THE HISTORY OF SWITZERLAND
Switzerland developed over the centuries from a collection of different alliances to a confederation of states and finally to the federal state we know today. Its national borders and neutrality were established and recognised internationally in 1815. Its political system dates back to the Federal Constitution of 1848. Since then the powers of the federal government, political rights and political diversity have increased significantly.
1291 | Old Confederation
Shifting alliances between cities and outlying areas served to maintain internal political order and external independence. In 1291 the original forest cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden entered into the first documented alliance. The term ’Eitgenoze’ [Confederate] first appeared in 1315. In the following centuries, the Confederation continued to grow through alliances and territorial conquests.
1798 –1802 | Helvetic Republic
UNITARY STATE UNDER FOREIGN CONTROL
Following the French invasion in 1798, the Confederation was transformed into the Helvetic Republic: a unitary state ruled from Paris.
1803 –1814 | Mediation
LOOSE FOREIGN CONTROL
After civil wars broke out between federalists and supporters of the Helvetic Republic, Napoleon ordered a constitution based on the Act of Mediation, which restored some autonomy to the cantons and set most of the cantonal borders.
1815 | Federal Treaty
NEUTRALITY AND ALLIANCE OF STATES
With the defeat of Napoleon, the great European powers recognised Swiss neutrality and set Switzerland’s borders as they are today. The Federal Treaty of 1815 brought together the various federal alliances into a single confederation of states with responsibility for security policy.
1847–1848 | Sonderbund War
LIBERALS AGAINST CONSERVATIVES
Diverging views on how the Confederation would be organised led to a civil war between liberal and Catholic conservative cantons. It was a war from which liberal forces emerged victorious.
1848 | Federal Constitution
DEMOCRATIC FEDERAL STATE
The Federal Constitution provided most citizens (men) with various rights and freedoms, including the right to vote and be elected (for women from 1971). The bicameral system, based on the American model, was introduced at federal level with the National Council and Council of States electing the Federal Council. Some powers were centralised. Switzerland developed into a unitary judicial and economic area.
1874–1891 | Expanded democracy
The revised Federal Constitution transferred more tasks to the federal government and broadened democratic rights at federal level. The referendum was introduced in 1874 and the popular initiative in 1891. In 1891, Parliament elected the first Catholic Conservative (CVP today) to the government. For the first time since 1848, the Federal Council was no longer made up solely of Liberals.
1914 –1918 | First World War, general strike
Poverty and unemployment during the First World War and socialist ideas from the Russian Revolution culminated in a general strike in 1918.
1919 | Proportional representation
TOWARDS CONSENSUS DEMOCRACY
In 1919, the National Council was elected on a proportional basis and a second Catholic Conservative entered the Federal Council. A member of the Farmers’, Trades’ and Citizens’ Party (SVP today) entered the Federal Council in 1929.
1939 –1945 | Second World War
INCLUSION OF THE LEFT
Against the backdrop of the Second World War, the political forces from left to right moved closer together. In 1943 Parliament elected a Social Democrat into government, and in 1951 the left-wing party gained a second seat on the Federal Council. Since 1959, the Federal Council has comprised members from four political parties (‘magic formula’).
1971 Equal opportunities
In February 1971 66% of the electorate, then exclusively male, voted in favour of the women’s franchise at federal level. Most cantons and communes also gave women the vote following this decision.
2000 | Third Federal Constitution
CONTINUITY AND OPENNESS
The totally revised Federal Constitution emphasised the partnership between the Confederation and the cantons, and regulated the division of tasks. In 2000, Swiss voters approved the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the European Union. Two years later they voted in favour of joining the United Nations.