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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Political, social and economic background and trends


1.Political, social and economic background and trends

Last update: 23 June 2022

The Swiss Confederation, founded in 1848, is characterised by the two basic principles of federalism and subsidiarity: like the Confederation, the 26 cantons (states) each have their own constitution. The cantons are sovereign, except where their sovereignty is limited by the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation. The cantons are divided into communes. At the three political levels Confederation, cantons and communes there is a separation of the legislative, executive and judicial powers. The communal autonomy of the some 2,200 communes is guaranteed by cantonal law.

Competences are divided between the Confederation and the cantons. The Confederation performs the tasks assigned to it by the Federal Constitution and undertakes only those tasks which the cantons cannot carry out alone (subsidiarity principle) or which require uniform regulation by the Confederation. The cantons exercise all rights which are not assigned to the Confederation. The Swiss people are the supreme sovereign of the country and therefore the supreme political authority. The Swiss people can directly influence government activities through initiatives and referenda.

The Swiss education system is characterised by federalism, and organised in a decentralised manner. The primary responsibility for education lies with the cantons. They are responsible for the education system, except where the Federal Constitution declares the Federation to be competent. In matters which require a joint solution, the cantons coordinate between each other. For some areas (e.g. compulsory education) the Federal Constitution lays down an obligation to coordinate. The Confederation’s responsibilities relate to post-compulsory education: in the baccalaureate schools, vocational and professional education and training, and higher education institutions the Confederation and the cantons are partners responsible for the public education system.

Switzerland is a multilingual country. There are four national languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. The language of instruction in schools is laid down by the cantons. In the two or multilingual cantons one of the national languages is used as the language of instruction depending on the region or commune.