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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Switzerland/Government

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Government.—The Swiss Confederation must be carefully distinguished from the 22 cantons of which it is composed, and which are sovereign states, save in so far as they have given up their rights to the Federal government. These cantons themselves are built up of many political communes, or Gemeinden, or civil parishes, which are the real political units of the country (and not merely local subdivisions); for any one desiring to become naturalized a Swiss must first become (by purchase or grant) a member of a commune, and then, if his burghership of the commune is confirmed by the cantonal authorities, he obtains also, simultaneously, both cantonal and Federal citizenship.

a. Now in Switzerland there are 3164 political communes (municipalités or Einwohnergemeinden). These are composed of all male Swiss citizens over twenty years of age, of good character and resident in the commune for at least three months. The meeting of these persons is called the assemble générale or Gemeindeversammlung, while the executive council chosen by it is the conseil municipal or Gemeinderat, the chief person in the commune (elected by the larger meeting) being termed the syndic or maire, the Gemeindeprdsident or the Gemeindeammann. This kind of commune includes all Swiss residents (hence the German name) within its territorial limits, and has practically all powers of management of local affairs, including the carrying out of cantonal and Federal laws or decrees, save and except matters relating to the pastures and forests held in common. This class of commune dates only from the time of the Helvetic republic (1798-1802), and its duties were largely increased after the liberal movement of 1830; the care of the highways, the police, the schools, the administration of the poor law being successively handed over to it, so that it became a political body. As regards Swiss citizens belonging to cantons other than that in which they reside, the Federal Constitution of 1848 (art. 41) gave them rights of voting there in cantonal and Federal matters, but not in those relating exclusively to the commune itself. The Federal Constitution of 1874 (art. 43) gives to such persons as those named above (éstablis or Niedergelassenen—that is, permanent settlers) all voting rights, Federal, cantonal and communal (save as below), the two last named after a stay of three months. Temporary residents being Swiss citizens (e.g. labourers, servants, students, officials not being communal officials) are called résidents or Aufenthalter, and are in most cantons considered to be as such incapable of voting in communal matters until after a residence of three months, though some cantons require a longer sojourn. Foreign residents are included under this class of Aufcnthalter.

The burgher communes (communes bourgeoises or Burgergemeinden), now principally of historical interest, having for the most part gradually merged with the other class of communes, were originally simply the communities that dealt with the management of the “lands subject to common user" or Allmend (mainly summer pastures and forests), but gradually obtained, by purchase or otherwise, the manorial rights, the burghers then being themselves the lords of the manor (as at Brixham in Devonshire). But when after the Reformation, owing to the suppression of the monasteries, the care of the poor was imposed by the Federal Diet, in 1551, on the several communes, these naturally aided only their own members, a course which gave rise to a “communal burgher ship,” a system designed to prevent persons from gaining a “settlement” in any commune to which they did not properly belong. Thus all non burgher residents, permanent or temporary, were excluded from any share in the enjoyment of the lands subject to common user, or in their management, and remained complete outsiders, though paying local rates. With the increased facilities of communication and the rise of a shifting industrial population such restrictions became invidious and unfair, particularly after the introduction, under the Helvetic republic, of a Federal citizenship, superior to cantonal citizenship, and after the communes became more and more burdened with public duties, so that the amount of the rates equalled, if it did not exceed, the sums produced by the “common lands.” To avoid some of these inconveniences “political communes” were set up, consisting practically of all Swiss permanent residents. But the relation between these and the old Bürgergemeinden (the burghers of which only have rights of user over the common lands) was very delicate, and has been settled (if settled at all) in various fashions. In some cases the older communes simply merged with the newer, the ownership of the common lands thus passing from one to the other class. In other cases the Bürgergemeinden still exist as distinct from the “political communes,” but solely for purposes (enjoyment, management, &c.) relating to the common lands, and thus form a sort of privileged community inside the larger and now more generally important community. In some cases the common lands have been divided in varying proportions between the two classes of communes, the Bürgergemeinden thus continuing to exist solely as regards that part of the common lands which they have retained. In other cases the common lands, whether before or after 1798, have passed into the possession of a small number of the burghers, who form a close corporation, the revenues of which are enjoyed by the members as such, and not as citizens—in short are subject to no public obligations or burdens save rates and taxes.

b. The twenty-two cantons (three are subdivided—Unter-walden, Appenzell and Basel—into two halves) are divided into “administrative districts” (187 in number), which are ruled by prefects, in the French fashion, appointed by the cantonal authorities. These are the true local divisions in the country. Each Canton has its own legislature, executive and judiciary. The older cantons have in some cases (Uri, Unterwalden, Appenzell and Glarus) preserved their ancient democratic assemblies (or Landesgemeinden), in which each burgher appears in person, and which usually meet once a year, on the last Sunday in April or the first Sunday in May, always (weather permitting) in the open air. These annual assemblies elect annually a sort of standing committee, and also the chief magistrate or Landammann, as well as the judiciary. In the other eighteen cantons the legislature (Gross Rat or grand conseil) is composed of representatives chosen by the cantonal voters in proportion, varying in each canton, to the population. They are thus local parliaments rather than mere county councils. The executive (Regierungsrat or conseil d'état) is elected everywhere (save Fribourg, the Valais and Vaud) by a popular vote, this plan having gradually superseded election by the cantonal legislature. All the cantons (save F ribourg) have the referendum and initiative, by which the electors can exercise control over their elected representatives. The cantonal judiciary is chosen by the people.

c. In 1848 the Federal government was reorganized according to the plan adopted in the United States, at any rate so far as regards the legislature (Bundesizersammlung or assemble fédérale). This is composed of two houses: (1) the Ständerat or conseil des états, to which each canton, great or small, sends two representatives (generally chosen for varying terms by the people, but, in 1907, still by the cantonal legislature in Bern, Fribourg, Neuchatel, St Gall, the Valais and Vaud), this house being like the American Senate; (2) the Nationalrat or conseil national, composed of representatives (at present 167 in number) elected within the cantons in the proportion of 1 to every 20,000 (or fraction over 10,000) of the population, and holding office for three years, before the expiration of which it cannot be dissolved. The two houses are on an absolutely equal footing, and bills are introduced into one or the other simply because of reasons of practical convenience. The Federal parliament meets, at least, once a year, in Bern, the Federal capital. The Federal executive (Bundesrat or conseil fédéral) was set up in 1848 and is composed of seven members, who are elected for three years by the two houses of the Federal legislature, sitting together as a congress, but no two members may belong to the same canton. The Federal parliament annually names the president (Bundespräsident or président de la confédération) and the vice-president, so that the former is really but the chairman of a committee, and not in any way like the American president. The F ederzh president always holds the foreign portfolio (the “political department”), the other portfolios being annually redistributed among the other members, but all decisions proceed from the council as a whole. The Federal councillors cannot be at the same time members of either house of the Federal parliament, though they may speak or introduce motions (but not vote) in either house. The Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgericht or tribunal fédéral) was created by the Federal Constitution of 1874 and is (since 1904) composed of 19 full members (plus 9 substitutes), all elected by the two houses of the Federal parliament, sitting together and holding office for six years; the Federal parliament also elects every two years the president and vice-president of the Federal tribunal. Its seat is at Lausanne. Its jurisdiction extends to disputes between the Confederation, the cantons, and private individuals, so far as these differences refer to Federal matters. An appeal lies in some cases (not too clearly distinguished) to the Federal council, and in some to the two houses of the Federal legislature sitting together. As to the referendum and initiative (whether as to the revision of the constitution or as to bills) see Referendum.

It was natural that, as the members of the Swiss Confederation were drawn closer and closer together, there should arise the idea of a Federal code as distinguished from the manifold cantonal legal systems. The Federal Constitution of 1874 conferred on the Federal authorities the power to legislate on certain defined legal subjects, and advantage was taken of this to revise and codify the Law of Obligations (1881) and the Law of Bankruptcy (1889). The success of these attempts led to the adoption by the Swiss people (1898) of new constitutional articles, extending the powers of the Federal authorities to the other departments of civil law and also to criminal law. Drafts carefully prepared by commissions of specialists were slowly considered during nearly two years by the two houses of the Federal parliament, which finally adopted the civil code on the 10th of December 1907, and it was expected that by 1912 both a complete Federal civil code and a complete Federal criminal code would come into operation.

Before 1848 there was scarcely such a thing as Federal finances for there was no strong central Federal authority. As the power of those authorities increased, so naturally did their expenditure and receipts. In 1849 the receipts were nearly £240,000, as against an expenditure of, £260,000. By 1873 each had risen to rather over £1,250,000, while in 1883 they just over topped £2,000,000 sterling each, and in 1900 the receipts were just over £4,000,000 sterling, as against an expenditure of nearly £4,000,000. The figures for 1907 are £5,750,000 as against just over £5,500,000, and are the highest yet recorded. The funded Federal debt rose from a modest £150,000 in 1849 to rather over £2,000,000 in 1891, and rather over £4,000,000 in 1903, standing in 1905 at £3,250,000.

By the Federal Constitution of 1848 the post office was made a Federal attribute, and the first Federal law on the subject was passed in 1849 (postage stamps within the country in 1850, for Foreign lands in 1854, and post-cards in 1870), while a Federal law of 1851 extended this privilege to the electric telegraph, so that in 1852 the first line was opened with thirty-four offices. In the Federal Constitution of 1874 both branches are declared to fall within the jurisdiction of the Confederation, while in 1878 this privilege was extended to the newly invented telephone. Inviolability of communications in all three cases is guaranteed. In 1891 the Swiss people accepted the principle of a state bank with a monopoly of note issue. A first scheme was rejected by a popular vote in 1897, but a second was more successful in 1905. The “Swiss National Bank” was actually opened on the 20th of June 1907, its two chief seats being at Zürich and at Bern. It has a capital of £2,000,000 sterling, divided into 100,000 shares. Two-fifths of this capital is reserved to the cantons in proportion to their population in 1900, and two-fifths were taken up by public subscription in June 1906. The remaining fifth was reserved to the existing thirty-six banks in Switzerland (all founded between 1834 and 1900), which have hitherto enjoyed the right of issuing notes. It was stipulated that within three years of the opening of the National Bank all notes issued by 'these thirty-six banks must be withdrawn, and many had by 1907 taken this course in anticipation.

There is no “established Swiss Church” recognized by the Federal Constitution, but there may be one or more “established churches” in any Canton. The Federal Constitution of 1874 guarantees full religious liberty and freedom of worship, not being contrary to morals and the public peace, as well as exemption from any compulsory church rates (arts. 49 and 50). But it repeats, with fresh pricks (art. 51), the provision of the Constitution of 1848 by which the Jesuits and all affiliated religious orders are forbidden to settle in Switzerland, extending this prohibition to any other orders that may endanger the safety of the state or the public peace. It also introduces a new article (No. 52) forbidding the erection of new religious orders or new monasteries or the re-establishment of old ones, and also a. new clause (last part of art. 50) by which the erection of new bishoprics on Swiss soil is subject to the approval of the Federal authorities. The Jesuit article was due to the “Sonderbund” War of 1847, and the rest of this exceptional legislation to the “Kulturkampf” which raged in Switzerland) in 1872–1874. The Protestants form rather over three-fifths of the population, but have the majority in 10% of the 22 cantons only. In the German-speaking cantons they are Zwinglians, and in the French-speaking cantons Calvinists, though in neither case of the original and orthodox shade. The Protestants alone are “established” in the Outer Rhodes of Appenzell; while the Romanists alone are “established " in 71/2 cantons (Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Zug, Ticino, the Valais, and the Inner Rhodes of Appenzell), but only jointly in the 3 other cantons (Fribourg, St Gall and Soleure) in which they are in a majority. In June 1907 Geneva decided on the complete separation of church and state, and now stands alone in Switzerland in not having any “established church” at all (previously it had two—Protestants and Christian Catholics). In the other 21 cantons, the Protestants and Romanists are jointly “established” in 111/2, as are the Protestants and the Christian Catholics in 11/2, in which the Christian Catholics take the place of the Romanists. Thus out of the 21 cantons with “established churches” (Landeskirchen or églises nationales) the Protestants are solely or jointly “established” in 131/2, and the Romanists in 19 (not in Bern, Urban Basel and the Outer Rhodes of Appenzell), while the Christian Catholics are recognized in 7 cantons, in two of which (Basel and Neuchätel) they are also “endowed.” The case of Neuchätel is particularly striking, as it has three “established churches” (Protestants, Romanists and Christian Catholics), while there the Jewish rabbis, as well as the pasteurs of the Free Evangelical Church, are exempt from military service. Besides a few parishes in Bern there are also three “Evangelical Free Churches” (Églises fibres), viz. in Vaud (since 1847), in Geneva (since 1848) and in Neuchätel (since 1873). The Romanists have five diocesan bishops in Switzerland—Sion (founded in the 4th century), Geneva (4th century), Basel (4th century, but reorganized in 1828), Coire (5th century), Lausanne (6th century), and St Gall (till 1824 part of the bishopric of Constance, and a separate see since 1847). There are besides the sees of Lugano (erected in 1888 for Italian Switzerland—till then in Milan or Como—but united for the resent to the see of Basel, though administered by a suffragan Bishop) and Bethlehem (a see in partibus, annexed in 1840 to the abbacy of St Maurice in the Valais . The Christian Catholics (who resemble the Old Catholics in Germany) split off from the Romanists in 1874 on the question of papal infallibility (in Bern and Geneva politics also played a great part), and since 1876 have had a bishop of their own (consecrated by the German Old Catholic, Bishop Reinkens), who resides in Bern, but bears no diocesan title. The Christian Catholics (who in the census are counted with the Romanists) are strongest in Bern, Soleure and Geneva, while their number in 1906 was estimated variously at from twenty to thirty-four thousand—they have 38 parishes (10 being in French-speaking Switzerland) an some 57 pastors. There are still a few monasteries in Switzerland which have escaped suppression. The principal are the Benedictine houses of Disentis (founded in the 7th century by the Irish monk Sigisbert), Einsiedeln (q.v.; 10th century) and Engelberg (q.v.; 12th century) as well as the houses of Austin Canons at St Maurice (held by them since 1128, though the house was founded by Benedictines in the 6th century) and on the Great St Bernard (11th century).