Surprises About Switzerland

It was very interesting to learn about Switzerland at our last GPP meeting from citizens. There were many things that were discussed that surprised me, though I think the fact that surprised me the most concerned how the Swiss government is structured. More specifically, the three political levels include: (1) federal/confederation, (2) 26 cantons, and (3) 2721 municipalities/communes. There is a decentralized division of power, where issues are solved at the lowest level possible. The government is also run on the basis of solidarity, where fiscal transfers occur from richer to poorer regions.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the government system is that the President changes every year! The President is a member of a 7-person cabinet, where each cabinet member is elected by the 2 chambers of parliament (coming from 4 different parties, as opposed to our two party system in the United States). These members go up for re-election every 4 years, where most members will be continuously reelected until they choose to retire. Cabinet members may retire within a given 4-year term, at which instance, an election is held to fill that one position. I was also surprised that there were no term limits for cabinet positions and that the only requirement to serve on the cabinet is that you are 18 years old, though nobody has ever been elected when that young.

The President is one of the 7 cabinet members. Typically, who becomes the President is based on seniority. After serving for one year, the next senior member tends to take over as President. A major difference between the President in the United States and the President of Switzerland is that the President of Switzerland has very little power in and if him/herself. Their major job is to lead all of the cabinet meetings and to welcome any foreign delegates visiting Switzerland. Additionally, members of the cabinet are not allowed to discuss their own personal views on political matters – they are expected to stand for the views of the political party, regardless of their own personal opinions on different matters. In fact, they can get in trouble if they make statements that do not directly align with their political party’s. This is in stark contrast to the political opinions of politicians in the United States – where people tend to fall within one party or another, but most politicians do not hesitate to express their person opinions on given matters, regardless of how well it may align with their party’s view. There seems to be a lot more “gray” area in American politics.

Overall, our government and the Swiss government appear to be very different on many levels. It will be very interesting to learn more and see first-hand what these differences are and how politics does, or does not, affect higher education in Switzerland (France and Italy too)!

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