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The involvement of the cantons in foreign policy
The Federal government involves the cantons in foreign policy whenever decisions in that field touch on the competency of the cantons or on their essential interests. The rights of the cantons to be involved are enshrined in Article 55 of the Constitution, and in the Federal Law Concerning Cantonal Participation in the Foreign Policy of the Federal Government. This does not impinge on the Federal government’s fundamental responsibility for foreign policy. Its freedom of action in the field of foreign policy is expressly reserved.
The obligation of the Federal government and the cantons to provide each other with information is central to the involvement of the cantons in foreign policy. The Federal government must notify the cantons in good time of any foreign-policy intentions that are of significance for them. It sends the cantons a list of any such intentions every six months, and the cantons can request further information. The Federalist Dialogue – a regular meeting between a Federal government delegation and representatives of the cantons – also has an important part to play.
The cantons can insist on the right to be heard when foreign-policy decisions are being prepared. The Federal government can also extend this right on its own initiative. In the event of negotiations with other states or international organizations, the cantons are usually heard before these commence. The Federal government weights the positions of the cantons depending on the extent to which they are affected. It may disregard these if necessary, but must give its reasons for doing so.
When preparing for negotiations on matters affecting the cantons, the Federal government consults them regarding its objectives – and as a rule invites them to participate in the negotiations themselves. In other cases the Federal government can involve them on its own initiative. This practice proved its worth in sector negotiations with the EU. When representatives of the cantons are included in the Federal government’s negotiating teams, they are nominated by the cantons. But they are appointed by the Federal government, and they are subject to the instructions of the delegation head.