18 Pages

The Federal Parliament: The Limits of Institutional Reform

According to the new Federal Constitution (Art. 148, al. 1), which reiterates the formulation of the old text of 1848, the Federal Assembly, that is the parliament, constitutes the supreme authority of the Confederation, except for the rights of the people and the cantons. The designers of the constitution of 1848 wanted to institutionalise the superiority of the Federal Assembly over the Federal Council. 1 However, they failed to provide the Federal Assembly with an efficient mechanism for the control of government. The Swiss system of government is not a parliamentary system since it does not have the motion of censure which would allow parliament to dismiss the government; conversely, the government cannot dissolve the Federal Assembly either. Nor does the Swiss system of government correspond to a presidential regime, given that the Federal Council is not elected by the people, but by parliament. Arend Lijphart considers the Swiss system to be a hybrid case which combines elements of both types of regime.2 According to Philippe Lauvaux and Thomas Fleiner-Gerster, it constitutes a genuine third type, distinct from both the presidential and the parliamentary systems - a type which they call the 'directorial system' and which follows the model of the Directoire of the French Revolution.3 This type of regime is

characterised by a collegial executive which (as in a parliamentary system) is elected by parliament, but which, once elected (as in a presidential system) is no longer responsible to the parliament until the following general elections. For the duration of a legislature, this type of regime introduces a separation of powers which resembles that of the presidential system.