After reading this article you will learn about the centralisation of powers of Switzerland.
The working of the Swiss Federation reflects a distinct trend towards centralisation of more and more powers in the hands of the Federal Government. The total revision of the constitution in 1874 was guided by the objective of centralisation and since that time, the same process has been continuing. After this the Swiss Federal Government began becoming more and more powerful.
Referring to this aspect of Swiss federalism, Rappard has observed:
“In Switzerland, as in the United States, historical evolution tends more and more to shift the centre of gravity of the political life of the nation from the parts (Cantons) to the whole (the Federation)”. The total revision of the constitution done in 1999 has recognized this fact.
Analysing the growth in the powers of the Federal Government, Zurcher observes:
“Federal Authority has been extended to such subjects as patents, water power exploitation, the civil and criminal law, the alcoholic beverages, traffic, aerial maritime and surface transportation Federal ownership has been extended to nations telephone and wireless system and the railways. Many new sources of Federal taxes have been created and a considerable number of federal subsidies to the Cantons have been originated. Combined with other factors such as the growth of commerce and industry on a national scale, this augmentation of federal power has necessarily exalted the prestige and influence of the government of the confederation (federation) at the expense of the separate Cantons.”
In fact the 1999 total revision of the Constitution has consolidated and accepted the Constitutional development between 1874-1999. It has given some additional powers and more weightage to the existing powers of the Federation. It has in fact recognized and legalized the trend towards centralisation in Swiss Federation.
I. Factors Responsible for an increase in the Powers of the Federal Government:
Several factors have been responsible for producing the trend towards centralisation in Switzerland.
(a) The trend towards centralisation is a universal phenomenon. In the American, Indian, Australian, Canadian and all other federations, an increase in the powers of the federal governments has been taking place.
(b) The rise of a social-welfare administrative state has strengthened the hands of the Swiss Federation.
(c) Emergencies like the one created by the two World Wars strengthened the hands of the federal government because it had the supreme responsibility to preserve, protect and defend national unity and integrity.
J.B. Mason rightly observes, “During the two World Wars and the economic depression, the federal government’s scope of action was vastly increased. As the war time emergency passed, the range of federal action decreased but not to its former level.”
(d) Analysing the factors which have played a role in strengthening the Swiss federal government, Hans Huber opines that it has resulted, partly under the influence of European nationalism and unification of the neighbouring countries to the north and the south and still more as a result of the improvement in the means of transport and requirements of trade and industry, of economic independence and the necessity of a uniform and efficient economic policy in times of economic crises.
(e) The federal government has more revenue resources and the Cantons, like the states of the Indian Union, are dependent upon it for grants-in-aid.
(f) The power of the Federal Court to conduct judicial review over the Cantonal laws has also strengthened the position of the federation. The Federal laws are not subject to judicial review by the Federal Court.
(g) The provision that gives primacy to the federal laws over the Cantonal laws in respect of concurrent subjects has also given strength to the position of the Swiss Federal Government.
All these factors have, in the main, greatly strengthened the role and authority of the Swiss Federal Government in comparison with the power and authority of the Cantons.