Federal councillor: from election to departure

The members of the Federal Council are elected by the Federal Assembly. The period of office is four years and members can be re-elected or not. Federal councillors generally decide themselves when to step down.

The federal councillors Alain Berset and Simonetta Sommaruga on their way to Fribourg for the election celebrations on 22 December 2012. (KEYSTONE/Jean-Christophe Bott)

No entitlement to re-election

The election is for a term of office of four years. There is no entitlement to be re-elected after these four years.

New election possible at any time

A new election could become necessary at any time, whether it is because a federal councillor decides to resign, or is forced to step down suddenly on heath grounds. The election is then held in the next parliamentary session after receipt of the letter of resignation or the unforeseen departure from the Federal Council.

Preparing to take up office

Once the election is over, preparations begin for the federal councillor elect to take up office, which is often on 1 January. The new federal councillor is supported during this time by the Federal Chancellery.
Preparations involve giving up their previous employment and divesting themselves of other offices and mandates, such as seats on company boards. Immediately after the election, the college of federal councillors invites the new member to an initial discussion. In the weeks following the election the Federal Council comes together in its new form to decide on the allocation of government departments.

President for a year

One of the high points in the career of a federal councillor is the year as president. The president is elected by parliament for a period of one year, during which time they are ‘primus inter pares’ or first among equals, and chair the cabinet meetings. A member of the Federal Council can be president more than once during their time in office, but not in consecutive years.

From federal councillor to former federal councillor

Federal councillors generally get to decide for themselves when to step down. They announce their intention to resign in a letter to the president of the National Council.
Following their departure federal councillors are entitled to a pension of amounting to 50 per cent of their former salary as long as they were in office for at least four years. They are allowed to take up other employment. By tradition, former federal councillors tend to take up positions in business or non-profit organisations. Twice a year the Federal Council invites former members to a meal.

Last modification 24.04.2017

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