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Federal Chancellery, e-Government Section

Cantons

Switzerland is made up of 26cantons. They are the states that originally united in 1848 to form the Confederation, to which they each relinquished part of their sovereignty.

The cantons, as member states of the Swiss federal state, have a permanent constitutional status and, in comparison with the situation in other countries, a high degree of independence. Under the Federal Constitution, all 26 cantons are equal in status. Accordingly, at a federal level, all cantons have the same rights of intervention (e.g. cantonal initiative, referendum requested by the cantons). Each canton has its own constitution, and its own parliament, government and courts. However, there are considerable differences between the individual cantons, most particularly in terms of population, geographical area, economic power and political tradition. The character of each canton is largely determined by its geographical location, its predominant culture and its history. Direct democracy in the form of a People’s Assembly still exists in the cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus. In the other cantons, the people vote only at the ballot box.

Tasks

In relation to almost all state activities, both the Confederation and the cantons are allocated certain duties and powers. Generally speaking, a division of tasks is provided for, with the Confederation normally responsible for setting the programmes, enacting legislation and organising finance, while the cantons are responsible for implementing legislation and programmes. This separation of responsibilities between Confederation and cantons results in a finely woven complex of tasks, responsibilities and sources of finance, for which the term "executive federalism" has been coined. Health care, education and culture are among the policy areas in which the cantons enjoy a large degree of latitude.

Executive: the cantonal governments

The cantonal governments are elected directly by the people in all the cantons and therefore hold a strong position in cantonal politics.
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Legislature: the cantonal parliaments

Cantonal politics at the level of the legislature is part-time work. The life of a cantonal parliament member differs widely from canton to canton.
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Judiciary: the cantonal courts

As a result of the fundamentally federalist structure in Switzerland, the organisation of the cantonal courts and procedure in the various legal fields is not uniformly regulated.
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