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Federal Political Systems


Title: Federations and Unitary States Author: cooke Last modified by: cooke Created Date: 11/10/2009 3:12:57 PM Document presentation format: On-screen Show – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Federal Political Systems

Federal Political Systems
  • Nov. 10

  • Definitions and examples of federal political
  • History of federalism and waves of federalism
  • Details of federal political systems

  • Unitary State A state in which sovereignty is
    concentrated at the level of a single centralized
    government. Unitary states may be centralized,
    decentralized or regionalized.
  • The classic example is France.
  • Unitary states may have relatively strong
    regional governments, but that should not be
    confused with federalism.

Federal Political Systems
  • Federal political systems refers to a broad
    category of political systems in which, by
    contrast to the single central source of
    authority in unitary systems, there are two (or
    more) levels of government thus combining
    elements of shared-rule through common
    institutions and regional self-rule for the
    governments of the constituent units (Watts,

Federal Political Systems
  • This term, federal political system, encompasses
    a whole spectrum of more specific non-unitary
    forms including federations, and confederacies.
  • See Table 11.2, pages 276-277.

  • Federal State A state where sovereignty is
    shared across several levels of government in
    which one level may not intervene in defined
    areas of competence of the other.
  • Key points
  • neither level is subordinate to the other, each
    has some genuine autonomy, neither level can
    unilaterally abolish the other.

  • Confederation These occur where several
    pre-existing polities join together to form a
    common government for certain limited purposes
    (for foreign affairs, defence or economic
    purposes), but the common government is dependent
    upon the constituent governments, being composed
    of delegates from the constituent governments,
    and therefore having only an indirect electoral
    and fiscal base (Watts, 1999).

Spectrum of unitary and federal states
  • Six of the ten most populous countries are
  • Eight of the ten largest countries by area are
  • All democracies with populations much larger than
    100 million people are federations.
  • 28 countries, home to 40 of the worlds
    population, may be considered federations.
  • Source Anderson, George. 2008. Federalism An
    Introduction. Don Mills Oxford UP.

Existing and tenuously Emerging Federations
  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Comoros
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Ethiopia
  • Germany
  • India
  • Iraq
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • Micronesia
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Palau
  • Russia
  • St. Kitts and Nevis
  • South Africa
  • Spain
  • Sudan
  • Switzerland
  • United Arab Emirates
  • USA
  • Venezuela

Source (Anderson, 2008)
Confederations Examples
  • Historic
  • Switzerland (for most of the period 1291-1847)
  • USA (1776-1789)
  • Current
  • Benelux
  • Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
  • Commonwealth of Independent States
  • European Union

  • In 1999, the United Kingdom devolved powers to
    the Scottish Parliament, and to a lesser extent,
    to Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • This has meant the UK has evolved toward a
    federal political system (though it should not be
    considered a federation).

History of Federalism
  • Origins of federations
  • Federations have emerged through the combination
    (or coming together) of previously separate
  • Federations have emerged through a process of
    devolution of powers.
  • In some cases, both developments have occurred.

History of Federalism
  • Historical Precursors and Influences
  • Native Confederacies of North America
  • Swiss Confederation 1291-1847
  • United Provinces of the Netherlands
  • Modern Federations
  • USA 1780s
  • Switzerland 1848
  • Canada 1867
  • North German Federation 1867, expanded in 1871 to
    include south German states.
  • Australia 1901
  • 19th early 20th century Argentina, Brazil,
    Mexico, Venezuela

Historic waves of federalism
  • First wave, from late 18th to early 20th century,
    with the creation of new countries through the
    coming together of polities.
  • Second, emergence of post-colonial federations,
    with both successes and failures.
  • Third, new federations emerging from collapse of
    Soviet Union and Eastern bloc, with successes and
    failures. During the same time period, some
    unitary states moved toward federalism.
  • Fourth, most tenuous has been the use of
    federalism in post-conflict situations. Along
    with Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo,
    Ethiopia and Sudan, federal proposals have been
    suggested for Cyprus, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
  • An additional important development is the
    increasing federalization of the European Union,
    which is somewhere between a confederation and a

Details of Federal Political Systems
  • constituent units
  • Federations and diversity
  • Institutional features of federalism

Constituent Units within Federations
  • The terminology applied to constituent units
  • states (Australia, Brazil, Ethiopia, India,
    Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, USA)
  • provinces (Argentina, Canada, Pakistan, South
  • Länder (Germany and Austria),
  • cantons (Switzerland),
  • regions and communities (Belgium)
  • autonomous communities (Spain).
  • Russia has regions, republics, autonomous areas,
    territories, and cities of federal significance.

Constituent Units within Federations
  • Existing federations have as few as 2 units or
    more than 80.
  • Russia has 86 units.
  • USA has 50 states.
  • Nigeria has 36 states.
  • India has 28 states.
  • Belgium has 3 regions and 3 cultural communities.
  • St. Kitts and Nevis consists of 2 islands.
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina has 2 entities.
  • Comoros consists of 3 islands.

Federations and Diversity
  • Some federations have a largely homogenous
    culture and common language. They may have
    regional differences, but federalism is not
    structured around major ethnic, linguistic or
    religious cleavages.
  • Examples Argentina, Austria, Australia, Brazil,
    Germany, Mexico, USA

Federations and Diversity
  • Some federations are comprised of highly distinct
    cultural, religious, linguistic or national
  • Some federations have a linguistic, ethnic or
    cultural majority but with one large minority
    (Belgium, Canada) or several smaller minorities
    (Spain, Russia).
  • Some federations have a wider range of languages,
    religions, and nationalities (Ethiopia, India,
  • In some cases ethnic, linguistic and religious
    cleavages cut across one another (Switzerland)
    which can help reduce social polarization.

Federations that have Separated
  • Yugoslavia
  • Czechoslovakia (1920-1992)
  • split into Czech Republic and Slovakia
  • Pakistan (1947-1971)
  • split into Pakistan (which remains a federation)
    and Bangladesh

  • Belgium was founded in 1830 as a unitary state,
    but a series of constitutional changes from 1970
    to 1990s facilitated a process of devolution.
    Today Belgium is a federation divided between two
    major language and cultural groups.
  • The Flemish speak Dutch in the province of
    Flanders and they are the majority, making up
    somewhere between 56 and 58 per cent of the
    country's population.
  • The Walloons speak French and live in the south
    next to France in Wallonia.
  • To complicate matters, Brussels, the capital, is
    largely French-speaking but it lies in Flanders.
  • http//www.cbc.ca/news/reportsfromabroad/murray/20

Institutional Features of Federalism
  • A formal division of powers between levels of
  • A written constitution that may not be
    unilaterally amended. Instead it requires consent
    of a significant proportion of constituent units
    to be amended.
  • Intra-state federalism a federal legislative
    body (bicameralism)
  • Inter-state federalism mechanisms of
    intergovernmental cooperation or coordination
  • An umpire (usually the courts) to rule on
    disputes between governments

Division of Powers
  • The division of powers can be fairly distinct
    (USA) or involve many shared powers (Germany).
  • Federations can be centralized or decentralized.
  • They may certainly evolve over time, the USA and
    Australia were intended to be decentralized
    federations, but became more centralized. The
    opposite occurred in Canada.

Intra-State Federalism
  • Bicameralism Most federations have two
    legislative bodies within the central government.
  • Usually the upper house in a federation is
    designed to accommodate the constituent units.

Intra-State Federalism
  • Upper houses in federations
  • In some cases, all constituent units receive
    equal representation. Argentina, Australia,
    Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico, Russia, South Africa,
  • In other cases, the number of representatives per
    constituent unit varies. Austria, Belgium,
    Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, India

Intra-State Federalism
  • Upper houses in federations
  • In some cases, representatives are directly
    elected by the public from constituent units,
    including the American (since 1913) and
    Australian Senates.
  • A variety of other options exist, however.
    Representatives in the upper house may be
    delegated or selected by state or provincial
    legislatures (Germany, Austria, India, 38 of the
    Malaysian Senate). They may even be appointed by
    the federal government (Canada, 63 of Malaysian
    Senate). Belgium and Spain also have Senators
    selected through a combination of methods.

  • Federalism is used to govern large territories.
  • Federalism is used to accommodate regionalized
    differences. This accommodation may be successful
    or riddled with tensions.
  • Where it exists and functions, federalism tends
    to become a crucial defining aspect of the
    political system. It shapes political debate and
    it adds another degree of complexity to
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