Independence, accountability and relationship with the Confederation
The independence of the Swiss National Bank is embodied as a principle in the Constitution. It entails various aspects, which are set out in detail in the National Bank Act. The functional independence consists in the formal prohibition of the National Bank and its statutory bodies to accept instructions from the Federal Council, the Federal Assembly or any other body in fulfilling its monetary tasks (authority to act independent of instructions). The financial independence includes both the budgetary autonomy of the SNB and the prohibition to grant loans to the Confederation, which bars the state from accessing the banknote press. The independence of the National Bank in personnel issues, finally, is ensured by the fact that the members of the Governing Board and their deputies during their fixed term of office can be removed from office only if they no longer fulfil the requirements for exercising the office or if they have committed a grave offence.
As a counterbalance to independence, the Act places a three-fold accountability on the SNB: vis-à-vis the Federal Council, the Federal Assembly and the public. With the Federal Council, the SNB regularly discusses the economic situation, monetary policy and topical issues of federal economic policy. Formally, the Federal Council’s Delegation for General Economic Policy and the National Bank’s Governing Board inform each other at periodic meetings. To the Federal Assembly, the SNB submits a written report on the fulfilment of its statutory tasks on an annual basis, and it elaborates on its monetary policy to the competent committees. The public, finally, is informed by the National Bank through quarterly reports on the development of the real economy and of the monetary situation, and the Bank publicly announces its monetary policy intentions. By explaining its policy on a regular basis and rendering account of its decisions, the SNB makes its activities transparent.
As the National Bank fulfils a public task, it is by Constitution administered with the cooperation and under the supervision of the Confederation. The National Bank is constituted as a special statute joint-stock company; the Confederation does not hold any of its shares. The Federal Council, therefore, exercises its cooperation and supervision with regard to the administration of the SNB through various powers of appointment and approval: it appoints the majority of the Bank Council members (six out of eleven) as well as the three members of the Governing Board and their deputies. In addition, the Federal Council approves the organisation regulations of the SNB, and the SNB must submit the annual report and the annual accounts to the Federal Council for approval before they are approved by the General Meeting of Shareholders. In this way, the Swiss government ensures that the National Bank is managed properly and efficiently.