Activities of the Swiss Parliament
The two parliamentary chambers have similar tasks. Their main activity is enacting federal legislation.
What Parliament does
The Federal Assembly has the power to enact legislation subject to the limits imposed on the Confederation in the Federal Constitution. The scope of its tasks is clearly set out in the Federal Constitution. It can also propose a constitutional amendment to the people and the cantons (just as the people can bring a popular initiative). It adopts federal decrees and ratifies international treaties. All these activities are subject to a compulsory or optional referendum.
The two chambers of the Parliament sit together to form the United Federal Assembly when electing the seven members of the Federal Council, the Federal Chancellor and federal court judges. Each year during the winter session, the members of parliament elect the president and the vice president from among the seven members of the Federal Council. In the case of a military threat, the Federal Assembly also has the task of electing a general as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
The Federal Assembly determines the areas in which the Federal Council, and consequently the Federal Administration, carries out its activities and is responsible for overseeing these activities. The Federal Assembly’s oversight also covers the activities of the federal courts and other bodies that are assigned federal tasks.
How Parliament reaches decisions
The National Council and the Council of States debate the same issues and have the same powers. Some of their decisions (e.g. elections) are taken by the whole Federal Assembly, with the two chambers coming together. But most deliberations take place separately in the two parliamentary chambers. If they do not come to the same conclusion, a special procedure known as the resolution of differences is followed.
As a general rule, the Federal Council submits a bill to Parliament, which then adopts, rejects or amends the bill.
Council members, however, also have instruments to present their ideas, including initiatives, motions, postulates, interpellations and questions