The president is the ceremonial head of state for Switzerland, a position they share with the seven-member Swiss Federal Council. The president is appointed by a joint session of the Swiss parliament, called the Federal Assembly, and is expected to serve for one year at a time.
Role of the president of Switzerland
Along with managing a designated department of the Swiss government, the president’s role is to speak at the opening of both houses of parliament and carry out some other ceremonial duties. On the rare occasion that a vote in the Federal Council is tied, the president’s vote is worth double.
The President & The Swiss Federal Council
The executive branch of the Swiss government is the Federal Council. Similar to the US executive branch, the seven-member body is tasked with controlling government agencies on a day-to-day basis.
The president of Switzerland operates under a “first among equals” model, meaning that they have no power over other members of the Federal Council. This means that the president and the seven-member Federal Council, which they are also a part of, share the power associated with a president in other countries like France or the United States.
Is the Swiss president the head of state?
Officially, the Federal Council serves as the “head of state”, making the role of president simply ceremonial. The power of the president rests with them being a member of the Federal Council and the head of a federal department like healthcare, defence, education or transportation.
As they are technically not a head of state, there is no such thing as a "state visit." Instead, the president can visit other countries, but only in their capacity as a member of the Federal Council. Foreign leaders are received by the whole council when in Switzerland, although the president usually meets them first.
Is the president of Switzerland elected?
Instead of being a position chosen via national elections, the president of Switzerland is elected by a joint session of the Swiss parliament called the Federal Assembly. The Council of States and the National Council join together to vote for the next president. This usually occurs during the government’s winter session in December.
Do presidents of Switzerland take turns?
There is an "unwritten rule" that the parliament must appoint the member of the Federal Council that has served the longest without holding the title of president. The election itself is therefore largely ceremonial, and votes against are usually seen as a protest vote.
The Swiss president, much like the Federal Council, is supposed to be apolitical, meaning that there is little conflict during the transfer of power. The system means that each councillor will get their chance to be president in time.
Salary of the Swiss president
The salary of the Swiss president is the same as a Federal Councillor, set at 454.581 Swiss francs a year. This includes a 30.000-Swiss-franc expense allowance. The president themself receives a 12.000-Swiss-franc bonus for serving in the role. Other benefits include a state and company car, first-class public transport season ticket and a free TV / radio licence.
Who is the president of Switzerland?
The role of president is rotated between members of the Federal Council every year. In 2023, the President of Switzerland is Alain Berset, Federal Councillor from Canton Fribourg. He is also the head of the Department of Home Affairs, which includes the Federal Office of Public Health and various other domestic bodies.
Vice-president of Switzerland
Like the president, the vice-president of Switzerland is a mostly ceremonial duty. The vice-president of Switzerland for 2023 is Viola Amherd, Federal Councillor from Canton Valais. She is also the head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport.
History of the president of Switzerland
Before the Swiss Federal Constitution was established in 1848, the executive branch of Switzerland was held by the Federal Diet of Switzerland (Tagsatzung) in the Old Swiss Confederacy. Despite adopting different forms over its 500-year history, the Diet was a committee with representatives from all Swiss cantons that determined national strategy.
The structure of the Old Swiss Confederacy meant that the Diet was only used for large, nationwide issues, with taxation, construction and defence entrusted to each canton and local council (Gemeinde) individually. This changed in 1798, when Napoleon established the Helvetic Republic.
The Republic replaced the Tagsatzung with a centralised government, where the role of president was taken by a five-member body known as the Directory, similar to the Directory founded by the French First Republic.
The Tagsatzung would return after the collapse of the Helvetic Republic in 1803, but increasing calls to centralise the country led to strain between cantons that wanted to keep full control of their own affairs, and those that wanted to federalise. This manifested itself in the Sonderbund War, which was sparked in 1847 when seven Catholic cantons formed an alliance (Sonderbund) to protect their interests against the centralisation of power in the Swiss Confederation.
First president of Switzerland
After victory for the Swiss Confederation, the Tagsatzung decided to sign the First Swiss Federal Constitution, creating the National Council, Council of States and Federal Council, with a president at the helm.
The first-ever president of Switzerland was Jonas Furrer, from Canton Zurich. He would serve on the Federal Council for 13 years and be president four times in 1848, 1852, 1855 and 1858.
Official title of the president of Switzerland
The official name of the president of Switzerland is:
- President of the Swiss Confederation
- Bundespräsident(in) (German)
- Président(e) de la Confédération (French)
- Presidente della Confederazione (Italian)
- President(a) da la Confederaziun (Romansh)
How many Swiss presidents have there been?
So far, there have been 175 presidents of Switzerland since the office was established in 1848. FDP. The Liberals have provided the most presidents (107), followed by the Christian Democratic People's Party (32), Social Democratic Party (21), the Swiss People's Party (14), the Liberal Party (1) and the Conservative Democratic Party (1).
A total of 99 individuals have held the office of president. Karl Schenk from Canton Bern and Emil Welti from Canton Aargau have spent the joint-longest time as president, with each holding the position for six years.