In September 2010, Simonetta Sommaruga was elected to Switzerland’s seven member executive. She joined Micheline Calmy-Rey, Doris Leuthard and Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf along with three male members: Didier Burkhalter, Ueli Maurer and Johann Schneider-Ammann, creating the first female executive majority since the creation of the Federal Council in 1848. All four of these women have served as Swiss President.
This female majority continued until January 2012, when Alain Berset replaced Micheline Calmy-Rey.
Federal Councillors are elected for terms of four years with no term limit. Political convention means sitting councillors are reelected and finish when they decide to retire. Since the Federal Council was created in 1848 only four councillors have failed reelection, most recently Christoph Blocher of the Swiss People’s Party in 2007. The longest serving member, Karl Schenk, served 31 years from 1863 to 1895, when he was killed in a road accident. He was Switzerland’s president six times.
The first woman to land a job in the Federal Council was Elisabeth Kopp in 1984, 13 years after women gained the right to vote in federal elections in 1971.
The current Federal Council has two women: Simonetta Sommaruga and Doris Leuthard.
The meetings and votes of the Federal Council remain secret for 50 years. Secrecy is considered essential to reaching consensus among a group of people from different political parties. Each federal councillor’s vote carries the same weight, including the member designated President, a largely ceremonial role.
Federal Councillors earn an annual salary of CHF 451,1631 (US$ 444.058), slightly more than the US$ 400,000 salary recently turned down by US President-elect Donald Trump.
It is not unusual to see Federal Councillors, including the President, in supermarkets or on public transport. You will need to search 1st class carriage however. Each gets a free 1st class Swiss Rail pass and a pass giving free access to all Swiss mountain lifts.
1What Federal Councillors earn (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
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