(Mar. 31, 2009) On January 21, 2009, Switzerland promulgated a Reform Act to the Parliamentary Act (Bundesgesetz über die Bundesversammlung (Parlamentsgesetz) Änderung, Oct. 3, 2008, Amtliche Sammlung des Bundesrechts 725 (2009), available at http://www.admin.ch/ch/d/as/2009/index0_5.html (click on page 725)). The Act became law on January 22, after the referendum period had expired, and it became effective on March, 2, 2009. In addition to various changes in parliamentary procedure, the Act brought a new regime for replacing the members of Cabinet if they become incapacitated.
The newly enacted article 140a of the Parliamentary Act empowers the Federal Assembly to decide on the incapacity of a member of the Cabinet. The Federal Assembly is the joint session of both houses of the federal legislature (Bundesverfassung, Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of April 18, 1999, Systematische Sammlung des Bundesrechts No. 101 [in English], available at http://www.admin.ch/org/polit/00083/index.html?lang=en, art .148). Upon the request of the Cabinet or of the Clerk's Office of the Federal Assembly, the Federal Assembly decides whether a member of the Cabinet is incapable of carrying out his official duties. Such a finding would be appropriate in the case of debilitating and prolonged health problems, if the member had not resigned within an appropriate period. Once a member had been declared to be incapacitated, a vacancy would exist that the Federal Assembly would proceed to fill by a vote in the next session, as is the general rule for such vacancies (Parlamentsgesetz, Dec. 13, 2002, Systematische Sammlung des Bundesrechts No.171.10, available at http://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/171_10/index.html, art. 133). The Swiss Federal Cabinet consists of seven members who act as a collegiate body. The Cabinet is elected every four years by the Federal Assembly, after a new National Council (the representative chamber of Parliament) is elected (Federal Constitution, art. 168).