By Cindy

02 Apr 2017


To Witness How the Parliament Works

To witness how congress works was part of my bucket list.  To do this, I had to go to Bern, capital of Switzerland to watch a live session of the Parliament.


Getting there:    From the Bern central train station, it’s just a 5 minute walk to the Parliament Building.  You wouldn’t miss it.  Line up at least 30 minutes before each session. 

After the session, you may want to visit:  the Paul Klee Museum or the Swiss Brand Museum, all located in Bern.

Getting a seat.  There are 2 ways by which you can become a spectator.  Option one is through an organized group and option two is by being a walk-in.  

Organizing a group to watch a session requires a lot of planning which stretches to several months before the scheduled session.  This is recommended for big groups like students.  Individuals can be walk-in visitors by lining up 30 minutes before any session starts.  There are 25 free seats given to the public, free of charge.  I was lucky to get a seat last March 6, 2017.

Organized free tour.  During off-session seasons, there's a free tour for one hour.  At 16h during organized tour, there is a possibility to have some drinks at the Grand Café Galerie des Alpes from Mondays to Fridays only.  Tours are conducted in 4 languages.  The English version is every Saturday at 14h.

Multilingual debates.   Spectators sit at the balcony seats and the view is similar to an arena. 

I was really amazed on how the Parliament conducted its discussions and debates.  They use 4 languages:  French, German, Italian and Romanche.  On their turn to speak, the council representatives speak their native language (which is one of the 4 mentioned).  However, the literatures are in 3 languages (with the exception of Romanche).  So to become a member of the United Federal Assembly, they’ve got to know all of the 4 languages fluently.

Documentation requirements:  Bring your passport or your Swiss permit.  Photos or videos are not allowed.

wet "Bern" during my visit and from my vantage point, I can see teh Parliament Building

There are 3 branches of the Federal State:

The political system of Switzerland is federal yet decentralized with emphasis on direct democracy.  The country is called a confederation consisting of 26 cantons.  There are 3 commonalities shared by these 26 cantons:  constitution, foreign policy and currency.  Other than that, they are given the free hand to implement the requirements of the constitution but may be flexible in the implementation part depending on each cantonal needs.

Branch 1:  Executive – implements laws and is made up of Federal Council (7 Federal Councilors).  A president is chosen from the 7 councilors at the beginning of the winter session and would sit on that position for a period of one year.

Branch 2:  Parliament – elected by the Swiss voters and enacts and passes laws.  Also called the United Federal Assembly consisting of the National Council (200 members) and the Council of States (46 members:  representing 2 per canton with the exception of former half-cantons, the cantons of Obwalden, Nidwalden, Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell and Innerrhoden each have only one representative)

Branch 3:  Judiciary

Where is the checks and balance?  The Parliament supervises the Federal Council (Executive Branch) and the federal courts (Judiciary Branch).  The Parliament is elected by the Swiss voters every 4 years.

12 steps on how laws are passed in Switzerland

Step 1:  Federal council and administration postulate proposals and dispatch these proposals to the Parliament

Step 2:  Parliament examines the proposal

Step 3:  First consultation with the National Council

Step 4:  Parliamentary examination of proposal

Step 5:  First consultation with the Council of States

Step 6:  Resolution of differences

Step 7:  Second consultation and decision by National Council

Step 8:  Second preliminary examination by Council of States

Step 9:  Final vote

Step 10:  Publication of law in Federal Gazette.  Within 100 days from publication, if there are at least 50K signatures for referendum, it goes to the voting public for referendum

Step 11:  Referendum.  This happens in Switzerland a lot, in fact, it can be up to 4 referendums a year.

Step 12:  Entry of law into force. 


Allocation of Seats in the Parliament

Jürg Stahl (Swiss People’s Party from Zurich) is the president of the National Council in 2016/17

Chamber of the Council of States (during off-session)

The Swiss Confederation is very systematic, very transparent and a role model for other political systems of other countries to get inspirations from.  

Decentralization of power need not be chaotic and the people's voice is still king!   I encourage everyone to visit these sessions at least once in your lifetime.

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