This article throws light upon the seven salient features of the Swiss federal legislature. Some of the features are: 1. Supremacy of the Federal Parliament 2. Supremacy of Parliament Subject to Popular Will 3. Defined Powers 4. Equal Power of the Two Houses 5. Freedom of Speech in any Language and Others.
Feature # 1. Supremacy of the Federal Parliament:
The Swiss Constitution, in the strictly legal sense, makes the Federal Parliament supreme.
It can be inferred from three features:
(a) The laws passed by the Federal Parliament are not subject to any veto power of the executive.
(b) The laws of the Federal Parliament are not subject to judicial review. The Swiss Federal Court (The Federal Supreme Court) has no power of judicial review over federal laws.
(c) The Swiss Federal Parliament elects the members of the Federal Government as well as the judges of the Federal Court. The Federal Councilors/Ministers are not the members of the legislature. They, however, participate in the deliberations of the two houses, but without the right to vote.
The members of the Federal Government are responsible before the Federal Parliament and obey the directions issued, and enforce the laws made by it. The Federal Parliament has the power to disapprove or approve all the proposals made by the Federal government.
Feature # 2. Supremacy of Parliament Subject to Popular Will:
However, supremacy of the Federal Parliament is limited by the popular will. The Swiss people have the power to demand a referendum on the laws made by it. They can reject any law of the Federal Parliament in such a referendum.
The constitutional amendments passed by the parliament are subject to compulsory referendum and these get incorporated in the constitution only when these are approved by a majority of voters as well as of the Cantons.
As such, the law-making and constituent powers of the Federal Parliament are subject to the rights reserved to the people and the Cantons (Article 148). D. E. Rappard has rightly observed that “the Swiss Federal Parliament enjoys supremacy “as long as it retains the confidence and performs the will of the electorate.”
Feature # 3. Defined Powers:
Federal Parliament can legislate only on the federal and the concurrent subjects. Being the national legislature of a federation, it has a specified and not an unlimited, sphere of powers.
Feature # 4. Equal Power of the Two Houses:
The two Houses of the Swiss Federal Parliament, the House of Representatives and the Senate (The Council of State) have equal powers. The Constitution gives equal and coordinate powers to these Article [148(2)] specifically lays down this feature.
In the words of C.F. Strong, “The Swiss Legislature, like the Swiss executive, is unique. It is the only legislature in the world in which the functions of whose Upper House are in no way different from those of the Lower House.”
Feature # 5. Freedom of Speech in any Language:
Every member of the Swiss Federal Parliament can speak in his mother tongue. All parliamentary reports, resolutions and decisions are published in German as well as in French and in some cases in Italian also. Most of the members use either German or French in their discussions.
Feature # 6. Business-like Attitude:
Lord Bryce has described the Swiss Federal Parliament as “the most business-like body in the world.” The legislators do not follow strict partisan spirit. They sit Canton wise irrespective of their political affiliations. All the main parties which together hold nearly 3/4th of seats of the legislature are coalition partners and these run the Federal Government.
Thus, there is absence of a solid opposition in the legislature. Its business is transacted in a professional business-like manner “Federal Parliament is a business-like body, a dignified, decent and disciplined legislature devoid of aggressive party politics and melodramas which characterize other legislatures, like the Indian Parliament.”
Feature # 7. Relatively Less Powerful Role of the Federal Parliament:
The Swiss Federal Parliament, has suffered a decline in its role because of an increase in the role and authority of the Swiss Federal Government. “In-spite of all the constitutional prerogatives of the Federal Parliament, the lead has clearly passed on to the hands of the Federal Government.”
The system of proportional representation, the operation of Referendum, and lack of opposition, have all combined to dilute the position of the Federal Parliament in the Swiss Political System.