Explain the role of Cantons in the Swiss Political System.

(1) Introduction

Switzerland is a confederation of twenty six autonomous Cantons (states). The Swiss federal structure is based on three different political levels; the confederation, the Cantons, and the Communes (municipalities). Each Canton has its own constitution, parliament, executive, and judiciary. The Swiss Constitution provides matchless autonomy to the Cantons; the Constitution has empowered the Cantons not only to legislate in their cantonal parliaments, but also to initiate legislation in the Federal Parliament.

(2) Role Of Cantons Or Relationship Between Cantons & Federal Government

The Swiss Constitution explains the role of the Cantons or relationship between the Cantons and the federal government:

  • (i) Duties of Cantons
  • (ii) Allocation & fulfillment of state tasks
  • (iii) Cooperation between Swiss Confederation & Cantons & legislative
  • (iv) Participation in federal decision-making process
  • (v) Consultation
  • (vi) Implementation of federal law
  • (vii) Autonomy of Cantons
  • (viii) Interactional agreements
  • (ix) Precedence of federal law Compliance with federal law

(i) Duties Of Cantons

Article 43 states that the Cantons decide on the duties that they must fulfill within the scope of their powers.

(ii) Allocation & Fulfillment Of State Tasks

Article 43a narrates that the Swiss Confederation only undertakes tasks, which the Cantons are unable to perform or which require uniform regulation by the Swiss Confederation.

(iii) Cooperation Between Swiss Confederation & Cantons

Article 44 describes some principles regarding the cooperation between the Swiss Confederation and the Cantons:

  • (a) Support, fulfillment of duties & cooperation
  • (b) Duty of consideration & support
  • (c) Administrative assistance & mutual judicial assistance
  • (d) Disputes

(a) Support In Fulfillment Of Duties & Cooperation

The Swiss Confederation and the Cantons shall support each other in the fulfillment of their duties and shall generally cooperate with each other.

(b) Duty Of Consideration & Support

They owe each other a duty of consideration and support.

(c) Administrative Assistance & Mutual Judicial Assistance

They shall provide each other with administrative assistance and mutual judicial assistance.

(d) Disputes

Disputes between the Cantons or between the Cantons and the Swiss Confederation shall be resolved by negotiation or mediation.

(iv) Participation In Federal Decision-Making & Legislative Process

Article 45 settles that, in the cases specified by the Federal Constitution, the Cantons shall participate in the federal decision making process and in the legislative process.

(v) Consultation

Article 45 also decides that the Swiss Confederation shall consult the Cantons where their interests are affected.

(vi) Implementation Of Federal Law

Article 46 provides for implementation of federal law:

  • (a) Federal Constitution & federal legislation
  • (b) Achievement of specific goals
  • (c) Canton’s discretion

(a) Federal Constitution & Federal Legislation

The Cantons shall implement federal law in accordance with the Federal Constitution and federal legislation.

(b) Achievement Of Specific Goals

The Swiss Confederation and the Cantons can agree that the Cantons should achieve specific goals in the implementation of federal law and can conduct programmes for this purpose, and such programmes shall receive financial support from the Swiss Confederation.

(c) Canton’s Discretion

The Swiss Confederation shall allow the Cantons all possible discretion to organize their own affairs.

(vii) Autonomy Of Cantons

Article 47 states that the Swiss Confederation shall respect the autonomy of the Cantons.

(viii) Intercantonal Agreements

Articles 48 and 48a provide for intercantonal agreements:

(a) Agreements between Cantons

(b) Common organizations & institutions

(c) Tasks of regional importance

(d) Law, interests of Swiss Confederation or rights of other Cantons

(e) Intercantonal law

(f) Swiss Confederation’s participation

(g) General application

(h) Requirement of participation

(a) Agreements between Cantons

The Cantons can enter into agreements with each other.

(b) Common Organizations & Institutions 

The Cantons can establish common organizations and institutions.

(c) Tasks Of Regional Importance

The Cantons can jointly undertake tasks of regional importance.

(d) Law, Interests Of Swiss Confederation Or Rights Of Other

Cantons Agreements between Cantons must not be contrary to the law, to the interests of the Confederation or to the rights of other Cantons.

(e) Interactional Law

interactional law is legislated regarding the interactional agreement, the Cantons shall comply with such law

(f) Swiss Confederation’s Participation

Within scope of its powers, the Swiss Confederation can participate in the organizations or institutions, which the Cantons establish.

(g) General Application

At the request of interested Cantons, the Swiss Confederation can declare that the intercantonal agreements are generally binding.

(h) Requirement Of Participation

At the request of interested Cantons, the Swiss Confederation can require Cantons to participate in interactional agreements in the specified fields.

(ix) Precedence Of Federal Law

Article 49 narrates that federal law takes precedence over any conflicting provision of cantonal law.

(x) Compliance With Federal Law

Article 49 also describes that the Swiss Confederation shall ensure that the Cantons comply with federal law.

(3) Conclusion

It can be finally stated that The Swiss Constitution guarantees juridical existence of the Cantons. In addition to this, the Swiss Constitution establishes the sovereignty of the Cantons; the Cantons are sovereign to that extent where the Constitution limits their sovereignty. In fact, the Cantons exercise all the rights that the Swiss Constitution has not transferred to the Swiss Confederation.


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