President of the Swiss Confederation
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (August 2007)|
|President of Switzerland|
|Term length||1 year|
|Inaugural holder||Jonas Furrer|
|Formation||21 November 1848|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
The President of the Confederation (German: Bundespräsident(in), French: Président(e) de la Confédération, Italian: Presidente della Confederazione, Romansh: President(a) da la Confederaziun) is the presiding member of the seven-member Swiss Federal Council, Switzerland's executive. Elected by the Federal Assembly for one year, the President of the Confederation chairs the meetings of the Federal Council and undertakes special representational duties. Primus inter pares, the President has no powers above the other Councillors and continues to head his or her department. Traditionally the duty rotates among the members in order of seniority and the previous year's Vice President becomes President.
As first among equals, the Federal Council member serving as President of the Confederation is not considered the Swiss head of State. Rather, the entire Federal Council is considered a collective Head of State.
The constitutional provisions relating to the organisation of the Federal Government and Federal Administration are set out in section 1 of Chapter 3 of the Swiss Federal Constitution at articles 174 to 179. Article 176 specifically relates to the Presidency.
The Swiss President is not – as are, for example, the Presidents in Austria or Germany – the Head of State of the country: the Swiss Federal Constitution knows neither a Head of State nor a Head of Government. Both of these functions are administered by the Federal Council collectively. If a tied vote occurs in the council (which does not happen too often, the number of Federal Councellors being an odd number), the President, being its Chair, casts the deciding vote.
In addition to the control of his or her own Department, the President carries out some of the representative duties of a Head of State. At first this was only the case inside Switzerland, where the President gave speeches on the New Year and the Swiss National Holiday (1 August). More recently, added foreign visits means that the President also often travels abroad.
However, because the Swiss have no single Head of State, the country also carries out no state visits. When traveling abroad, the President does so only as an ordinary Minister of a government Department.
Visiting heads of state are received by the seven members of the Federal Council together, rather than by the President of the Confederation. Treaties are signed on behalf of the full Council, with all Federal Council members signing letters of credence and other documents of the kind.
The President is elected by the Federal Assembly from the Federal Council in each case for one year.
In the 19th century, the election of the Federal President was an award for especially esteemed Federal Council members. However, a few influential members of the government were regularly passed over. One such example was Wilhelm Matthias Naeff, who belonged to the government for twenty-seven years, but was Federal President only once in 1853.
Since the twentieth century, the election has usually not been disputed. There is an unwritten rule that the member of the Federal Council who has not been Federal President the longest becomes President. Therefore every Federal Council member gets a turn at least once every seven years. The only question in the elections that provides some tension is the question of how many votes the person who is to be elected President receives. This is seen as a popularity test. In the 1970s and 1980s, 200 votes (of 246 possible) was seen as an excellent result, but in the current era of growing party-political conflicts, 180 votes are a respectable outcome.
Until 1920, it was customary for the serving Federal President to also lead the Foreign Ministry. Therefore every year there was a moving around of posts, as the retiring President returned to his former department and the new president moved into the Foreign Ministry. Likewise, it was traditional for the Federal President, even as Foreign Minister, not to leave Switzerland during his year in office.
- President of the Swiss Confederation -- official site.
- President of the Swiss Confederation -- official site. (German)
- President of the Swiss Confederation -- official site. (French)
- President of the Swiss Confederation -- official site. (Italian)
- President of the Swiss Confederation -- official site. (Romansh)