Switzerland is composed of four ethnolinguistic groups. The German-speaking group forms the majority both in terms of population (62%) and territory. Around 23 percent are French-speaking, and 8 percent or Italian-speaking (Swiss Federal Statistical Office 2021). These minority groups are geographically concentrated in different parts of the country. Romansh-speakers account for only about 0.5 percent of the total population, or 35,100 people; they are not the focus of this section.
1. FEDERAL OR QUASI-FEDERAL TERRITORIAL AUTONOMY
- Switzerland has been a federal state since 1848. It is composed of 26 federated cantons and demi-cantons which have a permanent constitutional status and a high degree of independence. Article 3 of the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation states that cantons shall exercise all rights that are not vested in the Confederation.
- Cantons are further divided into more than 2,300 communes, which are granted varying degrees of autonomy (Presence Switzerland 2017).
- Switzerland also comprises three main linguistic and cultural regions-German, French and Italian. These linguistic boundaries do not necessarily correspond to cantonal ones: while most cantons are unilingual, three cantons are bilingual (French and German) and one is trilingual (German, Romansh and Italian) (Grin 1998, 3).
- The constitution was amended in 1999 (it came into effect on 1 January 2000), but no notable changes to the federal structure were introduced.
2. OFFICIAL LANGUAGE STATUS, EITHER IN THE REGION OR NATIONALLY
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- Language rights are enshrined in the constitution. German, French and Italian have had the status of national and official languages since 1848, whereas Romansh was recognized as a national language in 1938. The constitution was further amended in 1996 so as to grant the status of official language to Romansh, thus allowing Romansh-speakers to communicate in their language with the government (Swissinfo.ch 2006).
- Article 70 of the constitution states that each canton can decide its official language(s). Four cantons are French-speaking (Geneva, Jura, Neuchatal and Vaud), three are bilingual in French and German (Bern, Fribourg and Valais), and one is Italian-speaking (Ticino). Romansh is an official language only in the trilingual (German, Italian and Romansh) canton of Graubünden (Presence Switzerland 2020).
- Establishment of linguistic variety was the central issue at stake in the revision of the constitution in 1999. The new constitution places a larger emphasis on the equality of all national languages (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 2003).
- Changes in the constitution have further led to the implementation of a new law on language in July 2010, which regulates the government's use of official languages and its support for multilingual cantons, focusing specifically on the protection of Italian and Romansh language and culture. This law replaces and expands on a previous law from 1995 (Loi sur les langues, 2007).
3. GUARANTEES OF REPRESENTATION IN THE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT OR ON CONSTITUTIONAL COURTS
- The Swiss Parliament consists of two chambers of equal standing: the National Council and the Council of States. The 200 members of the National Council are elected according to a system of proportional representation on a cantonal basis (with each canton constituting a constituency and having at least one seat). The Council of States is composed of 46 representatives of the cantons (two representatives for each regular canton, or one representative for each canton that was a ‘half-canton’ until 1999), elected according to the rules in place in each canton (articles 149 and 150, Constitution).
- Because of the language distribution in the cantons, elections guarantee representation of the French- speaking people (for at least four cantons) and the Italian-speaking people (for at least one canton) to the Swiss Parliament. The Romansh-speaking citizens, which are only a minority in the trilingual canton of Graubünden, have no guarantee of representation.
- While no legal regulations ensure the representation of language minorities to the federal government, linguistic considerations are taken into account in the selection of government's ministers, and at least two out of seven ministers are usually French or Italian-speakers (Pfaff-Czarnecka 2004).
- Federal Court judges are elected by the Federal Assembly on the basis of linguistic, regional and specialization criteria and takes into account the proportion of representation of the major political parties. The Federal Court has 38 full-time judges and is made up of 3 Italian-speaking judges, 12 French-speaking judges and 23 German-speaking judges. Romansh is no longer represented. (Tribunal Federal n.d.).
4. PUBLIC FUNDING OF MINORITY-LANGUAGE UNIVERSITIES / SCHOOLS / MEDIA
- Article 62 of the constitution states that cantons are responsible for the system of school education; each canton, thus, makes its own decision about the language(s) of instruction. Public education is available in German, French, Italian and Romansh.
- Because of the principle of territoriality, citizens do not have a right to instruction in another national language (for example, a German canton has no obligation to offer public education in Italian or French). According to Grin (1998), however, cantons are usually lenient in this matter.
- The same principle is applied for higher education: in addition to the German institutions, university- level education is available in French (five institutions) and Italian (one institution) according to the canton where they are based (State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation 2019).
- The constitution states that legislation on radio and television as well as on other forms of public broad- casting is a responsibility of the federal state. However, regional needs are taken into account and every language area is provided with its own media (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 2003).
- The Swiss Corporation for Radio and Television (SRG SSR) is charged with the production and broadcast of public radio and television programs. In accordance with the Loi federale sur la radio et la television (2006, previously 1991), the SRG SSR has to provide complete radio and television programs of the same value in German, French and Italian. One radio program must be broadcast for the Romansh-speaking region.
- The SRG SSR runs two television channels and four radio stations for the French language part of Switzerland, and two television channels and three radio stations for the Italian-speaking part. The Romansh minority has its own radio program and is allocated some time within the television program of the German-speaking zone (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 2003).
- French and Italian programs from neighbouring countries are also available and increasingly popular in Switzerland.
5. CONSTITUTIONAL OR ARLIAMENTARY AFFIRMATION OF "MULTINATIONALISM"
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- Switzerland has historically defined itself as a federation or confederation of territorial cantons (which happen to speak different languages), not as a federation of distinct nations or linguistic communities. In fact, there was no mention of the terms "linguistic minority" or "linguistic community" in the constitution or legal documents before the 1990s, and the distinct language groups have not defined themselves as distinct "nations" or "peoples" (Dardanelli 2010). As a result, there is no constitutional or parliamentary acknowledgement of multinationalism, and the language communities have not sought to be recognized as nations or as component units of the federation.
- However, since the 1990s, commentators have noted that language is becoming more important as a form of political identity, alongside the older cantonal identities, and some suggest that the distinct linguistic communities are in fact growing apart (Steiner 2001).
- Whether the Swiss form a single (multilingual) "nation" is a matter of discussion. In some of its documents, Swiss political authorities explicitly state that the country does not form a single "nation," but rather is a confederation of historically sovereign communities (Suisse 1999). The principle of multilingualism is firmly entrenched, and the coexistence of the four official languages and cultures is described not only as a component of national identity but also as a constituting element of the country's cultural policy (ibid).
6. ACCORDED INTERNATIONAL PERSONALITY
(E.G., ALLOWING THE SUB-STATE REGION TO SIT ON INTERNATIONAL BODIES, SIGN TREATIES, OR HAVE THEIR OWN OLYMPIC TEAM)
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- According to the constitution, foreign relations are the responsibility of the state, which represents Switzerland abroad.
- The central state is responsible for signing and ratifying international treaties although cantons may conclude treaties on matters lying within the scope of their powers. Cantons are particularly active in cross-border cooperation, but their power to sign agreements with neighbouring countries is always subordinate to that of the federal government. The cantons' role in cross-border cooperation has been increasingly important since the 1980s (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs 2020).
- Even within the Organisation internationale de la francophonie, it is the Swiss state that holds membership and that represents the country, rather than the French minority or French cantons (Organisation internationale de la francophonie n.d.).