“The Seven-Headed President”

Another student blog, this one on Switzerland’s rather unique executive structure – and a great title!


Following the theme of overly complicated simplicity, inherent amongst nearly all aspects of Swiss Politics, the Head of State position takes yet another unique path that steers opposite of status quo. Unlike most executive branches of government, the country of Switzerland has neither a power-embodied presidential role, nor a prime minister. Instead, the country is run by a collection of seven individuals known as the Federal Council.

Figure 1: The Federal Council Parties and Positions (information from http://swiss-government-politics.all-about-switzerland.info/)

The Federal Council is a seven-member constituency that has equally shared powers and responsibilities amongst each member. Essentially, the role of the head-of-state is broken down into seven departments that make up the internal mechanisms of the country: internal affairs, foreign affairs, justice, energy, traffic and environment, economy and education, finances, and defense & sports. Thus, the head-of-state position is comprised of the collective unification of these seven department ministers.

The members of the Federal Council are elected by the Federal Assembly (made up of the National Council and the Council of States). They are voted into office through receiving the absolute majority of the votes through a secret-ballot process. Upon being elected, each candidate is made recognized as a Federal Councilor whether or not they choose to accept the position. Each councilor holds office for a four year term and is then put up for reelection. While in office, no member has the ability to be impeached or have their title stripped from them. The members of the Federal Council also share another unique characteristic, in that they have no maximum term length. Though the councilors are put up for reelection after each term, it is very rare for the candidate to not receive reelection. Therefore, it is often common for councilors to hold their position for 10-20 years before choosing to resign/retire.

The presidential position, though mainly ceremonial, is a title with one-year rotation amongst the seven heads of the Federal Council. As of January 1, 2012, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the Department head of Finance, is the President of Switzerland. This position is rotated each year so that, in theory, each of the councilors will be able to serve as the President during their time on the Federal Council.

Figure 2: The Federal Council

Ultimately, the country of Switzerland created a system within the political paradigm that is unlike any other. However, with each of their deviations from the status-quo systems, it has seemed to further their success and stability as a country. Noted as one of the most stable political systems in Europe, the seven-headed head of state ensures that no radical changes are made (ie. Presidential Systems like the United States), and that a variety of viewpoints are considered through having multiple persons ‘in charge’. Like the iconic Swiss watch, Swiss politics are infused with vast amounts of complicated simplicity within their electoral process and the above mentioned head-of-state organization, ultimately bringing forth a system which elegantly promotes a perpetual sense of stability and success.

References

“Electoral Systems: The Swiss Parliament.” Eurobloggers. N.p., 9 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <https://eurobloggers.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/electoral-systems-the-swiss-parliament/>.

“Defense and Sports.” The Swiss Federal Council. The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.admin.ch/br/dokumentation/mitglieder/departementsvorsteher/index.html?lang=en>.

“Economy and Education.” The Swiss Federal Council. The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.admin.ch/br/dokumentation/mitglieder/departementsvorsteher/index.html?lang=en>.

“Energy, Traffic & Environment.” The Swiss Federal Council. The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.admin.ch/br/dokumentation/mitglieder/departementsvorsteher/index.html?lang=en>.

“Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf .” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eveline_Widmer-Schlumpf>.

“Finance.” The Swiss Federal Council. The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.admin.ch/br/dokumentation/mitglieder/departementsvorsteher/index.html?lang=en>.

“Foreign Affairs.” The Swiss Federal Council. The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.admin.ch/br/dokumentation/mitglieder/departementsvorsteher/index.html?lang=en>.

“Heads of Department.” The Swiss Federal Council. The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.admin.ch/br/dokumentation/mitglieder/departementsvorsteher/index.html?lang=en>.

“Internal Affairs.” The Swiss Federal Council. The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.admin.ch/br/dokumentation/mitglieder/departementsvorsteher/index.html?lang=en>.

“Justice.” The Swiss Federal Council. The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.admin.ch/br/dokumentation/mitglieder/departementsvorsteher/index.html?lang=en>.

“President.” Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf. The Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.admin.ch/br/dokumentation/mitglieder/details/index.html?lang=en&id=115&type=bundespraesidenten>.

“Swiss Federal Council.” Mamizeit| . N.p., 3 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.expatmami.com/2011/01/swiss-federal-council/>.

“Switzerland Country Profile.” BBC News. BBC News, 4 Jan. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/1035212.stm#leaders>.

Von Rohr, Mathieu. “The Seven-Headed President: Switzerland Celebrates Europe’s Strangest System of Government.” Spiegel Online. Spiegel, 21 Sept. 2010. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,718573-2,00.html>.

Wallace, Ellen. “Federal Council.” GenevaLunch. N.p., 3 Jan. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://genevalunch.com/blog/tag/federal-council/>.

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