What is special about the Federal Council?
Switzerland is the only country in the world that has a collegial body as its government: The seven members of the Federal Council are each members of the college and have equal rights. The president of the Swiss Confederation chairs the meetings and represents the government in its external dealings. The presidency rotates each year.
The members of the Federal Council often have conflicting views and values. However, they always seek a consensus and reach their decisions together. Outwardly, the Federal Council presents a united front: the members of the Federal Council defend the decisions they have taken jointly, even if these decisions are contrary to their own opinions or the position taken by their party.
The Federal Constitution requires Switzerland’s regions and languages to be ‘appropriately represented’ in the Federal Council. The parties are expected to propose both male and female candidates for election. Normally Parliament allocates seats on the Federal Council according to the strength of the political parties: as a result, all the largest parties are represented in the government.
2:2:2:1 is the endlessly debated formula for the political composition of the Federal Council: the largest three parties each hold two seats in the Federal Council, while the fourth largest party has one seat. For 44 years (1959 – 2003), the Federal Council was made up of 2 FDP, 2 SP and 2 CVP representatives, and 1 SVP representative. Since 2003, there has been a minor shift: 2 FDP, 2 SP, 2 SVP, 1 CVP ('The Centre' from 1.1.2021).
The members of the Federal Council are elected by Parliament to serve a four-year term of office and cannot be removed. They can be re-elected any number of times. Normally a member of the Federal Council remains in office until he or she retires or chooses not to stand again for election.
Not elected by the People
The Swiss electorate has already voted three times on whether the Federal Council should be elected by the Swiss people: in 1900, 1942 and 2013. On each occasion, both the People and the cantons voted against. An election by the People has also been proposed several times in Parliament, but each of these proposals was rejected.