Consensus-seeking and direct democracy


Description

The cornerstone of peaceful coexistence and effective political institutions is its deep-rooted culture of consensus. In such a system both majority and minority groups should negotiate and determine the way forward, with everyone having their individual voices heard. However, such an approach generally demands a multilayered political decision-making process: exploratory talks, several rounds of consultation, parliamentary debates and, last but not least, the use of instruments of direct democracy. Not even the federal government is exempt from this enduring principle. All decisions issued by the members of the cabinet have been reached collectively and are defended by all in accordance with the principle of “Konkordanz” (collegiality or agreement). However, it is a well-known fact that the road to Konkordanz, which the Federal Constitution does not actually mention explicitly, is not always smooth or straightforward, and in some cases is marked by less than constructive dialogue. Indeed, the great store that the Swiss set by consensus-seeking is also born out of fundamental dissent. Switzerland provides a fertile breeding ground for a multitude of viewpoints and opinions thanks not least to the fact that all seven Swiss cabinet ministers have equal power and that the National Council is elected according to proportional representation. Added to this is the prevailing federalist culture (or “Kantönligeist” [provincialism] as it is referred to by the Swiss themselves), as well as the country’s linguistic, regional and economic diversity. While these factors may hamper the decision-making process, the outcomes are always astonishing and unique. Indeed, the “Inventory of Living Traditions in Switzerland” is a perfect of such an outcome.

Image gallery

  • Every Wednesday or Friday, the Federal Council meet behind closed doors. © Bundeskanzlei
  • Federal Council : meeting room © Federal Chancellery
  • Peter Vischer: Tagsatzung 1531 in Baden (etching from 1793) © Swiss National Museum
  • C. Studer: "Volksversammlung Uster" (lithograph, 1830–1832) © Swiss National Museum
  • General strike of 1918: Soldiers tackle a striker. © Carl Kling-Jenny, Basel/Swiss National Museum
  • Women’s suffrage commemorative stamps, 1960 © Swiss National Museum
  • “The Jura question”: Young separatists carrying a battering ram, 1970s © Swiss National Museum
  • Changing times: In 2011 the debate was launched in Rapperswil-Jona on the creation of a municipal parliament © Willi Meissner/Die Südostschweiz
  • Every Wednesday or Friday, the Federal Council meet behind closed doors. © Bundeskanzlei
  • Federal Council : meeting room © Federal Chancellery
  • Peter Vischer: Tagsatzung 1531 in Baden (etching from 1793) © Swiss National Museum
  • C. Studer: "Volksversammlung Uster" (lithograph, 1830–1832) © Swiss National Museum
  • General strike of 1918: Soldiers tackle a striker. © Carl Kling-Jenny, Basel/Swiss National Museum
  • Women’s suffrage commemorative stamps, 1960 © Swiss National Museum
  • “The Jura question”: Young separatists carrying a battering ram, 1970 © Swiss National Museum
  • Changing times: In 2011 the debate was launched in Rapperswil-Jona on the creation of a municipal parliament © Willi Meissner/Die Südostschweiz

Video

Speech given by Swiss Minister for Home Affairs, Alain Berset, to the Council of States on the popular initiative “Music and Youth”, 27 February 2012. © Parliamentary Services of the Federal Assembly, Bern

References and documentation

Publications
  • Jean-Stéphane Bron: Mais im Bundeshuus – Le génie hélvétique (DVD). 2003

  • Michael Hermann: Konkordanz in der Krise. Zürich, 2011

  • Ulrich Klöti et al.: Handbuch der Schweizer Politik. Zürich, 2002 (4. Auflage)

  • Georg Kreis: Schweizer Erinnerungsorte. Aus dem Speicher der Swissness. Zürich, 2010

  • Arend Lijphart: Thinking about democracy. Power sharing and majority rule in theory and practice. London, 2008

  • Thomas Maissen: Geschichte der Schweiz. Baden, 2010 (2. Auflage)

  • Iwan Rickenbacher: Hat die Konkordanz Zukunft? In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 28. Januar 2011

  • Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum (Ed.): Geschichte Schweiz. Katalog der Dauerausstellung im Landesmuseum Zürich. Zürich, 2009

  • Adrian Vatter: Schweizerische Konkordanz der zwei Geschwindigkeiten. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2. März 2011

Documentation