Switzerland is a federal state: state power is shared between the federal government, the cantons and the communes. The cantons and communes have broad scope in carrying out their responsibilities. Federalism makes it possible for Switzerland to exist as one entity – in spite of four linguistic cultures and varying regional characteristics.
Switzerland, which is also referred to as the Swiss Confederation, has been a federal state since 1848. The Federal Constitution defines the Confederation’s tasks and responsibilities. These include Switzerland’s relations with the outside world, defence, the national road network, and nuclear energy. Switzerland’s Parliament, the Federal Assembly, is made up of the National Council and the Council of States; the government comprises seven federal councillors, and the Federal Supreme Court is responsible for national jurisprudence. The Confederation is financed among other means through direct federal tax.
- 11 per cent of all Swiss citizens live outside Switzerland (the ‘Swiss Abroad’).
- 85 per cent of the domestic population lives in urban areas.
- Proceeds from direct federal taxation account for 31 per cent of the Confederation’s total revenues.
The Confederation is made up of 26 cantons, which are also known as ‘states’. Each canton has its own parliament, government, courts and constitution. The cantonal constitutions may not contradict the Federal Constitution. The cantons implement the requirements of the Confederation, but structure their activities in accordance with their particular needs. They have broad scope in deciding how to meet their responsibilities, for example in the areas of education and healthcare, cultural affairs and police matters. The individual cantons levy a cantonal tax.
- Gross domestic product per capita in the canton of Basel-Stadt is more than three times higher than in the canton of Uri.
- In the national fiscal equalisation plan, the Confederation and 7 cantons are net contributors and 19 cantons are net beneficiaries.
- People’s assemblies (Landsgemeinden) are still held in the cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus.
The 26 cantons are divided into communes. Each canton determines itself the division of responsibilities between it and the communes. The responsibilities of the communes include local planning, running the schools, social welfare and the fire service. Larger communes and cities have their own parliaments, and organise their own referendums. In smaller communes, decisions are made by the citizens at communal assemblies. Each commune levies a communal tax.
- The smallest commune (Kammersrohr, SO) has a population of 29, the largest approximately 415 000 (City of Zurich).
- An average of approximately 30 communes merge every year, thereby reducing the total number of communes.
- In four out of five communes, eligible voters decide on political issues at communal assemblies.