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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Historical development


1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.1Historical development

Last update: 23 June 2022

Since 1848 the Swiss Confederation has been a federal state. The federal state developed over seven centuries from a loose alliance of independent states (cantons). Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons, with the canton of Jura being formed only in 1979.

With the adoption of the Federal Constitution on 12 September 1848, a number of central rights and duties which had previously been the responsibility of the cantons were transferred to the Federation. The cantons are sovereign, except where their sovereignty is limited by the Federal Constitution. The cantons exercise all rights which are not assigned to the Confederation (subsidiarity principle).

All laws, ordinances and decrees of the Federation, the cantons and the communes are subordinate to the Federal Constitution.

The 1874 amendment of the Federal Constitution introduced the right to a referendum, the 1891 amendment, the right to initiate legislation. Until 1971 the right to vote and to be elected was exclusive to men. On 7 February 1971 the electorate granted women the right to vote and to be elected by a margin of over 65 %.

A new Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, adopted on 18 April 1999, codified unwritten constitutional law which had been developed through the Federal Court’s case law.

With the articles on education (Art. 61a ff. of the Federal Constitution), adopted by the people and the cantons on 21 May 2006, the Confederation and the cantons were obliged to work together within the scope of their responsibilities to ensure a higher quality and accessibility of the Swiss Education Area.


Switzerland and the European Union (EU)

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU). Relations between Switzerland and the EU are governed by bilateral agreements. 1999 saw the conclusion of the first round of Bilateral Agreements between Switzerland and the EU, and in 2004 the Schengen/Dublin Agreement was signed as part of the second round of bilateral agreements with the EU. The bilateral agreements are important to the education system as regards the free movement of persons (recognition of training qualifications for the exercise of a professional activity) and for participation in EU framework for research and education programmes.

Under an agreement with the EU, between 1992 and 1994 (Erasmus and Comett) as well as between 2011 and 2013 (Lifelong Learning and Youth in Action), Switzerland participated fully in EU programmes in the field of education. In the intervening period and since 2014 Switzerland has had the status of a third country. Since then, a project-by-project participation model with limited rights has governed direct funding by the Swiss Confederation. The Federal Council will examine a possible association with the successor programme to Erasmus+ from 2021 as soon as its basic parameters are known.