Governing is the Federal Council’s main task

The main task of the Federal Council is to govern. It continuously assesses the political situation, determines the objectives of state governance and the means of achieving them, manages their realisation and represents the Confederation both at home and abroad.

Federal Councillors Ignazio Cassis and Albert Rösti at 2023’s first Federal Council meeting.
Federal Councillors Ignazio Cassis and Albert Rösti at 2023’s first Federal Council meeting. (KEYSTONE)

The Federal Council’s areas of responsibility are described in Articles 180 to 187 of the Federal Constitution. The first of these articles deals with government policy, i.e. the task of governing. The Federal Constitution explains what is to be understood by this: 

  1. the Federal Council decides on the objectives of federal government policy and the means by which they should be achieved;
  2. the Federal Council informs the general public in good time about its activities.

Other Federal Council tasks

Making and implementing the law

The Federal Council submits proposals to parliament on how to implement popular initiatives and acts of parliament. The Federal Council also has the power to issue ordinance containing implementing provisions for acts of parliament. The implements Federal Assembly decrees that are not subject to a referendum, such as mandates to conduct planning activities.

Managing the federal finances

The Federal Council manages the federal budget. This means that is submits a multi-year financial plan and an annual budget to parliament. It renders account to parliament on how revenues have been used in the state financial statements.

Responsible for Switzerland's security

The Federal Council is responsible for Switzerland's foreign relations and for all domestic and foreign aspects of national security. It is authorised to issue ordinances and administrative rulings in these two sectors whenever national security so requires. If necessary, it can mobilise the armed forces in order to safeguard Switzerland's security.

Cultivating good relations with the cantons

Under the Federal Constitution, the cantons are largely autonomous. The Federal Council's tasks therefore include cultivating good relations and working with the cantons.

Heading the Federal Administration

Lastly, the Federal Council heads the Federal Administration with its 38,000 members of staff. The Federal Administration is structured in departments; each member of the Federal Council heads one department.      

Collegiality and Consensus

The Federal Constitution states that “The Federal Council reaches its decisions as a collegial body”. Each member of the Federal Council has equal status within the collegial body. The President of the Swiss Confederation chairs the meetings but does not have any special rights. Consensus is sought in the decision-making process; an actual vote is rarely held. All members of the Federal Council must represent the government’s decisions to the public, even if they personally are of a different opinion or the decisions contradict their party’s line.