28 Pages

Institutions and Outcomes of Swiss Federalism: The Role of the Cantons in Swiss Politics

Together with the United States and Canada, Switzerland is one of the three classical federations in the world. l Historically speaking, the Swiss federation can be considered as a case of 'non-centralisation'. When founding the federation in 1848, the 25 cantons kept their own statehood, their own constitutions and most of their political autonomy. They transferred only a few competences to the federal government and assured themselves significant participation rights in the decision-making of the central authorities. Article 3 of the Swiss constitution still defines the division of powers between the Federation and the cantons. A general subsidiarity clause assigns all tasks to the cantons unless explicitly delegated to the central state. As to the representation of the member states in the federal parliamentary system, the Swiss solution resembles that of the US: full bicameralism consisting of two legislative chambers, in which the National Council represents the people and the Council of Cantons the member states. Each chamber has the same competences and deliberates all issues one after the other. To become valid, a parliamentary decision needs the majority in both chambers. The principle of a double majority applies also for certain decisions in the process of direct democracy: constitutional amendments, proposed either by the Federal Chambers or by a popular initiative, are subject to a mandatory vote by the people. To be accepted, such a proposition must win the approval of the people and of the cantons.2 Thus, all popular initiatives and parliamentary decisions on constitutional amendments and on some international treaties need a double majority representing the democratic and the cantonal majority.