Switzerland is a country in Europe made up of 26 cantons; it is a federal republic extending into western, central and southern Europe. The country is bordered by Italy (south), France (west), Germany (north), and Austria and Liechtenstein (east). Switzerland covers a total area of 15,940 square miles, with the Alps occupying a large portion of the country. Its population is around eight-and-a-half million people. Switzerland also boasts two global cities and economic centres – Zürich and Geneva – and has four main linguistic regions: German, French, Italian and Romansh. The majority of the population, however, mainly speak German.
Switzerland is an extremely developed country, with the highest nominal wealth per adult in the world. It ranks near the top in terms of national performance, which is measured by government transparency, civil liberties, quality of life, economic competitiveness, and human development. Zürich is the second-ranked city on the planet in terms of quality of life.
How is government structured?
Switzerland is a democratic federal republic. There are two chambers of the Federal Assembly: the National Council and the Council of States.
The Federal Council is entrusted with executive power in the government. It is composed of seven members, elected by the Federal Assembly, who collectively make up the federal government of the Swiss Confederation. Each councillor in the Federal Council is in charge of their own executive department, with the position of Federal President rotating among them on a yearly basis (the Vice President becomes President for the following year). The current President is Alain Berset.
The judicial branch of the government is overseen by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, for which the Federal Assembly elects judges.
The executive branch of the Swiss government (Federal Council) is staffed by the Federal Chancellery, which is headed-up by the Federal Chancellor, who is elected by Parliament for a four-year term, often around the same time as the Federal Council is elected. The Chancellery is split into three sectors, one of which is overseen by the Federal Chancellor himself. The other two sectors are led by Vice-Chancellors.
Any change in the constitution by which Switzerland is governed requires a mandatory referendum, whereas changes in the law can be dealt with by an optional referendum. The Swiss people can also present initiatives to introduce amendments to the constitution.
Who’s in charge?
The Federal Assembly elect the Federal Council for a four-year term – the present members of the Council areare: Doris Leuthard (CVP/PDC), Guy Parmelin (SVP/UDC), Ueli Maurer (SVP/UDC), Ignazio Cassis (FDP/PRD), Simonetta Sommaruga (SP/PS), Johann Schneider-Ammann (FDP/PRD) and Alain Berset (SP/PS).
The President, whose role is largely ceremonial, has very little additional responsibility above that of the other six members of the Council, but performs actions and duties similar to a President or Prime Minister in other European democracies.
The Swiss government, particularly the executive branch, is regarded as one of the most stable in the world. It has featured a coalition of four major parties since 1959, with each party retaining a number of seats in the assembly.
The legislative branch
Switzerland’s Federal Assembly, essentially the legislative branch of government, is made up of a Council of States with 46 seats (also known as the upper chamber), and a National Council with 200 seats (also known as the lower chamber). The two chambers of the Assembly are equal, which is considered perfect bicameralism, and meets to elect the seven members of the Federal Council. The members of both houses serve for 4 years in part-time roles.
Five parties in total are represented in the Federal Council: the Free Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Christian Democratic Party, the Swiss People's Party, and the Conservative Democratic Party of Switzerland.
The Judicial Branch
The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland is composed of judges who are elected for six-year periods by the Federal Assembly. The Supreme Court exists to listen to appeals from cantonal courts, as well as the rulings of the federal administration. There is no Constitutional Court in Switzerland, and the Supreme Court has no dealings with laws enacted by parliament. The people of Switzerland take up this role themselves, making them the guardians of the constitution, over which they can exercise influence.