Overview and context
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Nationally Determined Contribution (UNFCCC website)
Switzerland is a federal state with 26 cantons that enjoy far-reaching autonomy. The government, parliament and courts are organised across the federal level, the cantonal level and the communal level. There is a strong tradition of subsidiarity in the form of cantonal and communal self-determination and self-governance. The federal level aims to establish a minimal amount of national standards and holds responsibility for supra-cantonal policy areas. In consequence, constitutional law states that legislative power rests with the sovereign cantons unless it is explicitly assigned to the federal level.
The Swiss Parliament consists of two legislative chambers. The 200 members of the National Council are elected every four years based on a refined proportional representation system with modifications for smaller cantons. The last federal election was held in October 2015 and the next will be held in 2019. The cantons are represented in the second chamber, the Council of States. Its 46 members represent the 20 full cantons (two representatives each) and the 6 half cantons (one representative). The two chambers discuss new laws separately in an iterative process until an agreement can be reached. Because representing a constituency in the Parliament is not a full-time job, parliament meets only 4 times per year for several weeks. The meetings are supplemented with one-day conferences of the different commissions, where members of parliament represent their parties’ interests. The seven members of the federal government form the ‘Bundesrat’ (Federal Council). As heads of government departments they hold equal rights and can be re-elected without legal limit to their total term of office. They meet weekly and take decisions either by majority voting or consensus. At the beginning of a new four-year term, the Federal Assembly consisting of the National Council and the Council of States elects the Federal Council in the December following the parliamentary election (and the frequently jointly held Council of States election). The Swiss Presidency rotates among the members of the Federal Council each year.
Direct democracy plays a crucial role in the legislative process. There are frequent referenda on laws passed by the Parliament, some mandatory while others are discretionary if 50,000 citizens demand for it. Citizens can also submit proposals to change the Swiss constitution if supported by 100,000 signatures. The relatively small population and long tradition of direct democracy have so far had a stabilising effect on Swiss politics as they increase parties’ willingness to compromise, favour large coalitions and are likely to block extreme laws.