Swiss Federal Constitution

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Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of 18 April 1999
Bundesverfassung Schweiz, auf blauen Untergrund, Seite 1.jpg
First page of the German version of the constitution of 1999.
Original title 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
Created 18 December 1998
Presented 18 December 1998
Ratified 18 April 1999
Date effective 1 January 2000
Location SR 101
Media type webpage, PDF
Subject Swiss Constitution
Coat of Arms of Switzerland (Pantone).svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Switzerland
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: About this sound Constituziun federala da la Confederaziun svizra )[1] of 18 April 1999 (SR 101)[2] 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 referenda 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 popular vote on 18 April 1999. It replaced the prior federal constitution of 1874, which it was intended to bring up to date without changing it in substance.

History[edit]

The groundwork for today's Swiss Constitution was laid with the promulgation of the Constitution of 12 September 1848, which was influenced by the ideas of the United States Constitution and the French Revolution. This constitution provided for the cantons' sovereignty, as long as this did not impinge on the Federal Constitution. This constitution was created in response to a 27-day civil war in Switzerland, the Sonderbundskrieg.

The Constitution of 1848 was partly revised in 1866, and wholly revised in 1874. This latter constitutional change introduced the referendum at the federal level. Beginning in 1891, the constitution contained the "right of initiative", 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 be made any time.

The Federal Constitution was wholly revised for the second time in the 1990s, and the new version was approved by popular and cantonal vote on 18 April 1999. It came into force on 1 January 2000. The 2000 Constitution of Switzerland consists of Preambule and 6 Parts, which together make up 196 Articles. 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. Most notable to an outside observer was the abatement of the restriction on the Swiss neutrality, which allowed the country to become a full member of the United Nations in 2002.

Owing to constitutional initiatives and counterproposals, the Swiss Constitution is subject to continual changes.

Constitutional provisions[edit]

Swiss Confederation
Coat of Arms of Switzerland

This article is part of the series:
Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of 18 April 1999


Text of the Constitution
Preamble and Title 1
General Provisions
Title 2
Fundamental Rights, Citizenship and Social Goals
Title 3
Confederation, Cantons and Communes
Title 4
The People and The Cantons
Title 5
Federal Authorities
Title 6
Revision of the Federal Constitution and Transitional Provisions


Preamble and Title 1 General Provisions[edit]

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[edit]

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.

It is noteworthy that 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 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[edit]

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[edit]

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

Title 5 Federal Authorities[edit]

Title 5 regulates the function and responsibilities of the Federal Government. It provides for 3 branches of the government represented by 3 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[edit]

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

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bernhard Ehrenzeller, Philipp Mastronardi, Rainer J. Schweizer, Klaus A. Vallender (eds.) (2002). Die schweizerische Bundesverfassung, Kommentar (in German). ISBN 3-905455-70-6. . Cited as Ehrenzeller.
  • Andreas Kley: Federal Constitution in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland, 2006-12-01.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "SR 10 Bundesverfassung" (official website) (in German, French, and Italian). Berne, Switzerland. 10 September 2016. Retrieved 2016-09-14. 
  2. ^ "SR 101 Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft" (official website) (in German, French, and Italian). Berne, Switzerland. 1 January 2016. Retrieved 2016-09-14. English is not an official language of the Swiss Confederation. This translation is provided for information purposes only and has no legal force. 

External links[edit]

  • Authoritative German, French and Italian as well as non-authoritative Romansh and English texts of Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of 18 April 1999 (SR 101)