Switzerland

   

Quality of Democracy

#5
Key Findings
With its vigorous direct-democratic system and a developed media and open-information culture, Switzerland scores in the top ranks (rank 5) with regard to quality of democracy. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to its 2014 level.

Voting rights are robust, but exclude the very large foreign-citizen population. Political parties are not publicly financed, and there is little scrutiny of party fundraising or activities. However, a considerable share of party revenues comes from parliamentary party-faction subsidies. A proposal to create stricter reporting requirements for political donations will be voted on by the public.

Direct-democratic procedures are widely used, with outcomes sometimes conflicting with human-rights or treaty obligations. The outcomes of recent votes have reflected problems with regard to insufficient public knowledge and access to information.

The media is free, but becoming more concentrated. Information-access laws are strong. Civil rights are protected, but tension between EU norms and Swiss sovereignty has emerged. A major political party engages in xenophobic discourse, and gender discrimination in the labor market remains problematic. Corruption is very rare.

Electoral Processes

#8

How fair are procedures for registering candidates and parties?

10
 9

Legal regulations provide for a fair registration procedure for all elections; candidates and parties are not discriminated against.
 8
 7
 6


A few restrictions on election procedures discriminate against a small number of candidates and parties.
 5
 4
 3


Some unreasonable restrictions on election procedures exist that discriminate against many candidates and parties.
 2
 1

Discriminating registration procedures for elections are widespread and prevent a large number of potential candidates or parties from participating.
Candidacy Procedures
10
There are no doubts that Switzerland’s formal procedures correspond closely to the democratic ideal. However, some challenges have emerged due to the country’s small size, its strong dependence on other countries, the opportunities to free ride in the international and particularly European communities, and the extremely large share of immigrant workers.

With regard to active and passive voting rights, there is the obvious challenge that in 2016 25% of the total population and 31% of the country’s civilian workforce held foreign citizenship, a much higher share than in other countries. Furthermore, the rules governing naturalization are rather strict, making the acquisition of Swiss citizenship costly, time-consuming and even insulting for applicants. Thus, the strict rules governing naturalization and the sheer size of the foreign population transform the “quantitative” problem of every modern democracy (that some adult inhabitants face discrimination on grounds of their nationality) into a qualitative problem: If more than a quarter of the social product is produced by foreigners, and if almost a quarter of the voting-age population is not entitled to vote or to run for public office, the legitimacy of parliament and government to rule on behalf of the total population (which is hugely more than the citizen base) is arguably called into question. Others argue, however, that while the economy is globalized, democracy functions only on the basis of a national society that identifies itself in terms of citizenship. This includes the (constitutional) right to define who is eligible for citizenship. According to this view, migration certainly creates new problems, in that the “demos” and the resident population do not coincide.

To date, Switzerland has dealt with these problems somewhat slowly and hesitantly. For example, some notable liberalizing changes were adopted with regard to naturalization (e.g., costs have been substantially reduced) and with regard to passive voting rights in some cantons and local communities

To what extent do candidates and parties have fair access to the media and other means of communication?

10
 9

All candidates and parties have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. All major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of the range of different political positions.
 8
 7
 6


Candidates and parties have largely equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. The major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of different political positions.
 5
 4
 3


Candidates and parties often do not have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. While the major media outlets represent a partisan political bias, the media system as a whole provides fair coverage of different political positions.
 2
 1

Candidates and parties lack equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communications. The major media outlets are biased in favor of certain political groups or views and discriminate against others.
Media Access
10
Candidates and parties may purchase political advertising in the print media. The only restriction to equal access by candidates and parties to these media outlets relates to resources. In this regard, there is a lack of transparency as political parties and candidates are not required to disclose who is supporting them. In 2017, the Social Democratic Party collected a sufficient number of signatures to force a vote on a constitutional “transparency” article, which will be held in the next few years. The initiative would require that political parties name donors that give more than CHF 10,000. Likewise, if a person spends CHF 100,000 or more on an electoral or a popular campaign, they must name all donors who gave at least CHF 10,000.

Political advertising on television or other broadcast media is not allowed. In this regard, all candidates and parties have equal access, in the sense that none is able to buy political advertising on broadcast media.

Media organizations give a fair and balanced opportunity to political actors to present their views and programs, insofar as this does not become simple advertisement. Right-wing politicians sometimes complain that journalists give center-left politicians better access. There is little hard evidence that such a bias exists to any substantial extent. On the other hand, representatives of the Swiss People’s Party have successfully used their economic resources to control quality papers, such as the Basler Zeitung and they have tried to get a handle on the country’s leading newspaper, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

To what extent do all citizens have the opportunity to exercise their right of participation in national elections?

10
 9

All adult citizens can participate in national elections. All eligible voters are registered if they wish to be. There are no discriminations observable in the exercise of the right to vote. There are no disincentives to voting.
 8
 7
 6


The procedures for the registration of voters and voting are for the most part effective, impartial and nondiscriminatory. Citizens can appeal to courts if they feel being discriminated. Disincentives to voting generally do not constitute genuine obstacles.
 5
 4
 3


While the procedures for the registration of voters and voting are de jure non-discriminatory, isolated cases of discrimination occur in practice. For some citizens, disincentives to voting constitute significant obstacles.
 2
 1

The procedures for the registration of voters or voting have systemic discriminatory effects. De facto, a substantial number of adult citizens are excluded from national elections.
Voting and Registration Rights
10
Formal procedures and rules in the area of voting and registration rights are those of a model democracy. However, there are at least two problems.

The first relates to the proportional voting system for elections. Small parties from small electoral districts successfully claimed before the Federal Court that they have effectively no chance of winning one of the very few seats allotted to these districts. The court then ruled that every citizen must have the same influence on elections. Therefore, the size of districts must be designed in such a way that there are at least 10 seats at stake, thus giving small political parties a real chance to win a seat. Several cantons affected by the ruling reorganized their electoral system and districts accordingly. However, the court’s decision is not very coherent. It forces the cantons to guarantee that voters within a canton will have an equal degree of influence, but accepts that federalism leads to much more significant inequalities of influence at the national level.

This leads to the second challenge. It is certainly true that the decentralized federal structure of Switzerland as a multicultural country gives some citizens much more electoral influence than others. This is particularly true of representation within the Council of States (Ständerat), the country’s second parliamentary chamber (which is modeled after the U.S. Senate). Each canton is entitled to two representatives. The Council of States has the same power as the National Council (Nationalrat), while the size of cantons varies by as much as a factor of 36. This means that a citizen of the canton of Zürich, which has 36 times more inhabitants than the canton of Uri, has considerably less political power than one of Uri. This overrepresentation of small cantons has real effect within the bicameral parliament’s legislative process. Historically, these strongly protected minority rights are traceable to the denominational conflicts of the 19th century. However, one can argue that this denominational definition of minority status no longer holds importance. This would mean that the strong overrepresentation of small cantons should somehow be modified. So far, all parliamentary initiatives aiming at such a reform have failed.

To what extent is private and public party financing and electoral campaign financing transparent, effectively monitored and in case of infringement of rules subject to proportionate and dissuasive sanction?

10
 9

The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring to that respect. Effective measures to prevent evasion are effectively in place and infringements subject to effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions.
 8
 7
 6


The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring. Although infringements are subject to proportionate sanctions, some, although few, loopholes and options for circumvention still exist.
 5
 4
 3


The state provides that donations to political parties shall be published. Party financing is subject to some degree of independent monitoring but monitoring either proves regularly ineffective or proportionate sanctions in case of infringement do not follow.
 2
 1

The rules for party and campaign financing do not effectively enforce the obligation to make the donations public. Party and campaign financing is neither monitored independently nor, in case of infringements, subject to proportionate sanctions.
Party Financing
1
Switzerland does not finance parties with public money on the federal level. In return, there are no constraints applied to party fundraising. There is some financing of parties on the cantonal level in Geneva and Fribourg.

National parties won recognition only in the constitutional revision of 1999 and there remains a deep-seated aversion to public financing. In consequence, there is little to no public scrutiny of party activities, since no public money is at stake. However, a considerable portion of political parties’ revenues comes from the subsidies given to party factions in the national parliament or through reimbursement for services; these together amount in some cases to 30% of total party income. Another important source of income is the attendance fee granted to members of parliament, which can be considered a form of party financing.

Since 2011, the Council of Europe’ Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) has argued that Switzerland’s system of party donations lacks transparency. The attempt by Social Democratic Minister of Justice Simonetta Sommaruga to draft a law on political party financing failed due to political opposition. The government has insisted on maintaining the current rules. In 2017, GRECO regretted “that the federal authorities are maintaining their position of not legislating on the transparency of party and campaign funding” (GRECO 2017:5).

In 2017, the required number of signatures for a vote on a popular initiative for transparency have been collected. It would lead to a new constitutional article, stipulating that political parties must name any donors who donate at least CHF 10,000. Similarly, if a person spends more than CHF 100,000 on a federal election or a popular campaign, they must inform the Federal Chancellery and name any donors who gave at least CHF 10,000.

Citations:
GRECO (Group of States against Corruption/Council of Europe) 2017: Fourth Interim Compliance Report on Switzerland. “Transparency of Party Funding,” GRECO: Strasbourg (https://www.coe.int/en/web/greco/evaluations/switzerland)

Do citizens have the opportunity to take binding political decisions when they want to do so?

10
 9

Citizens have the effective opportunity to actively propose and take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through popular initiatives and referendums. The set of eligible issues is extensive, and includes national, regional, and local issues.
 8
 7
 6


Citizens have the effective opportunity to take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through either popular initiatives or referendums. The set of eligible issues covers at least two levels of government.
 5
 4
 3


Citizens have the effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure. The set of eligible issues is limited to one level of government.
 2
 1

Citizens have no effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure.
Popular Decision-Making
10
Switzerland uses forms of direct democracy to a larger extent than does any other mature democracy. Direct-democratic practices are intensively employed on all levels, from the local to the national. On the local and state (cantonal) levels, rules and practices vary considerably by region. This mode of decision-making has many advantages, particularly if it is institutionally and culturally embedded in such a way as to hinder the development of a tyranny of the majority and populist mobilization. In particular, the system is connected with a high level of satisfaction, creating strong citizen identification with the political system and offering many incentives for politicians to behave in a consensual way.

However, along with these laudable characteristics, there are some qualifications and criticisms that should not be overlooked:

• Citizens in a direct democracy are not necessarily better informed or politically more interested than those of representative democracies at the same level of economic and social development. Switzerland provides little evidence that direct democracy educates citizens to be better democrats. However, research indicates that voters are willing and able to search and process information, and are open to substantial arguments beyond mere heuristics when making their decision.

• About 95% of all political decisions at the federal level are taken in parliament without subsequent direct-democratic decision-making. However, the most important and controversial issues are dealt with in public votes.

• Participation rates in direct-democratic votes are usually very low (typically between 40% and 50%) and socially biased. Well-to-do citizens participate at disproportionate levels.

• Voting is frequently driven by cue-taking, rather than by well-informed individual decision-making. This is not to say that citizens are simply victims of slogans or propaganda; in most cases they distinguish between information of high and low reliability during campaigns. However, recent popular votes indicate severe problems with regard to public knowledge and access to information. For example, the vote on the tax reform in 2017 was strongly influenced by a “when in doubt vote no” heuristic: citizens who felt uncertain and insufficiently informed voted no (VOTO 2017). Likewise, the initiative to exit nuclear power was rejected in November 2016 because two-thirds of voters assumed that within the following two years 50% of electricity production would have to be substituted by alternative sources. Although a majority of citizens support exiting nuclear energy, they feared that a swift exit could endanger the security of Switzerland’s energy supply. However, this fear has been proven misplaced. Only 15% of energy production needed to be substituted within a two-year period. If informed correctly, the public would likely have voted for exiting nuclear energy. Hence a lack of information and knowledge led to an outcome from a popular vote that contradicts citizens’ preferences (Rinscheid and Wüstenhagen 2016).

• The most prominent instrument of Swiss direct democracy, the referendum, serves to impede reform and adaptation. It has a strong status-quo bias. One observer has argued that the referendum has the function of a conservative upper house. For example, the delayed development of the Swiss welfare state or the belated enfranchisement of women are mainly due to the institution of direct democracy.

• Direct democracy creates incentives for politicians to compromise. This is a unique component of the Swiss political system: the threat of direct-democratic voting is meant to foster compromise in the pre-parliamentary stage and in parliament.

• Particularly in the recent past, direct democracy has created potential conflicts with human rights and international treaties.

• Direct democracy has been successfully used for populist mobilization, in particular recently. A telling example is a February 2014 initiative which led to a new constitutional amendment capping migration. This amendment cannot be reconciled with Switzerland’s bilateral agreement with the European Union on the free movement of labor. Swiss citizens are in favor both of a cap on migration and continued good relations with the European Union. While political elites promised voters that the European Union would renegotiate the terms of this agreement, the European Union stated from the beginning that it would not renegotiate. As a result, the government and parliament have had to muddle through by not implementing the constitutional amendment.

• Frequently, popular initiatives approved by the people and the cantons are only partly implemented through parliamentary legislation.

Citations:
Rinscheid, Adrain and Rolf Wüstenhagen 2016: Meinungsbildungsprozesse bei energiepolitischen Volksabstimmungen. Erste Ergebnisse einer Längsschnittstudie, St. Gallen: Universität St. Gallen/Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Oekologie (https://iwoe.unisg.ch/de/iwoe-news/2016/20161215_aii_studie).

VOTO 2017: VOTO-Studie zur eidgenössischen Volksabstimmung vom 12. Februar 2017, Lausanne/Aarau/Luzern: FORS et al. (http://www.voto.swiss/etudes-et-donnees/)

Access to Information

#2

To what extent are the media independent from government?

10
 9

Public and private media are independent from government influence; their independence is institutionally protected and fully respected by the incumbent government.
 8
 7
 6


The incumbent government largely respects the independence of media. However, there are occasional attempts to exert influence.
 5
 4
 3


The incumbent government seeks to ensure its political objectives indirectly by influencing the personnel policies, organizational framework or financial resources of public media, and/or the licensing regime/ market access for private media.
 2
 1

Major media outlets are frequently influenced by the incumbent government promoting its partisan political objectives. To ensure pro-government media reporting, governmental actors exert direct political pressure and violate existing rules of media regulation or change them to benefit their interests.
Media Freedom
10
Public- and private-sector media corporations are free from government influence. This is enshrined in the Swiss constitution. Although the federal government chooses the chairperson and some board members of the quasi-public non-profit radio and television organization, it exercises no influence over the organization’s daily reporting or journalistic work.

To what extent are the media characterized by an ownership structure that ensures a pluralism of opinions?

10
 9

Diversified ownership structures characterize both the electronic and print media market, providing a well-balanced pluralism of opinions. Effective anti-monopoly policies and impartial, open public media guarantee a pluralism of opinions.
 8
 7
 6


Diversified ownership structures prevail in the electronic and print media market. Public media compensate for deficiencies or biases in private media reporting by representing a wider range of opinions.
 5
 4
 3


Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize either the electronic or the print media market. Important opinions are represented but there are no or only weak institutional guarantees against the predominance of certain opinions.
 2
 1

Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize both the electronic and the print media market. Few companies dominate the media, most programs are biased, and there is evidence that certain opinions are not published or are marginalized.
Media Pluralism
9
The most important electronic media organizations in Switzerland in terms of coverage and intensity of citizen use are publicly owned. Private-sector television stations play only a small role in the country’s media landscape. These are largely regional stations. A number of foreign radio and television stations can be received in Switzerland, contributing to the country’s media plurality. The country has a high number of privately owned newspapers, with a highly decentralized system of regional concentration. However, a strong tendency toward centralization has weakened the regional newspaper market. This has been amplified by the strong growth of free papers for commuters such as 20 Minuten in the morning and Blick am Abend in the evening (similar publications exist in the French-speaking part of Switzerland). These have tended to crowd out readership of traditional newspapers, which have collectively suffered from a decline in readership of 23% (on a circulation basis) between 1990 and 2014. In addition, a trend toward concentration has affected formerly independent newspapers such as Bund and Berner Zeitung. In 1980, 290 newspapers existed in Switzerland; in 2014, this number shrank to 181, a reduction of 38%, a process that continued over the following three years. As with other small nations, Switzerland enjoys a relatively diversified ownership structure, but over time there has been a very strong process of centralization and concentration.

There will be a popular vote on a proposal for a constitutional article in March 2018. The proposed article would prohibit the federal government from subsidizing or running broadcasting and TV stations. This would imply the abandonment of public radio and TV.

To what extent can citizens obtain official information?

10
 9

Legal regulations guarantee free and easy access to official information, contain few, reasonable restrictions, and there are effective mechanisms of appeal and oversight enabling citizens to access information.
 8
 7
 6


Access to official information is regulated by law. Most restrictions are justified, but access is sometimes complicated by bureaucratic procedures. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms permit citizens to enforce their right of access.
 5
 4
 3


Access to official information is partially regulated by law, but complicated by bureaucratic procedures and some poorly justified restrictions. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms are often ineffective.
 2
 1

Access to official information is not regulated by law; there are many restrictions of access, bureaucratic procedures and no or ineffective mechanisms of enforcement.
Access to Government Information
9
Swiss authorities pursue very open strategies of information release. For example, the website of the federal administration offers access to major sources of political information.

Article 16 of the constitution, dealing with the issue of freedom of opinion and information, states that: “(1) The freedom of opinion and information is guaranteed; (2) Every person has the right to form, express and disseminate opinions freely; (3) Every person has the right to receive information freely, to gather it from generally accessible sources and to disseminate it.”

The Federal Law on the Principle of Administrative Transparency (Loi sur la Transparence, LTrans) was approved in December 2004 and took force in July 2006. The law gives any person the right to consult official documents and obtain information from authorities. The authorities must respond within 20 days. If a request is refused, a citizen can seek redress from the Federal Delegate for Data Protection. However, this law’s coverage is limited, applying to federal public bodies, other organizations and persons who make decisions under the Administrative Procedures Act, and parliamentary services. The Suisse National Bank and the Federal Commission on Banks are exempted. The law also does not apply to official documents concerning civil or criminal law processes, documents relating to foreign policy, or political party dossiers relating to administrative disputes. Consumer organizations have argued that the law contains too many exceptions.

Given these qualifications, it is noteworthy that this law has gained some influence, since the Federal Supreme Court has interpreted it in a liberal way.

Civil Rights and Political Liberties

#6

To what extent does the state respect and protect civil rights and how effectively are citizens protected by courts against infringements of their rights?

10
 9

All state institutions respect and effectively protect civil rights. Citizens are effectively protected by courts against infringements of their rights. Infringements present an extreme exception.
 8
 7
 6


The state respects and protects rights, with few infringements. Courts provide protection.
 5
 4
 3


Despite formal protection, frequent infringements of civil rights occur and court protection often proves ineffective.
 2
 1

State institutions respect civil rights only formally, and civil rights are frequently violated. Court protection is not effective.
Civil Rights
9
Civil rights are guaranteed by the constitution. However, the country does not have a classic Constitutional Court able to monitor the conformity of federal laws with the constitution outside the context of a particular case. Federal laws are binding for the federal courts. In contrast, the Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne monitors the conformity of federal regulations and cantonal laws with the constitution. With respect to basic civil rights, the European Court of Human Rights complements the Swiss Federal Supreme Court.

In December 2012, a parliamentary attempt to give the Federal Supreme Court the right to abstain from applying federal law if the federal law was incompatible with the constitution failed. The main argument was that in a direct democracy, the Constitutional Court should not be authorized to declare federal laws void as a whole. Thus, Switzerland, for different reasons but in a manner similar to the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Great Britain, does not possess a comprehensive judicial power of constitutional review.

In international comparison, the country’s record of guaranteeing human rights is outstanding. However, conflicts between human rights and direct democracy have emerged, particularly in recent years. One such concern was represented by the successful 2004 popular initiative for the life imprisonment of particularly dangerous criminal offenders without any opportunity for re-examination. This conflicts with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This convention guarantees periodic reviews in which the necessity for continued imprisonment can be evaluated.

Likewise, there have been conflicts between popular votes on naturalization and the call by foreign-born individuals for fair and transparent treatment, and the opportunity to appeal naturalization decisions. Some observers have argued that the current naturalization procedure fails to conform to the standard of human rights set out in the constitution. The Federal Supreme Court decided in 2003 that naturalization procedures previously established by popular vote were unconstitutional, since they violated constitutional norms of non-discrimination and the right to a lawful legal procedure.

The ban on the construction of minarets, approved in a popular vote in 2009, represents a particularly problematic decision. The basic claim of proponents was that minarets signify the potential aggression and power claims of Islam, which need to be suppressed as a strategy for keeping the peace. However, it is evident that the popular initiative was clearly aimed against Islam and the Islamization of Europe. Legal scholars tend to argue that the decision violates the freedom of worship and the non-discrimination rule.

The major underlying problem is the claim by many political actors that the people have an unrestricted right to decide any matter through popular vote. This conflicts with the basic rule of any liberal democracy that there are limitations to the will of the majority, such as human rights standards and protections for minorities. Switzerland’s public debate on the limits to majority rule (through popular vote) shows little cognizance of these traditional limitations to majoritarian rule. This has become very obvious in recent debates over the conflicts between international law and Swiss citizens’ decision-making rights in popular votes. Although anxiety over the ebbing of popular sovereignty extends beyond conservatives, this latter group in particular feels uneasy with the internationalization of law and some recent interpretations of human rights that have been made by professional lawyers. In the right-populist and conservative view, the internationalization of law and international court decisions against the results of Swiss referenda contradict Switzerland’s legislative culture, which is characterized by the principle of subsidiarity and guided by the idea that popular decisions have the highest degree of legitimacy. Consequently, in the summer of 2016, the country’s strongest political party, the Swiss People’s Party, had collected a sufficient number of signatures for an initiative that aims at giving federal law precedence over international law; this initiative will be decided upon in the near future.

To what extent does the state concede and protect political liberties?

10
 9

All state institutions concede and effectively protect political liberties.
 8
 7
 6


All state institutions for the most part concede and protect political liberties. There are only few infringements.
 5
 4
 3


State institutions concede political liberties but infringements occur regularly in practice.
 2
 1

Political liberties are unsatisfactory codified and frequently violated.
Political Liberties
9
Switzerland is in many ways a role model for the exercise and protection of political liberties. However, the November 2009 adoption of a ban on constructing new minarets must be considered a serious political signal against the right to freely worship, even if, in practice, the law means little for the free exercise of religion. Before the decision, there were only four minarets in Switzerland.

How effectively does the state protect against different forms of discrimination?

10
 9

State institutions effectively protect against and actively prevent discrimination. Cases of discrimination are extremely rare.
 8
 7
 6


State anti-discrimination protections are moderately successful. Few cases of discrimination are observed.
 5
 4
 3


State anti-discrimination efforts show limited success. Many cases of discrimination can be observed.
 2
 1

The state does not offer effective protection against discrimination. Discrimination is widespread in the public sector and in society.
Non-discrimination
8
In Switzerland, constitutional law and a consociational political system ensure the autonomy, freedom from discrimination and rights to political participation of Swiss linguistic, ethnic and religious minorities. Article 8 of the country’s constitution states: “Nobody shall suffer discrimination, particularly on grounds of origin, race, sex, age, language, social position, lifestyle, philosophical or political convictions, or because of a corporal or mental disability. Men and women have equal rights.”

Nonetheless, a number of problems with regard to discrimination exist. The sheer size of the foreign population and its contribution to the wealth of the nation brings up the question of whether withholding political rights such as voting from this population might be regarded as an indefensible variety of discrimination. However, Switzerland’s conception of non-citizen voting rights is similar to that of other Western democracies, and undoubtedly protects the civil and human rights of foreigners without any discrimination. The Swiss People’s Party, currently the strongest party in the country, has repeatedly resorted to openly xenophobic discourse. Although gender-based discrimination is illegal, women continue to face considerable economic and social discrimination with regard to wage equality and equal career opportunities.

Social discrimination in higher education persists, as it does not attract political attention. Children with weak socioeconomic backgrounds have considerably lower chances of gaining access to higher education, and little progress has been made in the last decades.

Rule of Law

#6

To what extent do government and administration act on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions to provide legal certainty?

10
 9

Government and administration act predictably, on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions. Legal regulations are consistent and transparent, ensuring legal certainty.
 8
 7
 6


Government and administration rarely make unpredictable decisions. Legal regulations are consistent, but leave a large scope of discretion to the government or administration.
 5
 4
 3


Government and administration sometimes make unpredictable decisions that go beyond given legal bases or do not conform to existing legal regulations. Some legal regulations are inconsistent and contradictory.
 2
 1

Government and administration often make unpredictable decisions that lack a legal basis or ignore existing legal regulations. Legal regulations are inconsistent, full of loopholes and contradict each other.
Legal Certainty
9
Switzerland’s federal government and administration act predictably. This predictability is partially reduced by the very pragmatic administrative culture at the cantonal and local levels. The country’s division into small administrative districts, the tradition of decentralized local government and a partially non-professional administration system (“Milizverwaltung,” militia administration, referencing the non-professional army) provide for a substantial amount of leeway in Switzerland’s public administration activity. The pragmatic administrative culture ensures flexibility and efficiency on the one hand, but reduces legal certainty on the other.

To what extent do independent courts control whether government and administration act in conformity with the law?

10
 9

Independent courts effectively review executive action and ensure that the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 8
 7
 6


Independent courts usually manage to control whether the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 5
 4
 3


Courts are independent, but often fail to ensure legal compliance.
 2
 1

Courts are biased for or against the incumbent government and lack effective control.
Judicial Review
10
The Swiss judicial system is guided by professional norms without political interference. The judicial system is based on professional training, though a mixture of lay and professionally trained judges serve at the local level in many cantons. Decisions by these judges are subject to review by higher professional courts. The Swiss judicial system varies substantially between cantons. This is due to Swiss federalism, which gives cantons great leeway in cantonal lawmaking and hence also in cantonal administration of justice. This also includes variations in the rules and examinations with regard to lawyers’ admission to the bar.

To what extent does the process of appointing (supreme or constitutional court) justices guarantee the independence of the judiciary?

10
 9

Justices are appointed in a cooperative appointment process with special majority requirements.
 8
 7
 6


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies with special majority requirements or in a cooperative selection process without special majority requirements.
 5
 4
 3


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies without special majority requirements.
 2
 1

All judges are appointed exclusively by a single body irrespective of other institutions.
Appointment of Justices
6
The judges of the Federal Supreme Court are elected for a period of six years in a joint session of both chambers of parliament, with approval requiring a majority of those voting. A parliamentary commission prepares the elections by screening the candidates. Unwritten rules stipulate a nearly proportional representation of the political parties then in parliament. By tradition, judges voluntarily pay part of their salary to the political party to which they are affiliated. This is considered a tax on their salary, which they would not have without the support of their party. In 2017, a committee of the Council of Europe criticized this arrangement and recommended: “the system should be backed up by safeguards to ensure the quality and objectivity of the recruitment of federal judges. Once judges have been elected it is important to sever the ties with the political powers by doing away with the practice whereby judges pay part of their salary to their party.” (GRECO 2017:4)

Another unwritten rule demands representation of the various linguistic regions. There is no special majority requirement.

Citations:
Group of States against Corruption (GRECO/Council of Europe) 2017: Fourth Evaluation report. Corruption prevention in respect of Members of Parliament, Judges and Prosecutors. Switzerland, GERCO: Strasbourg, https://www.coe.int/en/web/greco/evaluations/switzerland

To what extent are public officeholders prevented from abusing their position for private interests?

10
 9

Legal, political and public integrity mechanisms effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 8
 7
 6


Most integrity mechanisms function effectively and provide disincentives for public officeholders willing to abuse their positions.
 5
 4
 3


Some integrity mechanisms function, but do not effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 2
 1

Public officeholders can exploit their offices for private gain as they see fit without fear of legal consequences or adverse publicity.
Corruption Prevention
9
Corruption in Switzerland is rare according to international rankings. Indeed, Switzerland is consistently rated as being among the most successful countries with respect to corruption prevention. It is governed by the rule of law, offers high wages to public officials, and is based on a decentralized democracy with parties that efficiently control and audit public officials.

However, there are opportunities and incentives for political and societal elites to abuse their position for private interests. This is due to the country’s small size and the correspondingly small number of persons interacting in elite positions; to the culture of amicable agreement; and to the very pragmatic problem-solving culture. In addition, holders of elite positions know that they are highly likely to meet again in the future (and probably in different roles). This creates opportunities for the creation of broad informal networks, a reluctance to engage in close mutual surveillance and incentives for the non-observance of formal rules.

Given the considerable overlap between economic and political elites, critics such as the Swiss office of Transparency International have pointed to processes in which politicians’ economic interests may influence their decisions in parliament.
Back to Top