In the CIA world factbook entry about Switzerland there are several glaring errors in the part about the executive branch. It is written there that the Federal Council (Bundesrat) is the cabinet of the Federal President (Bundespräsident). That is incorrect. Whoever wrote that factbook entry was probably heavily influenced by the way the US government system is structured and thus attributed far too much power to the president.

Let me explain

The Bundesrat is the highest office of the executive branch of the Swiss government. It consists of seven members who are elected from and by the United Federal Assembly for a four-year term.

The really strange thing about this is that the composition by party is a long-standing convention that has been in effect since 1959. There always are two members from the CVP (christian conservative), two from the FDP (liberal), two from the SP (social democrat) and one from the SVP (populist right) in the Federal Council. This is called the "Magic Formula" (Zauberformel). That might strike one as horribly undemocratic, but compare that to the US where there are only two parties that hold almost all of the political power.

The government system in Switzerland is called a Concordance Democracy because there is no ruling party in the executive branch. Instead it is shared between several parties just as the legislative branch.

Nowadays the composition of the Federal Council does no longer accurately reflect the political landscape. The CVP has lost popularity while the SVP is now the most popular party. Still the Zauberformel will not be changed in the near future, because the SVP is close-minded, shortsighted, conservative and isolationist which is why all the others prevent a readjustment of the Magic Formula. In fact, the CVP lost one of its seats to the SVP in the 2003 elections, ending the era of the magic formula after 44 years.

Contrary to the information in the factbook, the office of the president (Bundespräsident) is not very important. It is rotated among the members of the Federal Council so that every year there is a different president and a different vice president. The president keeps his or her department and does not really gain any additional powers, only representative duties.

As you can see, the information from the factbook is rather misleading. I think it's a bit frightening that they got wrong such basic stuff as that. It's not like the organisation of the Swiss government was secret. I got the info from (and from memory)

Thanks to Siobhan for pointing out a few glaring errors in this writeup.