European Forum of Official Gazettes

Berne, 11.09.2014 - Eröffnungsrede der Bundeskanzlerin Corina Casanova anlässlich des europäischen Expertentreffens vom 11. September 2014 in Freiburg.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here to Switzerland to the eleventh Forum Meeting. We are proud and grateful to have the opportunity to host this event. I hope that aside from the many inspirational presentations and workshops, you will also be able to find time to see visit the town of Fribourg. You‘ll have the first opportunity this evening I believe. Mr Beat Vonlanthen, the president of Fribourg’s cantonal government, will shortly tell you a bit about the canton‘s fascinating and varied history.

Allow me to begin, if you will, by explaining a few aspects peculiar to Switzerland’s political system. The first catchword is multilingualism.
Switzerland’s legislation and indeed its official publications have the challenge of being produced in several languages.

Multilingualism is omnipresent in everyday life too, whether it’s the labelling on a carton of milk, street signs or bank notes.
All this means that linguistic diversity is deeply rooted in the citizens’ everyday life. It also means that efforts to protect linguistic minorities enjoy broad acceptance.

You may already be aware that Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. These four languages are anchored in our country’s Constitution. The three official languages are German, French and Italian. Romansh has the status of a semi-official language.

Fribourg lies right on the French-German language border. For this reason the Institute for Multilingualism and the Institute for Federalism are both based in Fribourg.

A further characteristic of Switzerland’s political system is codetermination on the part of the people.
In no other country do citizens enjoy such extensive political rights. On average national referendums are held three or four times a year.
Citizens are asked to vote on the state’s core tasks. For example, referendums have been held on abolishing the armed forces and the construction of the New Rail Link through the Alps, a project costing billions of francs.
Citizens can therefore vote on laws passed by parliament or on matters handled by the government. Or they can launch a popular initiative themselves, which the people can vote on.

Codetermination in Switzerland is very carefully organised.
Since 1848 elections to the National Council have been held every four years. (Except when the system of proportional representation was approved in 1922).
The Federal Chancellery’s ‘eternal’ polling calendar tells us that next National Council elections will be held on 18 October 2015.
The possible dates for referendums and elections are set decades in advance. All the cantons and communes know these dates and arrange their own referendums around them. This long-term planning makes it easier for the Federal Council to set its political agenda.

I would just like to say a few words about the role of the Federal Chancellery.
The Federal Chancellery is the staff (or cabinet) office of the Swiss government. It manages the processes relating to the cabinet meetings - before, during and after.

  • In a number of areas the Federal Chancellery assumes a leading role for the administration as a whole. Here are a few examples:
  • It is responsible for communication at Federal Council level.
  • It ensures that political rights are exercised smoothly at national level.
  • The Federal Chancellery is the guardian of multilingualism and ensures the quality of the three official languages.
  • And it is responsible for official publications at national level, hence the link to the Forum Meeting.

The federal government’s legislative work is unusual in that every text of law is published in the three official languages, German, French and Italian. All three versions are published simultaneously. Selected key laws also exist in Romansh, as well as in English.
Each of the official language versions is of equal value, each is legally binding.
This equivalence places high demands on those drafting and editing the texts. It demands time and resources. Over 400 editors and translators work in the administration, there are seventy language specialists in the Federal Chancellery alone. However, this intensive editing and scrutiny also results in a higher quality of legislation.

Switzerland has a system of direct democracy. This means that citizens regularly get to vote on the affairs of parliament and the government, or on initiatives put forward by the People. In such cases the Federal Council is required to inform voters directly. The slide shows the corresponding article from the Political Rights Act.

In practice this means that voters are provided with a pamphlet setting out the issues to be voted on. The Federal Chancellery is responsible for coordinating the drafting of the pamphlet, but it is the government itself which approves the final texts.
The information is sent out directly to all 5.4 million voters. You can imagine that the logistics alone for this type of direct information is immense. On average voters go to the polls three or four times a year, so the pamphlets are also produced three to four times a year too.
The pamphlets are published in the three official languages, German, French and Italian, but also in Romansh.

In closing I would like to come back to the theme of the conference:
Of course, we in Switzerland are not fighting with mounds of paper – as shown in the picture. We too have gone down the digital path in the publication of legislation. However, we have not yet taken the final step. Here the electronic official publications do not yet have legal force. On that level, the EU, but also numerous other European countries (e.g. Austria, Belgium, Netherlands), are ahead. They already have several years’ experience of legally binding electronic versions.
But right now we are in the process of amending our Publications Act. In future the electronic version will be the legally binding version. On the technical side, a major IT project is currently under way to prepare us for this major shift.

The bill was debated in the second chamber, the Council of States, and was approved just yesterday.

If no referendum is called against the revision, the Act will enter into force in 2016.

Regardless of the new law, the internet has become a vital medium for official publications.
No other federal administration website has more hits than the official publications site. We have over 20 million page views per month.
The winner is clear: the World Wide Web. In the context of official publications the full strengths of the internet come into play. The content is more up to date, it can be accessed on the move and good search engines make information easier to find.
Ladies and gentlemen, I very much hope you enjoy the meeting here in Fribourg, and that you have the time and opportunity to exchange views and foster new contacts.

Adresse pour l'envoi de questions

Bundeshaus West
CH-3003 Bern
+41 58 462 37 91


Chancellerie fédérale

Dernière modification 20.02.2015

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