Switzerland Federal state

Structures and competences

Local level :
2, 324 municipalities

There is no single municipal system in Switzerland. There are two types of municipal parliaments (parlements communaux): the municipal assembly (system of direct democracy) which is the most common (4 out of 5 municipalities) and the general or municipal council (parliament composed of elected representatives; its name can vary from one canton to another), mainly in cities. Furthermore, and depending on the canton, municipalities of up to 1,000 inhabitants can either have a municipal assembly or a general or municipal council. Over and above this number of inhabitants, it must be a municipal council, a deliberative body composed of elected officials representing the citizens.

The municipal assembly is composed of citizens who have the right to vote and who wish to participate in the municipality’s legislative branch by ruling on municipal affairs (direct democracy). The citizens nominate the executive and can take political decisions themselves, not through representatives. This parliament of the people is established in several Swiss communes.

The legislative power has different designations depending on the cantons. The general or municipal or local council (Conseil municipal) is composed of members who are elected by direct universal suffrage for a mandate that varies depending on the canton. This legislative assembly can elect members of the municipal or local council (again, its name varies from one canton to another) and members of the committees (finance, schools, management, etc.). It also adopts the budget.

The executive power has also diverse designations. The administrative or municipal or local council is composed of members either elected by direct universal suffrage or by the general or municipal council for a mandate varying from four to five years, depending on the canton. The municipal or local council is presided over by a mayor, syndic or president, also depending on the canton, and executes the decisions of the general or municipal council, implements the municipal decisions and budget, and represents the municipality.

In Switzerland, municipalities have extremely varied competences and autonomy, depending on the canton’s legislation.


  • Municipal heritage
  • Local taxation
  • Education (School operations)
  • Community policing and traffic monitoring
  • Civil protection
  • Spatial planning
  • Road infrastructures
  • Water and sewage networks
  • Streets and roads
  • Protection of the environment
  • Sports
  • Culture
  • Energy
  • Social welfare

Regional level :
6 half-cantons ans 20 cantons

In reality there are no differences between half-cantons and cantons. The separation of cantons is historical, in particular due to religious reasons, following a reform in 1536 which affected part of Switzerland.

The great council is the canton’s legislative body and is composed of members elected by direct universal suffrage, their mandate varying from one canton to another. The great council elects its president, usually for a one-year term, and adopts laws and decrees. However, five cantons have a public assembly (Landesgemeinde) rather than a council, whose members are citizens that have the right to vote.

The state council (called “executive council” in the canton of Berne) is the executive body of the canton and is composed of members elected by the great council or by citizens, with differing mandate durations depending on the canton. The state council is divided into different departments and is headed by a president.

The president executes the decisions taken by the great council. Currently, the canton of Vaud and Geneva have a president elected by peers for the entire legislative period (five years). In the other cantons, he/she is elected by peers for a one-year period, according to a traditional rotation which takes into account the length of service and the number of votes during the election process.

The cantonal court is composed of judges and substitutes elected by the great council for the duration of the legislative period. It is the supreme judiciary authority of the canton.

As federal states, cantons are sovereign local and regional authorities with great legislative, executive and judicial autonomy and a constitution. They are sovereign insofar as their sovereignty is not limited by the Federal Constitution and they exercise all rights that are not delegated to the Confederation (art. 3 of the Federal Constitution).


  • Public health
  • Primary, secondary and post-secondary education (hautes écoles)
  • Social policy
  • Police
  • Justice
  • Spatial planning
  • Environment
  • Cantonal taxes