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Oiling the wheels of government

The 1803 Act of Mediation signed by Napoleon created the Federal Chancellery (Käfigturn political forum)

The Federal Chancellery - the oldest department of the Swiss Confederation - is marking its 200th anniversary with an exhibition designed to inform the public of its functions.

Although a French creation, founded in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the chancellery is nevertheless very Swiss in character.

Agenda setting

Entitled "Chalet Fédéral", the exhibition gives an insight into the many behind-the-scenes duties of the chancellery. Among other things it is responsible for organising the weekly meetings of the cabinet by setting the agenda and then communicating decisions to the media.

These meetings can last between two and five hours and are always attended by the Federal Chancellor - sometimes known as "the eighth member of the government". Last year, the cabinet met for a total of 120 hours and dealt with some 1,900 matters - an average of 53 subjects per meeting.

Michael Fritsche, who is in charge of the exhibition, told swissinfo that the chancellery's work can perhaps be summed up as ensuring the smooth running of federal government affairs.

"The department has over 200 employees," he said, "which isn't a great number when you consider that every document has to be translated so that they are all available in German, French and Italian."

Election supervision

Fritsche added that the chancellery also supervises federal votes and elections and this can involve a considerable workload. "Since 1900, 40 per cent of all referenda throughout the world have taken place in Switzerland," he said. "You can imagine how much work that involves."

The exhibition is in the centuries-old Käfigturm - a former prison tower in the centre of Bern. Its role these days is as a "political forum" and entry is free.

"Already there's been encouraging public interest and so far over 50 schools have requested guided tours," says Fritsche.

In one room, the cabinet ministers introduce themselves by video on seven monitors, and in another are various historical objects. The centrepiece is the original "Act of Mediation" creating the chancellery, and bearing Napoleon Bonaparte's signature.

"Chalet Fédéral", which includes a series of public meetings attended by representatives of the federal government and administration, is at the Käfigturm until July 5.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

Chancellery summary

The Federal Chancellery was created in 1803 by the Act of Mediation when Napoleon Bonaparte imposed the first constitution on the Helvetian Republic.
It is the oldest administrative organ of the Swiss Confederation, predating the federal state by 45 years.
Tasks include preparing cabinet meetings and supervising federal votes and elections.
Last year, the cabinet met for a total of 120 hours and dealt with some 1,900 matters - an average of 53 subjects per meeting.
All documents are in German, French and Italian.

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