Swiss federalism tries to sell itself

The dome of the Swiss parliament building in Bern, a symbol of federalism.

The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, has been extolling the virtues of her country’s federalist structure at an international conference in Brussels.

This content was published on March 2, 2005 - 18:28

The meeting, which began on Thursday and takes place over three days, brought together over 600 academics and decision-makers for the third time after 1999 and 2002.

The conference is considering how federalism can contribute to good governance, social and economic welfare, peace and democracy in a globalised world.

In a keynote address, Calmy-Rey said a decentralised structure, such as exists in Switzerland, could help prevent conflicts.

She said that in countries with different ethnic groups and languages, or countries in conflict federalism "could prevent disintegration".

Before the conference, the foreign ministry said it was important to share Switzerland’s experience on the international stage.

Switzerland has been viewed in the past as an example for the European Union in terms of the way it has managed to integrate different cultures, languages and religions within its borders.

But to evolve along federal lines, the EU would have to centralise some of its powers, to allow for the establishment of a federal constitution and government, a dual-chamber parliament and new laws – proposals which have already met with considerable resistance from member states.

The ratification process for a constitution is underway and is expected to last two years. It should enter into force in November 2006.

The Spanish voted in favour of the draft constitution last month.

New aspects

The conference’s work has been divided into four themes. The foundations of federalism, sharing responsibilities in a federal system, day-to-day running of a federal structure, and federalism and international relations.

"We will be considering some new aspects related to federalism issues, such as taxes and conflict resolution," said Paul Morton, one of the conference’s organisers.

"The meeting is aimed people who deal regularly with federalism and it allows academics and decision-makers to exchange their views."

The last conference on federalism was held in the Swiss city of St Gallen in 2002.

Delegates discussed how to resolve conflicts in multicultural societies.

They also focused on how decision-making was moving away from national (and federal) frameworks into international organisations.


Key facts

The third international conference on federalism in Brussels will take place over three days.
Over 600 delegates will attend the meeting in the Belgian capital.
Previous conferences were held in Canada in 1999 and St Gallen in 2002.

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