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Swiss Government

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Swiss Government

Switzerland, or the Swiss Confederation, is a small country in the center of Western Europe, surrounded by Italy, France, Germany and Austria and is said to be born in 1291. The population is nearing 7.5 million people of which they are primarily German, French and Italian. The economy, which once used to be dependent on agriculture and crafts, is now dependent on foreign labor because of association with international politics and trade and because of the great industrialization. Their government has gone through many transitions and changes over the years but all has lead up to what Switzerland is today. Although many view Switzerland as a land of neutrality, there are many important aspects of their government that has shaped the world, and what their government is today.

It was not until the late 18th century that Switzerland lived under a unified government but if one was to ignore everything that happened before that period, then they would not understand the distinctive characteristics in the present day government. In the 16th century, Switzerland was the focus of the Protestant Reformation, and the cantons split along religious lines. One of the greatest political and religious leaders of the Reformation was John Calvin. His success lay in his extraordinary ability to combine extreme political convictions with his administrative talent. Calvin made much of Switzerland a power of Protestant strength. Both civil and secular laws were dominated by Calvin's' teachings. His religious base was Geneva, but his ideas spread rapidly to Scotland, the Netherlands, and even to southern France.

During the French Revolution, Switzerland united thirteen cantons to settle internal disagreements by means of arbitration. These cantons formed a small form of the League of Nations, and "there was no form of representative government, nor anything resembling a federal service, nor a federal army, nor a federal budget, nor a cantonal citizenship" (Rappard 16). The weakness of this type of government they contained was shown in 1798 when the French invaded. They were compelled to accept a constitution that was drafted by the French which stated that the country remain equal among all areas of the country as well as equality among each class of their citizens. As the French withdrew their military, Switzerland found it hard to maintain that type of government and in 1803, an "Act of Mediation" was drafted. In this act, they systematized the principles and laws of the country. This act was then modified in 1814 after the fall of Napoleon, and a new federal constitution was drafted as the Pact of 1815, which of course was another step backward. The citizens desired the governments to relinquish their powers and their cantons were soon turned into liberal democracies.

In 1847, a brief civil war broke out which lead to the constitution of 1848, which was created by 23 men. After meeting 31 times the constitution was drafted and composed of 104 articles. It was in this constitution where the single legislative body was dropped and the bicameral system, or the Federal Assembly, was adopted. One of the houses would represent the cantons and the other would represent the people. The Federal Assembly was organized into the National Council and the Council of States, of which were made up of seven members each from different cantons. The members were elected by the executive of the Federal Assembly, of whose position is one comparable to the president of the United States but with far less authority. This executive position was to change every year and the member received no more power over negotiations than any of the other members of the council. Along with the Federal Assembly that was created by the constitution, the Federal Tribunal was also updated from the previous standing it had. It consisted of eleven members and eleven alternates that retained their position for three years at a time. The judges, as well as the eleven members, were chosen by the Federal Assembly and received no salary, but only a small compensation per case tried.

Much of the Constitution of 1848 is still in effect today with a few provisions that happened along the years. In 1874, some provisions were made with the main objectives defined as "national centralization, extended democracy, reinforced anticlericalism, and state intervention in the social and economic fields" (Rappard 25). Much of the revisions had to do with military matters as well as a development of commercial, civil and criminal law. Out of all these revisions in the constitution comes the present government of Switzerland.

The set up of the present day Switzerland government is set up differently than the one here in the United States but is quite comparable. Switzerland is a decentralized federal republic composed of twenty-six cantons, which can be compared to the states in our country, and six half cantons. In many cantons, the executive is called the Council of State, of which there are two representatives to each canton and one representative to each of the six half cantons. Each canton and half canton has their own Constitution drafted, own government, own courts and laws, but they all must obey the rules of a federally set standard. Like the states, the cantons have their own educational systems and police forces.

These cantons are then in turn are then divided into communes. Officially, there are over 3,000 communes in the country. It is explained "a person cannot be a Swiss citizen without being a citizen of a canton and a person cannot be a cantonal citizen without being a citizen of a commune" (Coddin 47). Thus, the citizens first responsibility goes to the commune they are living in and then to the canton, that they are associated with. A citizen can be a member of many communes but their original or home commune is the one that is responsible for the citizen and their family. Regardless of where born, children are automatically citizens of the father's home commune and when a woman marries, her citizenship becomes the one of her husbands origin. Like the cantons, the communes have their own authorities but in many issues, they will fulfill the decisions of the canton or even the federal constitution. Their responsibilities do however include those of the educational and health systems, along with the security and transportation affairs. They register the births, marriages and deaths that occur in their own communes, and collect all federal, cantonal, or local taxes. At least once a year, the communes hold meetings where the citizens vote on significant issues, but in the bigger communes, an elected committee decides on these issues.

Legislative power is the responsibility of the dual-chamber Federal Assembly of which



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