The Federal Council

The Federal Council is the highest executive authority of the Swiss Confederation.  Its members represent Switzerland’s main political parties. 

The Swiss Federal Council 2018 (left to right): Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin, Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga, Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer (vice-president of the Federal Council), President of the Confederation Alain Berset, Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard, Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, Federal Chancellor Walter Thurnherr.
The Swiss Federal Council 2018 (left to right): Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin, Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga, Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer (vice-president of the Federal Council), President of the Confederation Alain Berset, Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard, Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, Federal Chancellor Walter Thurnherr. © Swiss Federal Chancellery

The national government of Switzerland has seven members, who are elected by the United Federal Assembly.  Each Federal Councillor is appointed to serve a one-year term as President of the Confederation by the Federal Assembly in accordance with the principle of seniority.  The Federal President chairs the sessions of the executive and undertakes special ceremonial duties, particularly abroad. 

In keeping with the consociational model of democracy adopted by Switzerland, all members of the Federal Council pledge to govern in a spirit of cooperation.  As a collegial body, the Federal Council must remain unanimous when presenting cabinet decisions to the public, even if it is contrary to their personal view or to the official line taken by their party. 

Composition and roles

At the present time, the Federal Council has two representatives from the Liberal Party (FDP), two representatives from the Swiss Social Democratic Party (SP), two representatives from the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), and one representative from the Swiss Christian Democratic Party (CVP).  Each member of the Federal Council also heads a federal department. 

The Federal Council generally meets once a week.  Over the year, it deals with between 2,000 and 2,500 items of business, which have been prepared by the federal departments or by the Federal Chancellery.  The Federal Chancellor, who acts as chief-of-staff to the Federal Council, attends all cabinet meetings, but in a purely advisory capacity.