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Significance of the Evolution of the Swiss Constitution

The Republic of Switzerland is a small country, about one –third of the area of New York State,situated in the heart of western Europe.Her people live on both sides of a great mountain chain. It is surrounded by Germany in the North, by France in the west , by Austria in the East and by Italy in the South.

It's People differ in race, religion ,language and to some extent in civilization. In the words of Dr.Munro, People of Germanic, French and Italian stocks, speaking four languages, have been so squeezed together by powerful neighbours that they have grown into one. Despite all these differences on the basis of race, religion and language, the Swiss constitute a thoroughly coherent nation.

A very healthy tradition of self-government has been established on the swiss soil for the last seven hundred years or more. The intermingling of religion and languages has proved to be a blessing in disguise.It has prevented the growth of excessive exclusiveness and promoted religious tolerance and ardent nationalism.

The swiss deeply cherish and strongly uphold communal and cantonal autonomy.Hence, the Swiss constitution is the true mirror of the feelings of the Swiss who are the adherents of  Direct Democracy and principle of  Popular Sovereignty.

Essentiality of the Swiss Constitution:

Another distinctive fact about this beauty spot of the continent is its dynamic neutrality. In war –torn Europe, Switzerland alone could keep itself neutral and enjoy political stability. Rappard Describes this policy of neutrality as  the true palladium of Swiss Independence. In fact, Switzerland enjoys a unique position as a channel of diplomatic communication between countries at war against each other.

According to Hans Huber, her neutral status,  Permits the country to fulfill certain humanitarian missions in these times of steadily growing deadly conflicts. This policy of neutrality has ushered in an era of peace and prosperity for the country. Hence, it has become the cornerstone of the Swiss foreign policy.

A diet committee of fourteen drafted the constitution of 1848 which after approval by the Diet was submitted to referendum and was ratified by an overwhelming majority of the cantons and the people. Thus the confederation was converted into a federal state. The constitution of 1848 made provision for Bicameral federal assembly, the collegial Executive, Referendum, Initiative, Common citizenship and Federal Tribunal.

The constitution of 1848 lasted for twenty-six years only. The Parliament issued the enforcement decree on September 28,1999 and the new constitution came into force on January 1,2000.Thus ,Switzerland entered the new millennium with a new legal foundation. However, the new constitution does not radically change the structure of the Swiss federation as envisaged in the 1874 constitution.

Mandatory Features of the Swiss Constitution:

The Helvetic Republic is still called a Confederation of twenty cantons and six half cantons, though since 1848 it has adopted a federal constitution which was considerably revised in 1874 and rewritten in 1999 incorporating all the amendments made there up to. It is an ancestral house of direct legislation and the only country in the world still practicing direct democracy.

A written and lengthy Constitution:

The Swiss constitution of 1848 as amended in 1874 and in Subsequent years and integrated in 1999 is a written document like that of the USA although it is double in size to that of the American constitution. The 1999 constitution consists of one hundred and ninety –six Articles. In fact, the Swiss Constitution effects a compromise between the advocates of cantonal rights and the admirers of the strong federal government.

The new constitution now formally and explicitly separates and codifies the four traditional pillars of Swiss constitutional law.

The four traditional pillars of Swiss constitutional law as follows:

  1. Democracy:
  2. Articles 136-142 addresses the participation of the Swiss people in the federal Government, by providing rules governing popular initiatives for total or partial revision of the federal constitution.
  3. Rule of law:
    Articles 7 to 36 addresses general principles of Governmental actions and provide an extensive catalogue of fundamental rights.
  4. Social Welfare:
    Article 41 declares certain ‘Social goals' to be achieved by the federal and cantonal governments.
  5. Federalism:
    Articles 42 to 135 address the relationship between the Swiss confederation and the twenty –six cantons, as well as municipalities and enumerate the federal legislative powers.

The other common pillars includes rigidity the Swiss Constitution is rigid in character, though not so rigid as the American Constitution. The procedure of its amendment is rather complicated. There are two methods of amending it.
  1. Through Referendum
  2. Through Constitutional Initiative
Switzerland is one of the oldest Republic of Europe. Though the Republic of Switzerland is formally designated as the Swiss confederation ,it is in fact a federation. The cantons still possess the residuary powers.

The principles of sovereignty of the people, rule of law, equality among the citizens and universal adult suffrage are the hallmark of the Swiss Constitution.

The constitution vests the executive power with the federal council which consists of seven members who are elected by the Federal assembly for four years. The Swiss Executive has thus been correctly described as  a collegiums fulfilling simultaneously the functions of a Government and of a chief of state.

The Swiss legislature also is bicameral in character. The Upper house known as the council of states represents the cantons of Switzerland on equal basis like that of American senate which accords equality to all the states.

 Swiss legislature like Swiss Executive is Unique. It is the only legislature in the world, the functions of whose Upper house are in no way differentiated from the lower. The constitution of Switzerland is dynamic in character. The Government followed a policy of neutralization within the framework of the old constitution.
  1. Right to Citizenship
  2. Right to Move
  3. Equality before law
  4. Right to Press, Association and Petition
  5. Right to Petition
  6. Free Education
  7. Right to Education
  8. A neutralized State.
Conclusion:
It is a small concept country inhabited by enlightened people who are fully apprised of the value of basic freedoms. Hence, they cherishingly aspire for their enjoyment. Referendum and Initiative are the enviable rights which the Swiss citizens alone enjoy.

References:
  1. Munro, W.B ., and A. Yearst, Morely : The Governments of Europe p.746
  2. Brooks, R.C ; Government and politics of Switzerland p.49
  3. Rappard D.E; The Government of Switzerland p.60
  4. Bryce, Modern democracies ,Volume I ,p.367
  5. Huber, Hans How Switzerland is governed p.41
  6. Friedrich ,C.J ; Constitutional democracy and Government, p.390
  7. Zurcher,Arnold J., Switzerland in Government of continental Europe, p.937

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