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Swiss Federal Constitution
Cover of the German version
Date effective1 January 2000
SystemFederal assembly-independent[1][2] directorial republic under a semi-direct democracy
Government structure
ChambersTwo (upper: Council of States; lower: National Council)
ExecutiveFederal Council
JudiciaryFederal Supreme Court
SupersedesFederal Constitution of 1874
Memorial page to mark the revision of the federal constitution of 1874, featuring the motto "Einer für alle, alle für einen" ("One for all, all for one").

The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation (SR 10; German: Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft (BV); French: Constitution fédérale de la Confédération suisse (Cst.); Italian: Costituzione federale della Confederazione Svizzera (Cost.); Romansh: Constituziun federala da la Confederaziun svizra)[3] of 18 April 1999 (SR 101)[4] is the third and current federal constitution of Switzerland.

It establishes the Swiss Confederation as a federal republic of 26 cantons (states). The document contains a catalogue of individual and popular rights (including the right to call for popular referendums on federal laws and constitutional amendments), delineates the responsibilities of the cantons and the Confederation and establishes the federal authorities of government.

The Constitution was adopted by a referendum on 18 April 1999, in which a majority of the people and the cantons voted in favour. It replaced the prior federal constitution of 1874, which it was intended to bring up to date without changing its substance.


Further information: Switzerland as a federal state

See also: History of Switzerland

Prior to 1798, the Swiss Confederacy was a confederation of independent states, not a federal state; as such it was based on treaties rather than a constitution. The Helvetic Republic of 1798–1803 had a constitution largely drawn up by Peter Ochs, in 1803 replaced by the Act of Mediation, which was in turn replaced by the Federal Treaty of 1815, which restored the Confederacy, while the individual cantons drew up cantonal constitutions, in most respects based on the Ancien Régime of the 18th century, but with notable liberal innovations in the constitutions of the new cantons of St. Gallen, Aargau, Thurgau, Ticino, Vaud and Geneva. The new cantonal constitutions in many cases served as precedents for the later federal constitution.[5]

Following the French July Revolution in 1830, a number of large assemblies were held calling for new cantonal constitutions.[6] The modifications to the cantonal constitutions made during this period of "Regeneration" remains the basis of the current-day cantonal constitutions. Vaud introduced the legislative popular initiative in 1846. Berne introduced the legislative optional referendum in the same year.[7]

The political crisis of the Regeneration period culminated in the Sonderbund War of November 1847. As a result of the Sonderbund War, Switzerland was transformed into a federal state, with a constitution promulgated on 12 September 1848. This constitution provided for the cantons' sovereignty, as long as this did not impinge on the Federal Constitution. The creation of a bicameral assembly was consciously inspired by the United States Constitution, the National Council and Council of States corresponding to the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively.[8]

In a partial revision of 1891, the "right of initiative" was introduced, under which a certain number of voters could make a request to amend a constitutional article, or even to introduce a new article into the constitution. This mechanism is called federal popular initiative. Thus, partial revisions of the constitution could – from this time onward – be made at any time.[9]

Twelve such changes were made in the period of 1893 to 1994 (with no changes during the thirty-year period of 1950–1980):[10]

The Federal Constitution was wholly revised for the second time in the 1990s, when the new version was approved by popular and cantonal vote on 18 April 1999. It came into force on 1 January 2000. The 1999 Constitution of Switzerland consists of a preamble and six parts, which together make up 196 articles.[3]

It provides an explicit provision for nine fundamental rights, which up until then had only been discussed and debated in the Federal Court. It also provides for greater details in tax laws. The Constitution of 1999 has been changed by popular initiative ten times in the period of 2002 to 2014, as follows:[10]

Constitutional provisions

Preamble and Title 1 General Provisions

Main article: Preamble and Title 1 of the Swiss Federal Constitution

The preamble and the first title of the Constitution determine the general outlines of Switzerland as a democratic federal republic of 26 cantons governed by the rule of law.

The preamble opens with a solemn invocation of God in continuance of Swiss constitutional tradition. It is a mandate to the State authorities by the Swiss people and cantons, as the Confederation's constituent powers, to adhere to the values listed in the preamble, which include "liberty and democracy, independence and peace in solidarity and openness towards the world". The latter provision about the "openness" present a drastic contrast with the previous Swiss constitutions which were mostly oriented toward the internal isolationism. The new preamble also provides a provision about responsibility before and the rights of the future generations of the people of Switzerland.

The general provisions contained in Title 1 (articles 1–6) define the characteristic traits of the Swiss state on all of its three levels of authority: federal, cantonal and municipal. They contain an enumeration of the constituent cantons, affirm cantonal sovereignty within the bounds of the Constitution and list the national languages – German, French, Italian and Romansh. They also commit the state to the principles of obedience to law, proportionality, good faith and respect for international law, an explicit claim for subsidiarity, before closing with a reference to individual responsibility.

Title 2 Fundamental Rights, Citizenship and Social Goals

See also: Human rights in Switzerland

Title 2 contains the Constitution's bill of rights and consists of 35 articles. The 1874 constitution contained only a limited number of fundamental rights, and some of them grew less significant as the 20th century wore on, such as the right to a decent burial guaranteed in article 53 of the old constitution. In consequence, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court's extensive case law developed an array of implicit or "unwritten" fundamental rights, drawing upon the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and applying the fundamental rights guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which Switzerland ratified in 1974.

In the course of the 1999 constitutional revision, the Federal Assembly decided to codify that case law in the form of a comprehensive bill of rights, which is substantially congruent with the rights guaranteed in the ECHR, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Title 2 also covers the essential rules on the acquisition of Swiss citizenship and of the exercise of political rights. Furthermore, it contains a number of not directly enforceable "social goals" which the state shall strive to ensure, including the availability of social security, health care and housing.

Title 2 refers to Swiss people as "women and men of Switzerland" as a sign of acknowledging gender discrimination in the past (Switzerland became the second to last country in Europe that granted, in 1971, suffrage to women). The new Constitution also eliminated some archaisms of the old Constitution, such as the tax upon bride moving into bridegroom's house, prohibition on cantons to have military forces of more than 300 people, the mandate for cantons to provide each other with military assistance, and the prohibition of absinthe.

Title 3 Confederation, Cantons and Communes

Title 3 describes in the first chapter the relationships between the Confederation, the cantons and the communes. The cantons retain their own constitutions, but in the case of contradiction the Federal Constitution prevails.

The second chapter declares the federal power about areas that require uniform regulation, such as relations with foreign states, security, national and civil defence, general aspects about education, research, culture, the aspects about environment and spatial planning, public construction works and transport, energy and communications, economy in general, concerns about housing, employment, social security and health, about the rights of residence and settlement of foreign nationals, and finally about the responsibility regarding the civil and criminal law, weights and measures.

The third chapter clarifies general financial aspects, in particular taxation.

Title 4 The People and the Cantons

Title 4 clarifies fundamental political rights and in particular the rights for initiatives and referendums.

Title 5 Federal Authorities

Title 5 regulates the function and responsibilities of the Federal Government. It provides for three branches of the government represented by three bodies: the Federal Assembly (two chambers, representing the Legislative power), Federal Council (the Executive power), and the Federal Court (the Judicial power). The main differences compared to the previous constitution deal with the supervisory activity of the Federal Court of the Federal Legislature.

Title 6 Revision of the Federal Constitution and Transitional Provisions

Title 6 regulates the revisions of the Federal Constitution as well as transitional provisions.

See also


  1. ^ Shugart, Matthew Søberg (December 2005). "Semi-Presidential Systems: Dual Executive And Mixed Authority Patterns". French Politics. 3 (3): 323–351. doi:10.1057/palgrave.fp.8200087. S2CID 73642272.
  2. ^ Elgie, Robert (2016). "Government Systems, Party Politics, and Institutional Engineering in the Round". Insight Turkey. 18 (4): 79–92. ISSN 1302-177X. JSTOR 26300453.
  3. ^ a b "SR 10 Bundesverfassung" (official website) (in German, French, and Italian). Berne, Switzerland. 10 September 2016. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
  4. ^ "SR 101 Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft" (official website) (in German, French, and Italian). Berne, Switzerland. 1 January 2016. Retrieved 14 September 2016. English is not an official language of the Swiss Confederation. This translation is provided for information purposes only and has no legal force.
  5. ^ A. Kölz: Kantonsverfassungen in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland, 2014.
  6. ^ Volkstage in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
  7. ^ A. Kölz: Kantonsverfassungen in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland, 2014.
  8. ^ Kley (2011): "Das Parlament wurde als Folge eines Kompromisses zwischen Zentralisten und Föderalisten nach amerikan. Vorbild als Zweikammersystem ausgestaltet"
  9. ^ SFA, Swiss Federal Archives. "The Swiss state and its citizens after 1848". Retrieved 24 April 2024.
  10. ^ a b