Switzerland is politically divided into several cantons and half cantons. There are 20 cantons and 6 half cantons in this country. But what is a half-canton and what is the differences between a “full” and a “half” canton?

The Federal Palace in Bern
The Federal Palace in Bern

What is a half canton?

A half canton is a canton of Switzerland with only one seat on the Council of States contrary to a normal canton that has two seats. This means that half cantons have only one vote instead of two. In all other areas, however, the half cantons are just as autonomous as the cantons and have their own constitution and laws as well as their own parliament and administration. These six half cantons are: Obwalden and Nidwalden (their common name is Unterwalden), Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden as well as Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft. Officially, the term ” half canton ” has not been used since the introduction of the revised Swiss Federal Constitution in 1999.



Cantons into half cantons


In 1309 Unterwalden was granted imperial freedom under King Henry VII and was regarded as one community. Obwalden and Nidwalden ultimately became independent valley communities sometime in the 14th and 15th centuries. Since the late Middle Ages, Unterwalden has been divided into Obwalden and Nidwalden.


The canton of Appenzell was divided into the Catholic Innerrhoden and the Protestant Ausserrhoden during the Reformation around 1597.


In 1833, a conflict between the politically superior city and politically disadvantaged surrounding region led to the division of the canton.


The half-cantons Inner- and Ausserschwyz were formed in the 1830s by the division of Canton Schwyz.


When the Reformation spread to Switzerland, a Catholic minority developed in Canton Glarus. As a result, in addition to the general provincial parish, the denominations each founded their own provincial parishes under the names Catholic-Glarus and Protestant-Glarus. Both communities took on a large part of public responsibilities. In contrast to Appenzell, these two rural communities did not manage to establish a federal state or half state. As a result, Glarus was not divided into two half-cantons but received its unity as a federal state.

Swiss politics

To be able to understand Switzerland’s complicated political system, you need a little more background knowledge. To this end, we have explained Switzerland’s political system in detail.


Switzerland has cantons – and half cantons?
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