The Confederation is the name used in Switzerland for the state. In the Confederation, there are three powers: the executive (the Federal Council), the legislature (the Federal Assembly) and the judiciary (the Federal Supreme Court).

Swiss politics

Swiss politicsSwitzerland’s existence as a modern federal state dates back to 1848. The government is made up of seven members, elected by the Federal Assembly. The government members take it in turns to act as president. The Swiss people can influence political affairs through the highly developed system of direct democracy. 

Role of the cantons

Role of the cantonsEach canton has its own constitution, its government, its parliament, its courts and its laws, though they must, of course, be compatible with those of the Confederation. The cantons enjoy a great deal of administrative autonomy and freedom of decision-making. They have independent control over their education systems and social services, and each has its own police force. Each canton also sets its own level of taxation.

Cantons Switzerland is made up of 26cantons. They are the states that originally united in 1848 to form the Confederation, to which they each relinquished part of their sovereignty. The cantons, as member states of the Swiss federal state, have a permanent constitutional status and, in comparison with the situation in other countries, a high degree of independence. Under the Federal Constitution, all 26 cantons are equal in status. Accordingly, at a federal level, all cantons have the same rights of intervention (e.g. cantonal initiative, referendum requested by the cantons). Each canton has its own constitution, and its own parliament, government and courts. However, there are considerable differences between the individual cantons, most particularly in terms of population, geographical area, economic power and political tradition. The character of each canton is largely determined by its geographical location, its predominant culture and its history. Direct democracy in the form of a People’s Assembly still exists in the cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus. In the other cantons, the people vote only at the ballot box.


The cantons are divided into communes. All Swiss are first and foremost citizens of a commune. It is from this status that they automatically derive citizenship of a canton and of the country as a whole. Foreigners wishing to become Swiss citizens have to apply to the commune where they live.There are now about 2,900 communes, varying greatly in area and population. The smallest, all in the Central Plateau, have an area of only 0.3 km2 (0.1 square mile), while the biggest, Bagnes in Canton Valais, is 282 km2 (109 square miles).Some communes have more inhabitants than the small cantons, others just 100-200. More than half have populations of less than 1,000. Only about four percent of communes have more than 10,000 inhabitants - but about half the Swiss population live in them.The communes, like the cantons, have their own elected administrative authorities. For some local issues they take autonomous decisions; in other cases they carry out decisions of the canton or the confederation. The areas for which they are responsible include security, education, health and transport affairs. They also register births, marriages and deaths, and collect federal, cantonal and local taxes. The details vary from canton to canton.In 90% of communes, the citizens gather at least once a year in an assembly where each individual votes on important subjects. However, in larger communes such direct participation is not practical, and most decisions are left to an elected town council which meets regularly. Even in the biggest communes all members are ballotted on items like the budget. They cast their votes not in an assembly, but in booths or by post.

The communes are the lowest level of the state structure. All the cantons are divided up into political communes. In addition to the tasks that are allocated to them by their canton and also by the Confederation, the communes also have their own powers in various areas.


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