This page is part of © FOTW Flags Of The World website

Switzerland: Legal issues about the state symbols

Last modified: 2024-04-27 by martin karner
Keywords: switzerland |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors

See also:

Law on Swiss Symbols

On the 21st of June 2013, the Swiss parliament adopted the project Swissness that consists of two laws: the Law on the protection of trademarks (French: Loi sur la protection des marques) and the Law on the Protection of the coat of arms of Switzerland and other public signs (Loi sur la protection des armoiries de la Suisse et autres signes publics).

That second Law was accepted almost unanimously and replaced the Federal Law of 5th June 1931 for the protection of public coat of arms and other public signs (French: la loi fédérale du 5 juin 1931 pour la protection des armoiries publiques et autres signes publics) and the Federal Decree of 12th December 1889 concerning the coat of arms of the Swiss Confederation (French: Arrêté fédéral du 12 décembre 1889 concernant les armoiries de la Confédération suisse).

The new law (which shall be published soon in the Federal Gazette) has many interesting things, that you can find here (in the project of law):

The article 1 gives the dimensions of the Swiss cross: vertical white couped cross, placed on a red background and the branches, equal, are a sixth longer than wide.

The article 2 says that the coat of arms is the Swiss cross on a triangular shield. There is a model in the annex 1 of the law that is binding as for the shape, the colours and the proportions.

The article 3 says that the flag of the Swiss confederation is a Swiss cross in a square. There is also a model in the annex 2 of the law, also binding for the shape, the colours and the proportions.

For the colours these are:
CMYK 0 / 100 / 100 / 0
Pantone 485 C / 485 U
RGB 255 / 0 / 0
Hexadécimal #FF0000
Scotchcal 100 -13
RAL 3020 rouge signalisation
NCS S 1085-Y90R

The proportions of the flag 1:1 (or 32:32, that is 6-7-6-7-6 : 6-7-6-7-6), where the cross in the middle has arms with width = 6 and length=7.

The article 5 says that the coats of arms, flags and other emblems of cantons, districts, circles and communes are fixed by cantonal Law.

The article 8 speaks about the use of the coats of arms (Swiss, cantons, etc.)

The article 10 says that flags and other emblems of the Confederation, flags and other emblems of the cantons, districts, circles and communes and signs that may be confused with them can be used, unless their use is (a) misleading, or (b) contrary to public order, morality or law.

Armorial bearings, flags and other emblems of other foreign governments, including municipalities, may be used unless their use is (a) misleading, or (b) contrary to public order, morality or law.

There are other dispositions in the law.

That law gives also some precisions concerning the Swiss ensign in the Federal Law of 23rd September 1953 on maritime navigation under the Swiss ensign (French: Loi fédérale du 23 septembre 1953 sur la navigation maritime sous pavillon suisse):

The annex I of the law is binding for the shape, the colours and the proportions.

And the colours are :
CMYK 0 / 100 / 100 / 0
Pantone 485 C / 485 U
RGB 255 / 0 / 0
Hexadécimal #FF0000
Scotchcal 100 -13
RAL 3020 rouge signalisation
NCS S 1085-Y90R

Pascal Vagnat, 23 June 2013

Protection of the Swiss flag

Federal Law from 5 June 1931 protects the federal cross, the arms and the Swiss flag against "any abusive use". Penalties are possible, but the law is usually enforced with flexibility. The most important point is "not to offend the Swiss emblems" (Swiss penal code, article #70). During the April 1998 session, the national Council investigated a petition asking to mention explicitly the cross and the flag in the first article of the Constitution as "the highest symbols of the country". The Commission for revision of the federal Constitution did not follow up because neither a political party nor an organisation had requested the modification.
Ivan Sache, 20 September 2000

The public damaging of private flags is not culpable in Switzerland (i.e. everyone has the right to destroy a flag or any other object, so long as it is one's own). However all emblems (esp. flags and coats of arms) that have been put up by an authority are protected by federal law. Stealing, damaging and insulting acts against them are penalized with prison or fine. The same applies to official emblems of foreign countries. The extent of the sentence is not specified by federal law because in case of an offence, the respective cantonal authorities determine it individually.
Martin Karner, 9 April 2004

In regards to protection of the Swiss flag from commercial misuses, there are additional laws to protect it from misuse in relation to the Red Cross symbol. According to: "Model law concerning the use and protection of the emblem of the Red Cross or Red Crescent" (31-8-1996 International Review of the Red Cross no 313, p.486–495 or, Section III, Article 12 reads, "Owing to the confusion which may arise between the arms of Switzerland and the emblem of the red cross, the use of the white cross on a red ground or of any other sign constituting an imitation thereof, whether as a trademark or commercial mark or as a component of such marks, or for a purpose contrary to fair trade, or in circumstances likely to wound Swiss national sentiment, is likewise prohibited at all times; offenders shall be punished by payment of a fine of ... (amount in local currency)."
Orville Eastland, 19 January 2005

Usage of the Confederation Cross on advertisement

Switzerland is embroiled in controversy over the commercial use of the flag, and confusion over its legal use. It is legal to use the Swiss flag for decoration and publicity, but its use is also regulated by the Society for the Promotion of Swiss Products and Services, better known as "Swiss Label". A 1931 law, which many now consider a useless relic, prohibits the use of the federal cross on any product not so licensed by the Society. To qualify a product must be more than 50% manufactured in Switzerland. Many products, like most Swiss chocolate, no longer qualify and yet continue to illegally use the federal cross. The Society sees this as deception in advertising, since foreign consumers have come to trust products that are Swiss-made. A recent poll shows that most Swiss are aware of the law, but the law is widely flaunted with impunity.

The only genuine Swiss Army Knives are Victorinox and Wenger, but there are many fakes bearing the Swiss cross. The Swiss Army was originally issued with German knives from the famous blade maker Solingen. Victorinox started making knives in Switzerland in 1891. These were issued to soldiers, but officers bought their own lighter, more elegant models. Victorinox made its first Offiziersmesser (officers' knife) in 1897, and in 1945–49 massive deliveries were made to the US armed services. Americans couldn't pronounce the word, so they became simply known as "Swiss Army knives", and that was the origin of its worldwide fame. In a twist of irony, Victorinox since 1976 has supplied the German Army with its pocket knife, but it is olive green and features a German eagle instead of the Swiss cross. Real Swiss officers' knives are aluminium-cased. The familiar red ones are for civilians and export. And if it doesn't say Victorinox or Wenger on the blade, you might have a piece of American or Chinese junk – the Swiss cross is no guarantee.
T.F. Mills, 9 March 1998