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Fifth President of the Swiss Confederation from Ticino

The eighth federal councillor from Ticino will be the fifth President of the Swiss Confederation from that canton: Ignazio Cassis has been elected by Parliament as the President of the Swiss Confederation and will thus become the first among equals in the Federal Council in 2022. Cassis has more than his cantonal origins in common with the first Ticinese President of the Confederation, Giuseppe Motta, who left big shoes to fill. During his long political career, Motta served five times in the mainly representational office of President of the Confederation.

Flavio Cotti and Ignazio Cassis at the ceremony to celebrate the latter's election to the Federal Council.
The fourth and later fifth Ticinese Presidents of the Confederation meet at a ceremony in Bellinzona to celebrate Ignazio Cassis's election to the Federal Council in 2017. (© Keystone)

Ignazio Cassis is the fifth native of Ticino to serve as President of the Confederation, but the eighth federal councillor from that canton. The first member of the Federal Council from Ticino was Stefano Franscini, who served from 1848 until his death in 1857. Franscini rendered great services to Switzerland, then a poor nation. He was also an industrious collector of data: he organised Switzerland's first census and helped to draft important legislation. The United Federal Assembly never made him President of the Confederation, not only because of his progressive loss of hearing but also because he was a hard working legislator who shunned the limelight.

At the time, the office was not awarded on a rotating basis as it is today, but by a vote of the Federal Assembly. That is also why Giovanni Battista Pioda, who in 1857 succeeded Stefano Franscini as a member of the Federal Council, where he remained until 1864, never became President of the Confederation.

Five-time federal councillor from Ticino and President of the Confederation

During his long career in public service, Giuseppe Motta, the first President of the Confederation from Ticino, served five terms over a period of 28 years. What made this possible was the introduction in the 1890s of the principle of seniority (i.e. longer-serving members first), according to which each federal councillor is appointed to serve a one-year term as President of the Confederation. During his tenure as President of the Confederation, Giuseppe Motta headed the Federal Political Department, as the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) was called until 1979. Motta campaigned for Switzerland's membership of the League of Nations and for Swiss neutrality to be recognised by it. An inspiring speaker himself, he defended Switzerland's linguistic diversity.

"One of the fundamental legal principles upon which the federal concept of the state is based is the equality of Swiss languages."

Giuseppe Motta on the recognition of Romansh as the fourth national language.

Enrico Celio, the fourth federal councillor from Ticino, became President of the Confederation during the war in 1943. He served as federal councillor from 1940 to 1950 and a second term as President of the Confederation in 1948. Another native of Ticino, Giuseppe Lepori, joined the Federal Council in 1954. In 1959, he became its vice president but retired before it was his turn to be elected President of the Confederation. In 1972, the sixth member of the Federal Council from Ticino, Nello Celio, became the third President of the Confederation from that canton. 

Role of the President of the Confederation

In countries with a presidential system, executive power rests with the president of the republic. In Switzerland, on the other hand, the duties of President of the Confederation are largely ceremonial. As President of the Confederation, in 2022 Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis will represent the Federal Council on those occasions when not all of its members are present – especially during state visits in Switzerland and abroad. He will also give a speech at New Year and on Swiss National Day on 1 August as well as other speeches broadcast on radio and television.

Tasks of the Federal Presidency

Ticinese federal councillors of historical parties

The seventh member of the Federal Council from Ticino served from 1987 to 1999: Flavio Cotti moved from the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA) to the FDFA in 1993 and became President of the Confederation in 1991 and again in 1998. It would take another 18 years for another native of Ticino to be elected to the Federal Council: Ignazio Cassis was elected federal councillor on 20 September 2017 and succeeded Didier Burkhalter as head of the FDFA on 1 November 2017. Like Burkhalter, Cassis is a member of the FDP. All federal councillors from Ticino have had something in common besides their origins: all have been members of the FDP or CVP, which can be considered Switzerland's historic parties. Their struggle for ideas gave rise to modern Switzerland in 1848.

Did you know?

Adolf Deucher was a Federal Councillor for even longer than Guiseppe Motta, namely for 29 years (1883-1912). A doctor himself, he campaigned for the establishment of a national health insurance system and is considered a pioneer of the Swiss Accident Insurance Fund (SUVA). Besides Ignazio Cassis, he is the only doctor ever to become a Federal Councillor.

Last update 29.01.2022