Dictionary of Swiss terms (politics and other terms)

German, English, Italian and French with definitions
by Tanya Harvey Ciampi

(keywords: Switzerland Swiss politics political system government parliament political structure Swiss social system Swiss words Helvetisms)


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German   English   Italian   French   Definition  
Bundesverwaltung 12 Federal Administration 12 Amministrazione Federale 12 Administration fédérale 12    
Krankentaggeldversicherung 10 daily benefits insurance 10            
Krankentaggeld 10


daily benefits under health insurance

sickness benefit




Invalidenversicherung (IV) 4 (Swiss Federal) Disability Insurance (DI)
Invalidity Insurance (DI)
9, 4



Assicurazione Invaliditŕ (AI) 4 Assurance Invalidité (AI) 4 A component of the Swiss social security system  
Eidgenössische Alters- und Hinterlassenenver-sicherung (AHV)   (Swiss) Old Age and Survivors' Insurance (OASI) 9 Assicurazione Vecchiaia e Superstiti (AVS)   Assurance Vieillesse et Survivants fédérale (AVS)   A component of the Swiss social security system  
AHV-Nummer   social security number   numero AVS       A number unique to every person  
KVG 9 Swiss Federal Law on Health Insurance 9            
UVG 9 Swiss Federal Law on Accident Insurance 9            
BVG 9 Swiss Federal Law on Occupational Retirement, Survivors' and Disability Pension Plans 9            
Obligationenrecht   Code of Obligations   Codice delle obbligazioni   Code des obligations      

(Vollzug von Bundespolitiken und Vernehmlassung der Kantone)

6 consultation
consultation on government bills



(Attuazione delle politiche federali e consultazione dei Cantoni)

6 consultation

(Mise en oeuvre des politiques fédérales et consultations des cantons)

6 A decision-making procedure in the Swiss federal system. Context: The federal government is obliged to involve the cantons as well as interested groups in the legislative process by consultation.  
Konkordanz 7 consotiationalism 7         Context: Swiss federal system  
Bundesverfassung 7 Swiss Federal Constitution 7            
Zauberformel 7 magica formula
four-party-coalition government


        Context: Swiss federal system  
Standesinitiative 7 cantons' initiative 7         Context: Swiss federal system  
Bundesamt - Bundesämter 7 federal office - federal offices 7         Context: Swiss federal system  
Vorstoss 7 initiative 7         Context: Swiss federal system  
Erstrat 7 primal council 7         Context: Swiss federal system  
Botschaft 7 report 7         Context: Swiss federal system  
Aktiengesellschaft (AG)   corporation [US]   societŕ anonima (SA)   société anonyme (SA)   A company with a predetermined capital that is divided into bearer or registered shares. The shareholders' liability is limited to the nominal capital invested in the corporation.  
Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH)   limited liability company   societŕ a responsibilitŕ limitata (Sarl)   société ŕ responsabilité limitée (Sŕrl)   A company with a limited capital divided into quotas. Any change in or transfer of quotas requires an amendment of the statutes. The quotaholders' liability is limited to the company's registered capital.  
Familienbüchlein   Family Record Book   Libretto di famiglia   Livret de famille   A booklet issued to a couple when they get married. All family details are entered here, including births and deaths.  
Fähigkeitszeugnis   Certificate of Qualification   Attestato di capacitŕ   Certificat de capacité   Certificate issued by the Swiss confederation to people who have passed their final apprenticeship examination.  
eingeschriebener Brief
  registered letter   lettera raccomandata   lettre signature   A letter registered in the post offices register. System used for letters of an official nature. Sending a letter this way costs SFr. 5.  
Schweizerische Eidgenossen-
2 Swiss Confederation 2 Confederazione Svizzera   Confederation Suisse   Refers to the Federal State of Switzerland. Confederation of states composed of 23 cantons, or 26 cantons and half-cantons 1
Kanton   canton 1


cantone   canton   The intermediate level between the federal government and the municipalities.

Each canton has its own constitution, parliament, government, administration, courts and regulations.





        Unterwalden, Basel and Appenzell are each divided into 2 half-cantons, each of which has its own government.  




district 1     arrondissement 2 A district within a canton. Political body forming an intermediate level between the canton and the municipalities. Iimmediately above the municipality, but with a minor role. A district covers several municipalities. Each district has a "prefect". 1


    federal 1 federale       One of the country's 3 levels of administration, autonomous and independent

Related words:

    cantonal 1 cantonale       One of the country's 3 levels of administration, autonomous and independent

Usage: cantonal administration

Related words: sub-national government





municipale       One of the country's 3 levels of administration, autonomous and independent 1
Gemeinde   municipality 1


comune       (3201 in the whole of Switzerland) Fulfilling a double administrative function, municipalities are the bodies of politically autonomous communities and the local executive organs of cantonal governments.

Subject only to the law of the cantons, municipalities are autonomous in the organization of local authorities, local landuse planning and local police.

Most have a regular community assembly or open meeting of all citizens.

Usage: cantons and their constituent municipalities
With more than 10'000 citizens, it is considered a Stadt ("town"). Smaller municipalities are called a Dorf ("village"). However, some smaller villages have the status of a town for historical reasons.
Related words: municipal council




2 Municipal Commission              
2             extended executive body 2
    municipal council 1         Executive authority of the municipalities; elected by the citizens and headed by the president of the municipality.

Related words: district

    Federal Parliament? 1         Consists of the Federal Assembly 1
1 Federal Assembly


also referred to as:
Federal Parliament

1 Assemblea federale   Assemblee Federale   Federal Parliament; Supreme authority of the Confederation, composed of 2 chambers: National Council (composed of 200 National Councillors) & Council of States (consisting of 46 deputies). 1
Nationalrat 1 National Council
lower chamber
also referred to as:
House of Representatives?



Consiglio Nazionale   Conseil National   Context: Swiss federal system
Lower chamber of the Federal Assembly. It consists of 200 deputies (called National Councillors)
Ständerat 1


Council of States
upper chamber
also referred to as:



Consiglio degli Stati   Conseil des Etats   Context: Swiss federal system.
Upper chamber of the Federal Assembly. There are 46 deputies in the Council fo States.
    Council of State 1         The body, elected by the people, that holds executive and administrative power in the individual cantons. It has a president, elected every year by the citizens or, in some cantons, by cantonal parliament, cantonal government or the Landesgemeinde. The Council acts as a collegiate body. The Councils of State comprise 5-9 members (councillors), each presiding over 1 cantonal department. 1
    councillor 1         In most cantons, councillors are full-time politicians 1
    National Councillor 1         Member of the Federal Assembly. There are 200 National Councillors, which are elected directly every 4 years.

Compare: Federal Councillor

    Federal Councillor 1         Member of Federal Government.

Compare: National Councillor

Bundesrat 1 Federal Council 1


Consiglio federale   Conseil Federal   Federal Government, Head of State. A collegiate body that is elected by the Federal Assembly and has the supreme directive and executive power of the Confederation.

The Federal Council is presided by the President of the Confederation.

source: CH constitution

Head of State 1             The Head of State is the Federal Council. 1
  1 President of the Confederation           Head of State. Person elected once a year by the Federal Assembly from the members of the Federal Council to serve as president.  The same president cannot be re-elected for 2 years in succession.

The President's powers are nominal. The President chairs the Federal Council and acts as the titular Head of State at home and abroad.

  1 Vice-President           Person elected once a year by the Federal Assembly from the members of the Federal Council to serve as vice-president. The same vice-president cannot be re-elected for 2 years in succession. 1
    Federal Government

Central Government

1         Federal Council, composed of 7 Federal Councillors

Related words:
canton government, local government, sub-national

    federal department 1         Department (7 in total) at the core of federal administration 1
    Department of Foreign Affairs 1         One of 7 federal departments  
    Department of the Interior 1         One of 7 federal departments  
    Department of Justice and Police 1         One of 7 federal departments  
    Department of the Military 1         One of 7 federal departments  
    Department of Finance 1         One of 7 federal departments  
    Department of Public Economy 1         One of 7 federal departments  
    Department of Transport, Communications and Energy 1         One of 7 federal departments  
    referendum 1         Instrument of direct democracy at federal level. Two types: obligatory and optional.

Compare: popular initiative

    obligatory referendum 1         Referendum held for all constitutional amendments decided by the government, certain categories of treaty, the entry of Switzerland into a supranational organization etc. 1
    optional referendum 1         Referendum by which 50'000 Swiss citizens or 8 cantons can demand a national ballot (votation) on a legislative amendment or on the adoption of a general federal decree 1
    popular initiative 1         Instrument of direct democracy at federal level by which 100'000 Swiss citizens may demand changes in the Constitution. 1
    direct ballot 1            
Grosser Rat

Kantonsrat *

Landrat *

Parlement **

2 Grand Council

cantonal council

great council

canton parliament

cantonal parliament



Gran Consiglio 2 Grand Conseil 2 Canton parliament, a single-chamber assembly. The highest organ (organ with supreme legislature) of most of the cantons.

Elected for 4 years.

* Name given in some German-speaking cantons

** Name given in canton Jura



    cantonal parliament 1         The highest organ of most of the cantons. It is called cantonal council or great council.

Note: in Appenzell Inner Rhodes, Appenzell Outer Rhodes, Obwalden, Nidwalden and Glarus, legislative functions are fulfilled by the Landesgemeinde.

Landesgemeinde 1   1         The open assembly (meeting) of all cantonal voters.

Compare: cantonal council

Bundeskanzlei 1 Federal Chancellery 1         Under the authority of the Federal Council, the Federal Chancellery is entrusted with being the secretariat of the Federal Assembly and the Federal Council. It provides staff for the Federal Council in addition to undertaking its own tasks. It is headed by the Federal Chancellor.

The Federal Chancellery prepares the subjects to be discussed by the Federal Council.

Bundeskanzler   Federal Chancellor 1         Person who heads the Federal Chancellery. Elected by the Federal Assembly for a 4-year term. Takes part in the meetings of the Federal Council but is not entitled to vote.

The Federal Chancellor is also in charge of the secretariat of the Federal Assembly, therefore he is considered the liaison office between the legislative and the exective authorities.

    Chancellor of the Confederation 1         The Chancellor of the Confederation convenes the Federal Council on behalf of the President of the Confederation.  
    Vice-Chancellor 1         (Currently two) Person who assists the Federal Chancellor in his duties. Unlike the Federal Chancellor, they have the status of civil servants. 1
    administrative act 1            






State Council 2 Consiglio di Stato 2 Conseil d’Etat






Body in which the executive and administrative powers in the cantons are vested.

Its president changes every year, and collegiality is the rule.

    President of the State Council 2 Presidente del Consiglio di Stato         2
  Municipal Commission              




council 2 municipio 2 municipalité

conseil municipal

conseil communal

conseil administratif





Executive body of a municipality, it consistes of 3-9 members elected by universal suffrage, usually for 4 years. 2








mayor 2 sindaco 2 syndic? 2 Has special administrative and decision-making powers. Even in small municipalities this is often a full-time job. 2
    House of Representatives   Consiglio nazionale   CH constitution   CH constitution  
    Federal Supreme Court   Tribunale federale   CH constitution   CH constitution  
    canton   cantone   CH constitution   CH constitution  
Volksschule   elementary school              
Gymnasium   secondary school              
Fachhochschule   technical college              
Berufslehre   apprenticeship              
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule   Swiss Federal Institute of Technology       École Polytechnique Fédérale      
Ingenieurschule   school for engineers              
Abendtechnikum   evening college              
Bundesgesetz   federal law              
Facharzt für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie FMH 5 specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy, FMH 5            



1: Public management: Profiles 1992 - Switzerland: http://www1.oecd.org/puma/country/Profiles/SwitzerlandGB.pdf

2: Managing across levels of government - Switzerland: http://www1.oecd.org/puma/malg/malg97/ch.pdf

3: The Swiss Confederation - A Brief guide (EN, DE, IT, FR): http://www.admin.ch/ch/e/bk/buku/index.html

4: Swiss Federal Social Insurance Office: http://www.bsv.admin.ch

5: C.G.Jung Institute, Zürich: http://www.junginstitut.ch

6: The Federal Assembly - The Swiss Parliament: http://www.parlament.ch/e/text/homepage/

7: The Federal Assembly - The Swiss Parliament: http://www.prange-gstoehl.de/Heiko/Data/SwissGeneReg_01-04.pdf

8: Consociational Democracy and Corporatism in Switzerland: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~filippov/courses/L32_4342/older1/

9: Zurich Insurance Company: http://www.zurich.ch/site/pool/sgem/files/personenversicherung

10: http://www.winterthur.com/worldwide/pro/pro_ins/pro_ins_2004_03_25_premiums.htm (see link to German text)

11: http://europa.eu.int/comm/employment_social/missoc/2003/li_part4_en.htm

12: http://www.efd.admin.ch/e/index.htm




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