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date: 21 July 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter describes the role of federalism in Swiss foreign affairs. This role is threefold. First, the Cantons have a role through their general powers in policymaking in the Swiss constitutional system. Second, the Swiss Constitution expressly preserves a residual treaty-making capacity and autonomous foreign policy competence for the Cantons. Third, the Cantons have specific participation rights in the definition of Swiss foreign policy. In all these different roles, the principle of federalism in Swiss foreign affairs is closely connected to other main constitutional principles, especially to aspects of direct democracy and the popular referenda that are a major characteristic of the Swiss polity. Though idiosyncratic as a product of particular historical developments, it is worthwhile to compare Swiss federalism in foreign affairs to other federal systems. From such a comparative perspective, the chapter draws three interrelated conclusions. The first conclusion is that the inclusion of federalist principles into foreign affairs depends on foreign affairs being a formalized process on the international level through the conclusion of international agreements and work inside formal international organizations. The second conclusion is that the idiosyncratic Swiss aspect of specific participation rights of Cantons in foreign affairs may be one possible model in order to counterbalance developments such as increasing informal international decision- and lawmaking processes. The third conclusion is that there has to be a balance between the rights of the component parts in foreign affairs decisions by the federal government and their obligations to implement international obligations that result from these decisions.

Keywords: foreign relations law, international law, federalism, Switzerland, treaty-making power

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