The Federal Chancellery has existed since 1803, making it 45 years older than the Swiss federal state itself, which was established in 1848. The office of federal chancellor has been held by fifteen men and women to date.
The Swiss Federal Chancellery (FCh) is the oldest institution among the federal authorities. It was created as a permanent federal body on the initiative of Napoleon Bonaparte. The Act of Mediation establishing the Swiss Confederation, issued by the French ruler in 1803, mentions both a chancellor and a chamberlain. These two positions were almost the only permanent posts in the Confederation up to the founding of the modern federal state in 1848.
Federal Council’s staff office
When the federal state was founded, the chancellery lost in importance: it became the secretariat to the Federal Council and Parliament, responsible for taking the minutes of their meetings. It also issued legislative texts and the Federal Gazette, organised popular votes and, up to 1919, curated the federal archives.
In the 1960s administrative reforms were introduced which led to the Federal Chancellery becoming the Federal Council’s staff office. Since then, the Chancellor has been the government’s chief of staff. He or she has the right to make proposals at Federal Council meetings; initially this right applied to Federal Chancellery business only, but since 2014 it has applied to all items of business. The Chancellor also presents the Federal Chancellery dossiers before Parliament.
Major dates in the history of the Federal Chancellery
The Act of Mediation of 19 February 1803 mentions both a chancellor and a chamberlain. Their salary and accommodation are paid for by the canton presiding over the Tagsatzung in the given year; since the presiding canton changes each year, the Federal Chancellery has to move to a new city every twelve months, taking with it all its files and furniture. On 5 July the Diet elects Jean Marc Samuel Isaac Mousson as the first chancellor of the Confederation.
Article 93 of the Federal Constitution of 12 September defines the role of the Federal Chancellery and the Federal Chancellor. On 16 November Parliament elects Johann Ulrich Schiess as the first chancellor of the new federal state. The Federal Council and the Federal Chancellery are housed in the Erlacherhof in Bern, in which the Federal Chancellor’s and Vice Chancellor’s apartments are also situated.
It was decreed in an ordinance that the Federal Gazette, containing all important official notices, is to be published weekly in German and French.
Regulations on the Swiss Federal Chancellery are published, setting out its tasks. The following functions are mentioned: chancellor, vice chancellor, archivist, registrar, 2 secretaries, 3 translators, 5 copyists. Working hours are Monday to Saturday, 8am–12pm and 2pm–4pm. Employees also have to report to the Chancellery after church on Sunday mornings, “unless granted leave by the Chancellor”.
Parliament and the Federal Administration moves to the newly constructed Bundesrathhaus, now the west wing of the Federal Palace. The building also houses the Chancellor’s and Vice Chancellor’s private apartments.
The Federal Chancellery organises the first federal popular vote (14.01.1866: nine proposals, eight of which the voters rejected).
The Federal Chancellery applies to the Federal Council for a typewriter, a request that is approved. The machine proved so useful that a second one was acquired in the same year.
The Federal Act on the Organisation of the Federal Administration comes into force, the first comprehensive act relating to government organisation. The number of employees in central government (not including customs, post and telegraph, railways and other state-owned entities) has grown from 80 in 1848 to nearly 3,000.
Extracts from the Federal Gazette are published separately for the first time in Italian.
Parliament elects George Bovet as the first French-speaking chancellor of the federal state.
The Federal Chancellery begins forming the Classified Compilation of Federal Legislation (SR), a loose-leaf collection.
The Federal Council upgrades the Federal Chancellery to the status of staff office, and places it directly under the Federal Council collegium. The Chancellery thus plays a central role in coordinating and preparing government affairs and advising the government. The Federal Chancellor is now government chief of staff. He coordinates the joint reports procedure and is granted the right to make proposals to the Federal Council on matters relating to the Federal Chancellery. He is also permitted to present these proposals to Parliament.
The Parliamentary Services are finally separated operationally from the Federal Chancellery, although they continue to be subordinate to the Chancellery on an administrative level.
The Federal Act on Political Rights comes into force. This covers all political rights: voting rights, popular votes, referendums, popular initiatives, elections to the National Council and the appeals procedure.
The Federal Council elects Hanna Muralt Müller as the first female vice chancellor.
The Federal Chancellery introduces IT over the course of the 1990s. This means faster access to legal texts for the public, using CD-ROM or the internet. The Classified Compilation (SR) and the Official Compilation (AS) are available online from 1998, the Federal Gazette from 1999.
The Federal Assembly elects Annemarie Huber-Hotz as the first female chancellor.
The new Constitution clearly separates the Federal Chancellery and the Parliamentary Services. The Government and Administration Organisation Act establishes the new position of Federal Council spokesperson. The Federal Council appoints Vice Chancellor Achille Casanova as the first spokesperson.
On 26 September 2004 the Canton of Geneva conducts the first test of the electronic voting system, Vote électronique, in a federal vote. The test is run in four communes, and is a success.
A number of amendments to the Government and Administration Organisation Act come into force. These strengthen the Federal Council as a collegial body and give the Federal Chancellery more authority and tasks. For example, the Federal Chancellor may now make proposals to the Federal Council on all items of business, and the Federal Chancellery now heads the Presidential Services Unit and plays a role in crisis recognition and management.