Centre of protestantisme, the city is host for several UN organisations, after
being the host of the former Society of Nations.
The Red Cross (following the idea of the Genevois Henry Dunant and of the committee
chaired by general Guillaume-Henri Dufour) has its headquarters in the city.
The organisation set up several Geneva Conventions (1864, 1906, 1929 and 1949),
related to the right of injured soldiers and war prisoners. The Geneva Conference
(1954) lead to the agreement after the Indochine and the share of Vietnam in
two separate republics.
As a consequence of the civil war, Switzerland adopted a federal
constitution from 1848. In 1891 the constitution was changed to introduce
a high degree of direct democracy.
Switzerland is divided into 23 cantons and 6 semi-cantons, with several, even
hundreds of communes. Swiss cantons are relatively autonomous (each canton has
its own constitution), and from legal, financial and administrative viewpoints,
they have their own parliament (called Grand Conseil in the French speaking
The legislative power comes from the Federal assembly,
made up of two chambers: the National Council (200
members representing the citizens) and the Council of States
(46 members represneting cantons). Members of both houses serve for 4 years
and have equal powers in all respects, including the right to introduce legislation.
Through referenda (popular initiative), citizens may challenge any law voted
by federal parliament and through initiatives introduce amendments to the federal
constitution, making Switzerland a semi-direct democracy (the signatures of
100,000 voters must be collected to submit an amendment).
The top executive body and collective Head of State is the Federal
Council, a collegial body of seven members who are elected
for 4 years by the Federal Assembly. The government works most of the
time with consensus agreement. The President of the Confederation - assuming
special representative functions - is elected from the seven for a one-year
Women were granted the right to vote in the first cantons in 1959, at the federal
level in 1971... but we needed to wait until 1999 to see that right extended
to the very last canton, Appenzell.
Since its rejection in 1992 after a referendum, Switzerland has no longer submited
any demand for being integrated into the European Economic
Area. However the helevetic law has changed gradually to get closer to
the one of the European Union and numerous bilateral agreements
have been signed. Since Austria joined the EU in 1995, Switzerland is
now surrounded by member countries of the EU. The 5th June 2005, Swiss have
accepted to ratify the Schengen treaty about freedom
of movements within Europe, after a referendum was organised.