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The separation of powers

In Switzerland, control is divided between the three branches of state: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

Switzerland introduced the separation of powers with the new federal state in 1848. This separation of powers prevents a concentration of power in individual people or institutions and helps stop any abuse of power. No single person can belong to more than one of the three branches of state at any one time.

The executive: Implementing laws

The Federal Council is the Swiss government. It deals with the ongoing task of governing the country and implements the laws and other decisions adopted by Parliament. Each of the seven members of the Federal Council is head of one of the seven federal departments, which together with the Federal Chancellery make up the Federal Administration.

The Swiss government

The legislature: Passing laws

Parliament comprises the National Council (200 members: the number of seats allocated to each canton is proportional to its population) and the Council of States (46 members: two seats per canton, and one per half-canton). The two councils have equal powers: together they form the United Federal Assembly. Parliament enacts legislation and monitors the activities of the Federal Council and the Federal Supreme Court. The members of parliament are elected, and may be held accountable, by the People.

The Swiss parliament

The judiciary: Interpreting laws

The Federal supreme Court is Switzerland’s highest court. Its task is to ensure the uniform application of the law and to uphold the rights of ordinary people. As the highest court of appeal, it also rules on disputes between individuals and the state or between the Confederation and the cantons.

The courts at federal level

Separation of powers at all levels of government

The separation of the legislative, executive and judicial functions applies at all three levels of government in Switzerland (federal, cantonal and communal). The separation of powers aims to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals or institutions, and to stop any abuse of power.

Cantonal government: role and composition
Cantonal parliament: role and composition
Switzerland's courts