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The Swiss Federal Council: The Peak of Governance


Situated at the pinnacle of Switzerland’s governmental structure is the Swiss Federal Council. This seven-person collective executive entity functions as the federal government for the Swiss Confederation. Its distinctive power-distribution methodology distinguishes it from many nations where executive power is typically concentrated in a single person.


The Federal Council is composed of seven individuals, each presiding over a federal department analogous to a ministry. These individuals are elected to serve a four-year period by the United Federal Assembly, which brings together members of the National Council and the Council of States. It is significant to note that the Federal Council does not succumb to the influence of a single political faction. Instead, it incorporates members from various major parties to ensure a comprehensive political representation.


Switzerland defies the norm of having a single head of state or a prime minister. All seven members of the Federal Council jointly lead the state, thereby embodying the country’s dedication to cooperative governance.


The operational principles of the Federal Council revolve around collegiality and consensus. All decisions are reached collectively, with each councilor standing on an equal footing, irrespective of their tenure or the department they preside over. One member assumes the role of the Confederation’s President for a term of one year. However, this role is more symbolic than functional and does not accord any additional powers.


Each federal councilor manages a government department, supervising crucial sectors like defense, finance, foreign affairs, justice, among others. Their duties encompass policy development, legislative proposal, and department management. They work in unison and coordinate their actions to ensure seamless governmental operation and effective policy execution.


The Swiss Federal Assembly, the bicameral parliament of Switzerland, operates as the legislative body. It is divided into two chambers: The National Council, representing the Swiss populace, and the Council of States, representing the cantons.


The National Council, with its roster of 200 members, is the larger chamber. National Councilors are elected every four years through a system of proportional representation, mirroring Switzerland’s political diversity. The Council of States is smaller, housing 46 members who represent the cantons. Every canton, regardless of its size or population, elects two representatives, with the exception of half-cantons, which elect one each. This arrangement ensures that every region in the country, regardless of its size, has an equal voice at the federal level.


Together, these two chambers of the Federal Assembly enact laws, ratify treaties, make financial decisions, and elect the members of the Federal Council and federal judges. The equilibrium between the two chambers further underscores Switzerland’s commitment to consensus and equity, thereby strengthening the country’s formidable democratic tradition.

Author: Pooyan Ghamari, Swiss Economist & Visionary 


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