond vote which took place on 2nd October 2009.
This time an overwhelming majority of 67.1 %
approved the treaty. The Irish vote was the last
big hurdle for the treaty and soon afterwards it
could come into effect.
The Irish votes on the Lisbon treaty
As a consequence of the people’s “no” to the
EEA in 1992, the Swiss government decided
to suspend the negotiations for membership of
the European Union. But, in order to develop
their relations, Switzerland and the EU in 1994
started negotiations about issues for bilateral
treaties. The Swiss aim was to ensure a partial
economic integration in the European market
without membership in the EU and maintaining
the political autonomy. In 1999 and 2004, two
series of bilateral treaties were concluded. Reg-
ulations bear on subjects of traffic, public pro-
curement, scientific and technical co-opera-
tion, free movement of persons, public security
(Schengen) as well as agriculture and environ-
ment. The “Bilaterals” include about 20 main and
100 subsidiary agreements between Switzerland
and the European Union.
The treaties were passed by parliament and
by the people in referendum votes. There are
serious doubts about future success of the bilat-
eral way. For practical reasons, Switzerland is
bound to accept large parts of EU law and it has
to accept unilateral adaptation of the treaties if
the EU’s “acquis communautaire” is subject to
The bilateral treaties between Switzerland and
the European Union
Switzerland’s exposition to Europeanisation
and globalisation is mirrored in the internation-
alisation of law. Growing international interde-
pendence leads to an increase of international
law adopted by Swiss authorities and directly
applicable in Switzerland, compared to origi-
nal national law. Until the 1990s, the proportion
of national law was clearly higher than the part
of international law. In the meantime this has
reversed: in 2007, 53 % of all Swiss law were in
line with international law.
Internationalisation of law
Internationalisation of law
At least eight cantons have to join together to
call a cantonal referendum – a democratic
instrument that has existed since 1874 and
has never been used until 2003. In that year,
however, the cantons decided to make use of this
instrument: apart from canton Vaud the cantons
of Basel-Stadt, Bern, St.Gallen, Graubünden,
Solothurn, Valais and Obwalden have supported
the referendum. They were opposed to plans of
a fiscal reform of the federation which would
have charged the cantons with an additional tax
burden of 500 million Swiss francs. The refer-
endum was successful. The late “discovery” of
the cantonal referendum shows that federalism
is not a frozen framework but flexible and open
to new modes of action by political actors.
First cantonal referendum 2003
According to the census of 2000, 64 % of the Swiss
population speak German, 20 % French, 6.5 %
Italian, 0.5 % Romansh and, due to immigration,
9 % speak another language as their first lan-
guage. These linguistic groups are territorially
concentrated and most cantons are monolin-
gual. Of the 26 cantons only three are bilingual
(Bern, Fribourg, Valais) and one (Graubünden)
is trilingual. The Romansh-speaking community
is the only one that does not form a majority in
any canton. With regards to the main religions,
Catholics represent 44 and Protestants 37 %
of the population. Religious groups are slightly
more dispersed than linguistic groups. However,
even in cantons that are faced with religious and
linguistic diversity, at least municipalities are
relatively homogeneous.
Diversity of the society
In 1291, Switzerland was created as a confeder-
ation of three independent states, mainly for the
purposes of defence against outside enemies.
The confederation evolved slowly, new states
were included with new treaties. The French
Revolution ended the “old order” of the con-
federation. French troops invaded the Swiss
cantons in 1789. Napoleon installed a central-
ised regime. When it proved to be not effective,
Napoleon reformed it, re-installing the cantons.
In 1815, after the defeat of the French, Switzer-
land returned to a confederal organisation. With
the industrialisation and nation-building in the
surrounding states, confederal arrangements
became too inflexible. The following decades
were characterised by democratisation in certain
cantons, disputes over the future organisation,
and religious conflicts, which culminated in a
short civil war between Catholic and Protestant
cantons in 1847. The victory of the liberal Prot-
estant side opened the way for installing a
democratic federal state in 1848. The procedure
for adopting the constitution made sure that only
a compromise between opponents and support-
ers of a federal union could succeed. The major
principles of state organisation remained the
same since then, even though many smaller and
two total revisions (1874 and 1999) of the consti-
tution took place.
Historical origins
Swiss economy is highly globalised. It is based
on a highly qualified labour force produc-
ing quality products. The main areas include
microtechnology, high-tech equipment, biotech-
nology and pharmaceuticals, as well as bank-
ing and insurance. Most of Swiss manpower is
employed by small and medium-sized enter-
prises, which play an extremely important role
in the Swiss economy. In the 1990s, it was hit by
a recession which led to the highest unemploy-
ment ever seen in Swiss industry. Even though,
Swiss economy today is internationally highly
competitive, performing better than most OECD
Switzerland’s economy
Until today, the official name of the Swiss federal
state is in Latin “Confoederatio Helvetica” or
Swiss Confederation. This traditional name
derives from the historical origins. Today, still,
the abbreviation CH for ‘Confoederatio Helvet-
ica’ is the Swiss country code found on motor
vehicles and Internet domains.
In English, however, the term “Swiss Confedera-
tion” is somehow misleading. Switzerland, today,
is a “federation” since 1848, and no longer a
“confederation”, a term to characterise a loose
association of otherwise independent states.
Romansh is one of the four official languages
of Switzerland. It is Latin variety with regional
particularities. Romansh is predominant in the
south-eastern trilingual canton of Graubünden,
besides German and Italian. According to the
census of 2000, only about 0.5 % of the Swiss
population still speak Romansh. The language
is spoken in a number of closely related dia-
lects. The language has been recognised as
one of the four national languages in 1938 and
was declared an official language in 1996. As a
consequence, Romansh speakers may use it for
correspondence with the federal government.
The word federalism comes from the Latin word
“foedus”. This expression was used for personal
bandages and treaties between peoples in the
middle age. Federalism defines a state in which
(1) at least two levels of government rule the
same land and people, (2) each level has some
area of action in which it is autonomous, (3) sub-
national units participate in important decisions
of the central government. The last point marks
the essential difference of federalist in contrast
to decentralised systems.
Tripartite Agglomeration Conference
According to official statistics more than 70 %
of the Swiss population live in agglomerations.
However, there is no political organisation for
the common needs of their inhabitants. Central
cities in Switzerland, after years of unsuccess-
ful negotiations, have achieved success in the
formation of a Tripartite Agglomeration Confer-
ence, a political platform of the federal level,
the cantons, the cities and the municipalities.
It was founded in 2001 by the Federal Council,
the Conference of the Cantonal Governments,
the Swiss Association of Municipalities, and
the Swiss Association of Cities. The aim of the
conference is that all federal levels work more
closely together to find viable solutions for the
border-crossing problems of agglomerations.
After the negative popular vote on Switzerland
joining the European Economic Area (EEA)
in 1992 the cantonal governments were look-
ing for ways how to improve the co-operation
between the cantons and the federal level. This
led to the foundation of the Conference of the
Governments of the Cantons in 1993. The aim
of the conference is the co-operation among
the cantons and with the federal level. More
specifically, the aim is to ensure the timely and
encompassing information on international or
European policies that would impact the powers
and responsibilities of the cantons.
Conference of the Governments of the Cantons
Consensus democracy
A consensual system is characterised by political
decision making in an oversized majority includ-
ing all relevant actors. This requires a permanent
process of negotiation and accommodation in
order to achieve a political compromise. The
idea of seeking a far-reaching consensus –
instead mere majority decisions – has historical
roots and is deeply embedded in the Swiss polit-
ical culture. It is characterised by institutions
different from majoritarian democracy as we find
in most countries of the Anglo-Saxon world.
Article 175 of the Federal Constitution
Composition and election of the Federal
1 The Federal Council shall have seven members.
2 The members of the Federal Council shall be
elected by the Federal Assembly following
each general election to the National Council.
3 They shall be elected for a term of office of four
years from all the Swiss citizens who are eligi-
ble for election to the National Council.
4 In electing the Federal Council, care must be
taken to ensure that the various geographical
and language regions of the country are appro-
priately represented.
Article 177 of the Federal Constitution
Principle of collegiality and allocation to
1 The Federal Council shall reach its decisions
as a collegial body.
2 For the purposes of preparation and imple-
mentation, the business of the Federal Council
shall be allocated to its individual members
according to department.
3 Business may be delegated to and directly
dealt with by departments or their subordinate
administrative units; in such cases, the right to
legal recourse shall be guaranteed.
Judicial organisation and the Federal Court
With judicial authorities on the municipal, can-
tonal and federal level, the judicial organisa-
tion follows the idea of federalism. At the top, as
highest authority and court of last resort, there is
the Federal Court. It is composed of 35–45 full-
time judges and a similar number of part-time
judges. On the base of the revised constitution
of 2000, a Federal Criminal Court and a Federal
Administrative Court have been established as
an additional instance before the Federal Court.
Additionally there are certain specialised courts,
e.g. the Federal Insurance Court or the Military
Criminal Court.
The Federal Court acts in all areas of Swiss law
but in very different functions, depending on
the specificity of the case. The Federal Court
decides on conflicts between the federation and
the member states and on conflicts among the
cantons. It is empowered to review legislative
and executive acts of the cantons and guar-
antees the constitutional rights of the citizens.
However, the Federal Court does not have the
power to rule on the constitutionality of federal
The social cleavages and antagonistic political
interests in the second half of the 19th century
led to three main tendencies in Swiss political life:
liberalism, conservatism and socialism. These
tendencies crystallised in the four governmental
political parties of Radicals, Christian Demo-
crats, Social Democrats and the Swiss Peo-
ple’s Party. Federalism and proportional repre-
sentation, however, led to a highly fragmented
multiparty system. The profiles of the Swiss
political parties and their share of votes (in the
2007 national elections) are as follows:
Radicals (15.8 %): regards itself as the heir to
nineteenth century liberal ideas; it enjoys close
relations with business and industry and is highly
influential in economic matters. It is the politi-
cal representative of independent professionals,
entrepreneurs and the middle class.
Christian Democrats (14.5 %): successor to the
Catholic conservative movement. Still the pre-
ferred party of the Catholics. With a bourgeois
and a trade-union wing, it thus tries to integrate
the opposing interests of entrepreneurs and
Social Democrats (19.5 %): in former times
it was periodically a radical-left movement.
Today it is a moderate party standing for social,
ecological and economic reforms. Enjoys close
relations with trade unions. Most of its support-
ers are in urban, industrialised regions, but it
draws on all social groups.
Swiss People’s Party (28.9 %): once a conser-
vative party appealing mainly to farmers, crafts-
men and independent professionals, it has more
than doubled its electoral force in the last 15
years and become the biggest political party.
Defending Swiss sovereignty and neutrality, it is
today situated at the national-conservative right.
Greens (9.8 %): party of the ecology move-
ment; has drawn from left parties as well as from
new social movements.
Green Liberals (1.4 %): Split from the Green
Party in 2007 to address centre-oriented
Liberals (1.9 %): dates back to the 19th
century; represents a right-wing secession from
the radicals. Strongest affinity of all Swiss par-
ties to neoliberal ideas. Represents the upper
middle class and independent professionals. In
2009 merger with the Radicals.
Protestants (2.4 %): counterpart of the Chris-
tian democrats, but without its electoral success.
Alternative Left (1.1 %): successor of former
radical left parties (mainly the Communist Labour
Party and progressive organisations) that have
almost disappeared. Non-dogmatic, social and
ecological orientation.
Bourgeois-Democrats: split from the Swiss
People’s Party in 2008, with five members of
parliament and one member of the Federal
Council, which was elected in 2007 against the
official candidate of the Swiss People’s Party.
Participates in national elections in 2011 for the
first time.
Political parties
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... Štyri najsilnejšie politické strany rôzneho ideového zamerania (socialisti, liberáli, kresťanskí demokrati a ľudovci) vytvárali dlhé desaťročia podľa tzv. čarovnej formuly (Zauberformel) vládu -Spolkovú radu -a mali tak pod kontrolou absolútnu väčšinu v parlamente (Linder, 1997). Vo Švajčiarsku sa položartom zvyklo hovorilo, že voliči už pred voľbami vedia, ktoré politické strany vytvoria budúcu vládu. ...
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... Štyri najsilnejšie politické strany rôzneho ideového zamerania (socialisti, liberáli, kresťanskí demokrati a ľudovci) vytvárali dlhé desaťročia podľa tzv. čarovnej formuly (Zauberformel) vládu -Spolkovú radu -a mali tak pod kontrolou absolútnu väčšinu v parlamente (Linder, 1997). Vo Švajčiarsku sa položartom zvyklo hovorilo, že voliči už pred voľbami vedia, ktoré politické strany vytvoria budúcu vládu. ...
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The municipalities and cities are more than ever dependent on successful cooperation with third parties. Regardless of whether this relates to the cooperation with regional economic entities, other public institutions or citizens and their representatives. It is important to maintain all possible benefits and cost synergies in favour of regional value creation. For example, the civic-participative understanding of democracy, the Integration of people and companies, and the concern for the sustainable provision of services of regional quality of life, rely on cooperation. The declining financial revenue titles – at the same time increasing costs-also oblige the municipalities, towns and regions to cooperate. Based on an analysis of the conditions in Germany, the present book exposes the opportunities and risks of new, contemporary forms of communal cooperation in very different sectors and areas (health, housing, energy, education, etc.) to a detailed description and inter-communal evaluation. Die Gemeinden und Städte sind zwingender denn je auf gelungene Kooperationen mit Dritten angewiesen. Unabhängig davon ob sich dies auf die Zusammenarbeit mit regional ansässigen Wirtschaftsunternehmen, anderen öffentlichen Einrichtungen oder die Bürger und deren Interessenvertretungen bezieht. Es gilt, alle möglichen Nutzen- und Kosten- synergien zugunsten regionaler Wertschöpfungen zu pflegen. So ist es nicht nur ein verändertes, bürgerpartizipatives Demokratieverständnis, das auf eine Integration der Menschen und Unternehmen setzt, oder die Sorge um die nachhaltige Bereitstellung von Leistungen der regionalen Lebensqualität. Auch die rückläufigen finanziellen Einnahmetitel – bei gleichzeitig steigenden Kosten – verpflichten die Gemeinden, Städte und Regionen zur Kooperation. Im vorliegenden Buch werden, von einer Analyse der Bedingungen in Deutschland ausgehend, die Chancen und Risiken neuer, zeitgemäßer Formen kommunaler Zusammenarbeit in ganz unterschiedlichen Branchen und Bereichen (Gesundheit, Wohnen, Energie, Ver- und Entsorgungswirtschaft, Bildung, interkommunale Zusammenarbeit) einer näheren Beschreibung und Bewertung ausgesetzt. 43 Autoren aus Wissenschaft und Praxis kommen zu Wort und formulieren ihre Empfehlungen zur zukünftigen Entwicklung. Einmal mehr spielt dabei das genossenschaftliche Modell der kooperativen Ökonomie eine hervorragende Rolle. Es zeigt sich erneut, wie wirkungsvoll dieses – nicht nur in Zeiten klammer Kassen – eingesetzt werden kann. Inhalt: 1. Grundsätzliche Überlegungen und Aspekte Ausgangslagenbeschreibung Gerd Landsberg: Anforderungen kommunaler Kooperationen aus Sicht der Städte und Gemeinden Karl-Christian Schelzke: Wie wollen Kommunen in Zukunft (über)leben? Wolfgang George: Ziele kommunaler Kooperation Dietwald Gruehn: Klimawandel – Notwendigkeit zu verstärkter kommunaler und regionaler Kooperation im Rahmen formeller und informeller Planungsprozesse? Andreas Memmert: Kommunale Kooperation aus der Sicht eines Bürgermeisters Zukunfts- und Visionsbeschreibungen Dirk Oßwald: Interkommunale Zusammenarbeit in aller Munde: Modeerscheinung oder Überlebenszwang? Finanzierungsaspekte Jürgen Wegmann: Die wirtschaftliche Struktur der gemeinnützigen AG als ein Format der kooperativen Ökonomie Heinrich Degenhart, Lars Holstenkamp: Genossenschaftliche Beteiligungsfinanzierung von Investitionen für die Erzeugung und Verteilung erneuerbarer Energien Gunnar Schwarting: Interkommunale Kooperation – sachlich geboten und finanzpolitisch notwendig Rechtliche Aspekte Henning Jensen: Interkommunale Zusammenarbeit als Thema des Vergaberechts Hans-H. Münkner: Kommunale Kooperation – Genossenschaft als Modell für öffentliche Aufgaben Andreas Eisen: Kooperation und Genossenschaften als Modell der kommunalen (Selbst-)Steuerung Edgar Steinle: Die Genossenschaft als Organisationsform zur Erfüllung öffentlicher Aufgaben Binnenorganisation Joerg Bogumil, Maren Kohrsmeyer, Sascha Gerber: Politikfeldübergreifende Koordination – eine intrakommunale Herausforderung Entwicklung im Ausland Klaus Wirth: Gemeindekooperationen in Österreich – Einschätzungen zum Stand und aktuelle Entwicklungen Roland Scherer: Die Renaissance der Region? Aktuelle Entwicklungen der Regionalisierung in der Schweiz Andrea Iff, Fritz Sager, Rolf Wirz, Eva Herrmann: Demokratie und interkommunale Zusammenarbeit in der Schweiz – Fallstudien von zwei Gemeinden im Kanton Bern Andrea Iff, Fritz Sager: Demokratiequalität interkantonaler Zusammenarbeit in der Schweiz Christian Eigner, Michaela Ritter: LEADER, Kunst und Evaluierung Oder: Wie man sich als Geburtshelfer einer genuin europäischen Politik wiederfindet 2. Beispiele und Modelle Versorgung und Entsorgung Peter Momper, Ulrich Gehrlein, Lorenz Kock: Bioenergie-Region Mittelhessen – Masterplan zur regionalen regenerativen Energieversorgung Ulf Theilen: Organisationsmodelle in der Abwasserentsorgung – Grundsätzliche Möglichkeiten der Kommunalen Kooperation und ausgeführte Beispiele Thomas Berg: Vertrieb Energiegenossenschaften: Entwicklungspotenzial, regionale Wertschöpfung und Multiplikation der Energiegenossenschaften Fabio Longo: Städte und Gemeinden vor ihrer gemeinschaftlichen Zukunftsaufgabe der neuen örtlichen Energieversorgung Marketing und Stadtentwicklung Karl J. Eggers: Chancen kommunaler Zusammenarbeit: Beispiel Standortmarketing Markus Hanisch: Kommunale Kooperation in Form von Multi-Stakeholder Genossenschaften: Das Beispiel Stadtmarketing Wissen Georg A. Pflüger, Heinz Kipp: Regionale Grundschulversorgung zukunftsfähig gestalten Ulrich Vossebein: Stärkung der Region durch Bildungsnetzwerke Soziales Albrecht Goeschel, Rudolf Martens: Regionales Sozialbudget: Konzept für die Kooperation von Kommunen und Sozialen Verbänden Nicole Göler von Ravensburg: Aktuelle Entwicklung von Kultur- und Sozialgenossenschaften Hans-H. Münkner: Kommunale Kooperation – Genossenschaft als Modell für öffentliche Aufgaben Wohnbau Heinz-Otto Weber: Kommunale Wohnungsgenossenschaften Volker Behnecke, Elke Bergsma: Zur Rekommunalisierung öffentlicher Daseinsvorsorge am Beispiel der kommunalen Immobilien- und Wohnungswirtschaft Umsetzung und Projektmanagement Elke Grossenbacher: Interkommunale Zusammenarbeit erfolgreich durchführen – Solides Projektmanagement als unverzichtbare Grundlage
Switzerland and Denmark are both old democracies. Switzerland obtains the maximum score (10) on the Polity IV democracy-index from 1848 onwards – notwithstanding that Swiss women were not fully enfranchised at the federal level prior to 1971 and that the last canton to enfranchise them at the cantonal level (Appenzell-Innerrhoden) did so only in 1990. Denmark, which got its first democratic constitution in 1849, obtains its first “10” on the Polity IV democracy-index for the year of 1915, the year Danish women became enfranchised.
This chapter delves deeper into the contextual aspect of cleavage voting. The first part of the chapter focusses on the cantonal distribution of cleavage influence in order to examine the magnitude of differences and to detect possible geographical patterns. In a second step, a cluster analysis groups the cantons into three types according to contextual cleavage variables for religion, social class and rural-urban. This new typology then provides the basis for a first statistical test of different voting patterns in the three cantonal groups. The main empirical analysis using both individual and contextual variables is then presented. This part begins with a theoretical discussion about the possible effects for each cleavage, including an interplay between both the individual and contextual level. The subsequent analysis relies on multilevel modelling that allows for the inclusion of cross-level interactions. After discussion of the findings, the chapter concludes with a summary of the most important results.
This chapter introduces cleavage voting, the central concept of the book. In order to give a brief overview of voting theories the chapter starts with a presentation of the traditional three schools of electoral research and some more modern approaches. Afterwards the concept of cleavage is defined in more detail and discussed in relation to actual voting behaviour. Subsequently the main types of cleavages are discussed in a historical and modern perspective. Given the changing importance of cleavages in the last few decades, the chapter also presents underlying reasons for these changes. As this book focuses on Switzerland, the specificities of the Swiss cleavage system and developments over time will also be discussed. The final part of the chapter presents the contextual aspect of voting, which will play a major role in the empirical analysis. This final part includes a definition of contextual effects, a discussion of the underlying mechanism of how the context affects voting behaviour and its connection to individual factors in the sense of a moderating influence.
The focus of this chapter is the development of cleavage voting over time. The chapter opens by discussing the theoretical effects as to why and how the four cleavages matter for voting behaviour. This is followed by a presentation of empirical findings from both the international and Swiss-specific literature. Afterwards the empirical study – the testing of the evolution of cleavage voting in Switzerland – is described. This begins with a data and method section in which the used datasets, the exact operationalisation of variables and the statistical models are presented in detail. The subsequent empirical analysis of voting patterns covers ten elections and 40 years. For each cleavage a descriptive discussion of voting behaviour is followed by more sophisticated statistical analyses on the actual impact of cleavages over time and in comparison to each other. In addition to examining the development of cleavage strength, the analysis also tackles the underlying reasons for this development, namely changes due to behavioural or structural effects. The conclusion summarizes the most important findings and offers explanations for the longitudinal trends found.
Cantonal participation in federal decision making
  • .............. . Co-Operative Federalism
Co-operative federalism................................................................................................. 7 Cantonal participation in federal decision making.......................................................... 9 The importance of local government.............................................................................11
43 The political decision-making process and its actors
  • .............. . The Federal Council
The Federal Council.....................................................................................................40 Consensus seeking in parliament..................................................................................43 The political decision-making process and its actors......................................................45
47 Favourable and unfavourable conditions for consensus democracy
  • . . . . The Policy Cycle
The policy cycle............................................................................................................47 Favourable and unfavourable conditions for consensus democracy..............................50
28 Voters and campaigning in direct democracy
  • ................. . Direct Democracy
Direct democracy..........................................................................................................28 Voters and campaigning in direct democracy................................................................33 Challenges of direct democracy....................................................................................37