Cantons and communes are the pillars of Switzerland’s institutional order, as well as central elements of its identity. Federalism has traditionally stressed the importance of diverse and autonomous units on lower levels, often considered as the cradles of the country’s democratic ideals.
This relatively complex territorial structure of the country is currently confronted with numerous challenges. From an institutional point of view, the territorial divisions between communes no longer correspond to today’s cultural and economic realities. As to their means of functioning, the growing importance of criteria relating to efficiency, ever-increasing complexity and the international integration of public policies challenge communes and cantons in various ways.
This course highlights these challenges in a multidisciplinary manner. It aims to identify the characteristic traits of Switzerland’s brand of federalism, how it functions, its strengths and weaknesses, as well as the principal reform projects underway in the field of territorial governance (e.g. the repartition of tasks and fiscal equalisation, reinforcing collaboration between cantons). The course examines Switzerland’s communal system in the same way, with all its specificities: the small size of communes, their great diversity, plans for communal fusions, how they carry out public policies and their influences on their cantons and on the Confederation itself. An emphasis is also placed upon a comparative analysis of cantons and communes (e.g. structures, institutions, political party systems).
The course ends with thoughts about how Switzerland’s territorial organisation and the repartition of tasks might be reorganised.