30 years of the Federal Statistics Act

30 years of the Federal Statistics Act

The pillar of an informed Swiss society

2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the creation and adoption of the Federal Statistics Act (FStatA) in Switzerland. It came into force in August 1993 and ensures the basis for the Confederation's official statistical production.

By marking this anniversary, the Federal Statistical Office is demonstrating the continuing and growing importance of the Statistics Act in the conduct of its activities. Thirty years later, the law forms a solid and modern framework to provide objective information to guide our decisions.

Until 9 October, the key day on which the law was adopted, the FSO will tell the story of the Federal Statistics Act and its importance through a communication campaign that includes Newsmails, video interviews and much more. This special page is dedicated to bringing all these projects together to give you a complete picture.

Context: why is a new law needed?

Since the foundation of the Statistical Bureau in 1860 and the first statistical law of 1870, society has changed considerably as has its need for information. In the 1970s, in the midst of the oil crisis, a first alarm was sounded in Switzerland following the interruption of the national accounts between 1971 and 1974 due to a lack of reliable data. The inadequacy of official statistics started to be debated in public opinion.

Internationally, Switzerland lagged behind many industrialised countries that had significantly modernized their official statistics to meet the needs of multiple users. In 1973, the Swiss Science Council published a report calling for reliable statistics. A working group was set up within the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA) in 1975. In its final report, the group emphasised the need to coordinate federal statistics.

In the early 1980s, three parliamentary interventions were made on federal statistics. The postulates were similar stating that a more rigorous statistical structure was required. Following a decision of the Federal Council in 1982, a consultation procedure was carried out in 1983 with a view to establishing a new law. It has to be said that until 1990, official statistics were very weak, even incomplete and inconsistent due to the lack of adequate structures in place. They were fragmented throughout the federal administration. Furthermore, the majority of statistics were not compiled by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO). There was little coordination in the production of results.

Damning report in 1985

During the 1980s, the population was confronted with the price index crisis and the rates observed for some products were far too high due to an inadequate formula. In 1985, the National Council's Control Committee published a report on federal statistics. It confirmed the problems and the need for action. In August 1986, the Federal Council issued a decree with the aim of reducing the spread of statistical production and improving the coordination of federal statistics.

From 1974, the FSO worked for the preparation of a new law. While little progress was made for years, the fall of the Berlin Wall highlighted the weakness of many European statistical systems. It was in this context that Carlo Malaguerra, Director of the FSO from 1987, convened an extraordinary meeting of the Conference of European Statisticians (CES) in 1990, of which he was President. A total of 54 countries including Eastern European countries, as well as Japan, Canada and the United States met.

Following this CES meeting, work began on the design and drafting of the core principles. In 1992, the CES approved the first Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, which were also incorporated at Swiss level in the Federal Statistics Act that was approved by Parliament in 1992 and came into force in 1993. A new concept was born: the Swiss statistical system.

Inception and the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics

As Carlo Malaguerra, Director of the FSO at the time of the creation of the Federal Statistics Act highlighted, this text was the first to put into legal practice the Fundamental Principles of statistics, which were adopted in 1992 by the Conference of European Statisticians

This body of the Economic Commission for Europe was intended to ensure the coordination, harmonisation and comparability of statistics. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the question suddenly arose as to the state of the statistical systems in Eastern European countries, which until then had served a planned economy.

The extraordinary meeting of this conference provided an opportunity to take stock of the state of statistics in the different CSE member countries and to provide the new governments with an independent, autonomous statistical information system that guarantees objective results.

On the proposal of the Polish delegation, a draft charter for official statistics was launched. After three working meetings in April 1992, the CES approved the Ten Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, which were subsequently adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission in 1994 as a global reference charter.

With this charter, statistics were given the task of observing society in an objective way. It established the principle that statistics should be based on the principles of impartiality, scientific quality, legality and respect for the private sphere. These elements are found in the Federal Statistics Act, which came into force in 1993, and was developed in the first Charter of Swiss Official Statistics that was adopted in May 2002.

The main elements of the act

The introduction of the new act in Switzerland marked a paradigm shift for federal statistics, marking the dawn of a new era. This founding text defined the principle of official statistics intended for all citizens, as opposed to a time when the statistical office was merely a calculation bureau at the state's service. Statistics serve the public and play a role in democratic decision-making.

The first article defines the general framework of the law. It provides the Confederation with the basis for statistics and defines the users of statistics; from the cantons to the communes, the scientific community, the private sector, the social partners and the public.

The same article establishes the principle of efficient data collection and processing in order to protect respondents. This article also has the aim of promoting national and international cooperation in the field of statistics. Ultimately, it guarantees data protection.

Presentation of the Federal Statistics Act by Anne Balzli Psyzi, Head of the Legal Service at the FSO

Consequences for Switzerland

Although the FSO was not charged with setting up a centralised statistical information system, it was given the task of coordinating federal statistics and establishing uniform bases in the interests of national and international comparability. In addition to the traditional statistical themes of the population and economy, others including society, education and research, and the environment were also added.

A fundamental change occurred. Official statistics were no longer simply to collect and make data available, but had to use and process data to produce statistical information and present them in an understandable way. For this purpose, easy-to-understand indicators and a visualisation system were developed.

To ensure international compatibility, the FSO management at the time decided to adopt European standards. The harmonisation of definitions, concepts and nomenclatures was intended to ensure consistency of information and thus create a uniform statistical system. Finally, to better coordinate statistical production in Switzerland (cantons, cities and the federal administration), organisations such as Regiostat, Fedestat and KBStat were set up.

Finally, the FSO's move to Neuchâtel that was also piloted by the former director Carlo Malaguerra confirmed the new direction taken towards modern official statistics. Until then, the FSO was spread over a dozen sites in the city of Bern. In the wake of this and following the recording scandal that influenced parliamentary debates, a complete overhaul of the 150-year-old population census was introduced in 2000. For the first time, population registers were used and questionnaires were sent to all households - but the days of enumerators were over. Since 2010, the census has been based on a register survey supplemented by sample surveys.

At the time of writing, the FSO is turning over a new page in its history. As a producer of statistical information, the Office is positioning itself as a hub and competence centre of the Swiss data ecosystem. In concrete terms, it is further strengthening its activities in the areas of the future: data science, national data management and experimental statistics.

The Federal Statistics Act 30 years after its coming into force

The FSO has produced a 3-part miniseries entitled "The Federal Statistics Act and the FSO's work" in order to present how, 30 years after its entry into force, this Act continues to guide the daily work of the FSO's staff.

Final assessment

To finish on a high note, Carlo Malaguerra, who was head of the FSO when the Act was adopted in 1992, and Georges-Simon Ulrich, current FSO Director General, answer various questions in a video interview, which in a final assessment, looks back at the FSO's past and into its future.

Carlo Malaguerra, witness to the past and advocate of a new law

As former FSO Director General, Carlo Malguerra was the architect of its move to Neuchâtel away from Bern. He is one of the key contributers to the FSO's modernisation. His views on the Act as well as on the Swiss statistics system at the time are most informative.

Georges-Simon Ulrich, representative of the FSO's present and future

Georges-Simon Ulrich has been Director General of the FSO since 2013 and is best placed to describe the current situation of statistics 30 years after this new, visionary Act was adopted. He takes stock of the Act's current importance, reviews ongoing projects and describes the direction the FSO wishes to take in the future.

Watch the interview now!

What was the Swiss statistics system like before the Federal Statistics Act was introduced? What has been the impact of the Act's introduction? What is the situation of statistics 30 years on? Which current projects follow the Act's guiding principle? What projects are planned for the future? Find the answers below!

Until the Constitution and the Bilateral agreements

Revision of the Federal Constitution

At the political level, parallel to the creation of the new Federal Statistics Act, there was much debate in Switzerland in the 1990s about joining the European Economic Area (EEA). In this context, as part of the Eurolex project, all Swiss laws were examined to make them compatible with possible entry into the EEA. These amendments were validated in legislative packages by the Parliament in December 1998. In this context, the Federal Constitution was amended and approved by the people and the cantons on 18 April 1999. From this point onwards, the Federal Constitution contained an article on official statistics for the first time (Art. 65). Whereas the former Federal Constitution only gave the Confederation statistical powers in certain areas, Article 65 of the Constitution gave it general statistical powers and the power to legislate in the area of official registers.

Bilateral agreement in the area of statistics with the EU

The management of the FSO and regional statisticians were counting on Switzerland's entry to the European Economic Area (EEA), as this would have played a key role in upgrading Swiss official statistics. The December 1992 vote decided otherwise. Thanks to the contacts established earlier with Eurostat and the action of the management of the FSO with the Federal Council and Parliament, a bilateral agreement was concluded with the EU in 2004. It has been the driving force behind the quantitative and qualitative improvement of official statistical information in Switzerland. With this agreement, the FSO must also respect the European Statistics Code of Practice and periodically participate in its Peer Review, the first of which was carried out in Switzerland.


Federal Statistical Office Espace de l'Europe 10
CH-2010 Neuchâtel