Federal Assembly (Switzerland)

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Federal Assembly

Coat of arms or logo
HousesCouncil of States
National Council
President of the Council of States
Thomas Hefti, FDP/PLR
President of the National Council
46 Council of States
200 National Council
Switzerland Council of States 2019.svg
Council of States political groups
  •   CVP/PDC 13
  •   FDP/PLR 12
  •   SP/PS 9
  •   SVP/UDC 6
  •   Greens (GPS/PES) 5
  •   Independent 1
Suisse Conseil national 2019.svg
National Council political groups
Council of States last election
24 November 2019
National Council last election
20 October 2019
Meeting place
Bundeshaus - Nationalratsratssaal - 001.jpg
Federal Palace of Switzerland, Bern

The Federal Assembly (German: Bundesversammlung, French: Assemblée fédérale, Italian: Assemblea federale, Romansh: Assamblea federala), also known as the Swiss parliament (Parlament, Parlement, Parlamento), is Switzerland's federal legislature. It meets in Bern in the Federal Palace.

The Federal Assembly is bicameral, being composed of the 200-seat National Council and the 46-seat Council of States. The houses have identical powers. Members of both houses represent the cantons, but, whereas seats in the National Council are distributed in proportion to population, each canton has two seats in the Council of States, except the six 'half-cantons', which have one seat each. Both are elected in full once every four years, with the last election being held in 2019.

The Federal Assembly possesses the federal government's legislative power, along with the separate constitutional right of citizen's initiative. For a law to pass, it must be passed by both houses. The two houses may come together as a United Federal Assembly in certain circumstances, such as to elect the Federal Council (the head of government and state), the Federal Chancellor, the federal judges or (only in times of great national danger) a general.


Prior to the establishment of the federal state in 1848, the only central organ of Switzerland was the Federal Diet (Tagsatzung). Following the Sonderbund War in 1847, the Tagsatzung became responsible for drawing up the Swiss Federal Constitution.[1]

The process of formulating legislative power resulted in clashing opinions, in particular in relation to the representation of the various cantons: the radicals, in the majority in the largest cantons, pushed for a system where representation was purely proportional to the population of each township; the small cantons, for their part, feared being marginalized. After long debates, a compromise was found by adopting the American model of bicameralism; the parliament will be composed of two chambers with equal power, and the agreement of both will be required to take a decision. The National Council, which represents the people, will comprise representatives from each canton with their distribution being proportional to the population of the cantons, while the Council of States, which represents the cantons, will be composed of the same number of representatives from each canton. According to the Constitution of 1848, the Federal Assembly is "the supreme authority of the Confederation".[1]

The Tagsatzung accepted the draft constitution in June 1848. On September 12, following the vote of the various cantons, it noted that the Constitution had been approved and dissolved itself on September 22, as required by the transitional provisions of the approved text. During the month of October 1848, elections were organized in the cantons in order to elect the deputies. After a few skirmishes, particularly in the canton of Fribourg, the results were announced which confirmed the victory of the radicals, who won more than three-quarters of the seats in the National Council and 30 of the 44 seats in the Council of States. On, November 16 1848, Parliament elected the first Federal Council.[1] In 1874, following the revision of the Constitution and the introduction of extended popular rights, the Federal Assembly became "the supreme authority of the Confederation subject to the rights of the people and the cantons".[1]

The organization of the two councils has changed little over time. When the National Council was created, the total number of seats was 111.[1] This number was not fixed and evolved in proportion to the growth of the Swiss population until 1962 when the definitive number of seats was established at 200; the term of office, meanwhile, was increased from the original 3 years to 4 years in 1931. The mode of election, originally according to the majority system, transitioned to proportional representation in 1918.[2] The Council of States, meanwhile, was not modified until 1979, by adding two new seats for the Canton of Jura which had just been created.[1]


The Federal Assembly is made up of two chambers:

Seats in the National Council are allocated to the cantons proportionally, based on population. In the Council of States, every canton has two seats (except for the former "half-cantons", which have one seat each).

United Federal Assembly[edit]

On occasions the two houses sit jointly as the "United Federal Assembly" (German: Vereinigte Bundesversammlung, French: Assemblée fédérale, Chambres réunies, Italian: Assemblea federale plenaria, Romansh: Assamblea federala plenara). This is done to:

The United Federal Assembly is presided by the National Council's presidency.

The Federal Assembly also confirms the appointment of the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (appointed by the Federal Council).[3]


Parties can cooperate in parliamentary groups, allowing smaller parties access to rights as part of a caucus. At least five members from the same Council are needed to form a group. Only informal groups exist in the Council of States. Members of the National Council are required to be in a formal group in order to be able to sit on a committee.[4]

Since March 2009, there have been six groups in the Federal Assembly. The latest group to form was the Conservative Democratic Party which split off the Swiss People's Party in 2008. The Christian Democrats/EPP/glp Group (CEg) was formed after the 2007 elections, out of the former Christian Democratic (C) and EPP (E) groups. The current FTP/Liberal group (RL) was formed in 2003 out of the former FDP (R) and Liberal (L) groups; since the 2009 fusion of the Free Democrati and Liberal Parties, RL is once again a single-party group. In 2011, the CEg was disbanded, the Green Liberals formed their own parliamentary group (GL) and the three Christian parties formed the Christian-Evangelical Group (CE).

Currently (for the legislative period of 2019–2023), the six parliamentary groups are composed as follows:

Group Parties NC CS Total
People's parliamentary group (V) Swiss People's Party 53 6 62
Ticino League 1 0
Federal Democratic Union 1 0
Independent 0 1
Social Democrats parliamentary group (S) Social Democratic Party 39 8 47
Centre parliamentary group CVP-EVP-BDP (M-CEB) Christian Democratic People's Party 25 14 45
Conservative Democratic Party 3 0
Evangelical People's Party 3 0
FDP.The Liberals parliamentary group (RL) FDP.The Liberals 29 12 41
Green parliamentary group (G) Green Party 28 5 35
Swiss Party of Labour 1 0
Solidarity 1 0
Green Liberal parliamentary group (GL) Green Liberal Party 16 0 16

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Graf, Martin; Martin, Pierre-G. (2 December 2015). "Assemblée fédérale". Dictionnaire Historique de la Suisse (in German). Retrieved 23 April 2022.
  2. ^ "Initiative populaire 'Election proportionnelle du Conseil national'". Chancellerie fédérale ChF. Retrieved 23 April 2022.
  3. ^ Federal Act on Data Protection of 19 June 1992 (status as of 1 January 2014), Federal Chancellery of Switzerland (page visited on 18 September 2016).
  4. ^ "Parliamentary groups". www.parlament.ch. Retrieved 11 December 2019.


External links[edit]