Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

Home Whats New  Trans State Nation  One World Unfolding Consciousness Comments Search
Home  > International Relations> Conflict Resolution >  What are Federal Solutions


Daniel J. Elazar 
on Federalism 

Index of Online Resources on Federalism
Constitutionalizing Globalization: The Postmodern Revival of Confederal Arrangements
Federal Systems of the World: A Handbook of Federal, Confederal and Autonomy Arrangements
Constitutional Design and Power-Sharing in the Post-Modern Epoch
Extending the Covenant: Federalism and Constitutionalism in a Global Era
Althusius and Federalism as Grand Design

Conflict Resolution
in an ASYMMETRIC Multi Lateral World

What are Federal Solutions?

Daniel J. Elazar

"... the scope which federalism offers for the solution of complex problems of political organization is great indeed. If there is a will to federate, it is likely that a suitable arrangement can be found. What is crucial, however, is that those who must build a political life together must have the will to do so and to do so on a federal basis. Lacking that will, even the great scope which federalism provides is insufficient. The will to federate need not be based upon a strong commitment to federalism per se or even to one's potential partners per se. It is sufficient if the constituent parties develop the will to federate for lack of any alternative or to achieve minimal common goals which they recognize can be achieved in no other way..."

Federalism as Structure and Process 
Federalism as Unity and Diversity 
The Basic Forms of Federalism -

1. Federation 
2. ConfederationEuropean Community (EC) - Caribbean Community (CARICOM) - Confederation of Senegambia 
3. Federacy and Associated Statehood 
4. Consociation 
5. Union 
6. Constitutionally Decentralized States 
7. Unitary States With Federal Arrangements 
8. Economic Unions and Leagues - Benelux Economic UnionThe Nordic Council 

Federal Combinations
The Will to Federate 
Thinking Federal 


Whatever form it takes, federalism involves some combination of self-rule and shared rule to enable the parties to the federal bargain to govern themselves insofar as possible and share in the tasks of governance insofar as necessary.1

The great strength of federalism (including the federal idea and the structures and processes that flow from it) lies in its flexibility and adaptability. The argument that federalism is particularly flexible goes against much of the conventional wisdom which, to the extent that it focuses on a juridical understanding of federalism, often emphasizes rigid divisions of power. While particular federal systems may be quite inflexible, the federal principle has been successfully applied in a great many different ways, under a wide variety of circumstances, easily justifying the claim of flexibility.2

The scope of federalism as a theoretical and operational concept involves some seeming contradictions that, when properly combined, make it a most effective device.

Federalism involves both structure and processes of government.

Federalism is directed to the achievement and maintenance of both unity and diversity.

There are several varieties of political arrangements to which the term federal has properly been applied.

Federalism as Structure and Process 

Federalism is most commonly perceived to be a matter of governmental structure involving two or more "units," "arenas," "planes," "tiers," or "levels" of government, each endowed with a substantial degree of independence, full legitimacy, and a constitutionally guaranteed place in the overall system and possessing its own set of institutions, powers, and responsibilities, constitutionally linked within a common governing framework for specified purposes. Proponents of federalism properly argue that this structural dimension is a key to the utility of the federal principle, because it creates a firm institutional framework for the achievement of the goals for which federalism was instituted in the first place. This perception is accurate enough as far as it goes.

In the earlier stages of the history of modern federalism, structural considerations were not only first and foremost but essentially the be-all and end-all of the concern for federal arrangements, the assumption being that the introduction of a proper federal structure would create a functioning federal system. More recently, students of federalism have come to understand the limits of, as well as the necessities for, a structural approach to federalism. This recognition was born out of experience whereby it was seen that many polities with federal structures were not federal in practice. After further exploration, many came to the conclusion that federalism is as much a matter of process as of structure.

The elements of a federal process include a sense of partnership on the part of the parties to the federal compact, manifested through negotiated cooperation on issues and programs and based on a commitment to open bargaining between all parties to an issue in such a way as to strive for consensus or, failing that, an accommodation which protects the fundamental integrity of all the partners. Only in those polities where the processes of government reflect this is the structure of federalism meaningful. In the last analysis, federalism must combine both structure and process. That, indeed, is what creates a federal system.

Federalism as Unity and Diversity 

One of the most ambiguous characteristics of federalism is its aspiration and purpose to simultaneously generate and maintain both unity for certain purposes while encouraging diversity. This ambiguity is reflected in a certain confusion over the very use of the term. People use the terms "federalism," "federalist," and "federalize" to describe both the process of political unification and the maintenance of the diffusion of political power. 

More than one discussion of federalism has foundered upon a basic misunderstanding on the part of the parties involved as to which sense of the term is being used. In fact, the ambiguity is a real one to the extent that federalism and its related terms do express both processes simultaneously. Federalizing does involve both the creation and maintenance of unity and the diffusion and sharing of power in the name of diversity. Indeed, that is why federalism is not a matter of centralization or decentralization but is predicated on non-centralization, or the effective combination of unity and diversity.

When discussing federalism, it is a mistake to present unity and diversity as opposites. Unity should be contrasted with disunity and diversity with homogeneity, emphasizing the political dimensions and implications of each. 

It is possible to have a strong federal system that combines a high degree of unity with a high degree of diversity (Switzerland, for example) just as it is possible for a high degree of diversity to lead to great disunity (in Iraq, for example, where the Arabs and the Kurds are in seemingly perpetual civil war). Not every kind of homogeneity promotes unity. Substantial ethnic homogeneity in the nineteenth century United States did not prevent the clash of sectionally based interests from leading to civil war just as the substantial ethnic homogeneity of Great Britain and her American colonies did not prevent the American revolution in the eighteenth century. Moreover, there are various forms of unity and disunity to be considered, and even more varieties of diversity.

There is a difference between consolidated unity (e.g., France) and federal unity (e.g., Switzerland). Diversity is manifested through nationality or ethnic, religious, ideological, social and interest factors which may or may not gain political expression. 

Consolidated unity attempts to either depoliticize or carefully limit the political effects of diversity, relegating manifestations of diversity to other spheres. 

Federal unity, on the other hand, is not only comfortable with the political expression of diversity but is from its roots a means to accommodate diversity as a legitimate element in the polity. 

Thus consolidated polities can be diverse but to them, diversity is not considered desirable per se, even if reality requires its reconciliation within the body politic. The question remains open as to what kind of combinations of diversity are compatible with federal unity and which kinds or combinations are not. 

The Basic Forms of Federalism 3

The foregoing are made real in specific polities through one or another of the variety of federal arrangements found in operation in the world today and in the past. When classified by form, we have the two classic forms of federalism, federation and confederation. Two new forms are just now being recognized for what they are, which we have here called federacy and associated-state federalism. All four are federal systems.

Several other forms, including unions, consociations, condominiums, and leagues, are, strictly speaking, not federal systems but political systems drawing on federal principles. Each of these forms can be further classified as to whether its basis is predominantly territorial or consociational (although several may manifest characteristics of both).

The sheer number of polities or regimes that can be classified within this framework is impressive and in every case the classification is either apparent or not difficult to justify. In other words, all do indeed partake of some aspect of federalism.

1. Federation

What is commonly referred to as federalism today -- roughly defined as the constitutional division of powers within a single political entity between a federal (sometimes called national or general) government and the governments of the constituent entities (states, provinces, cantons, lander, etc.) with both having direct contact with the individual citizen. This is, strictly speaking, modern federation. It was first conceived in theory and operationalized by the United States toward the end of the eighteenth century. It spread to Latin America early in the nineteenth century, to Switzerland in mid-century, to several British dominions in the late nineteenth century, to Germany and Austria after World War I and to several of the new African and Asian nations after World War II.

Because it can be harmonized with modern nationalism, this form of federalism has become the dominant federal arrangement in the world today and, in fact, is synonymous with the idea of federalism in the minds of most people. Federation requires a strong general government operating directly on all citizens who, in return, are entitled to equal political status and rights.

2. Confederation

In fact, the inventors of modern federation actually had to appropriate the term "federal" for themselves to give their invention a proper name. Until the adoption of the American federal constitution, the term was widely used to describe another form of federal arrangement, what is today usually called confederation, in which the constituent states retain the better part of their political independence but band together in perpetual union under a common constitution to form a joint government for quite specific and limited purposes, usually defense and foreign affairs. 

In such cases, the new entity combines elements of shared governance with the strong and permanent commitment to the maintenance of primordial divisions through the constituent states. Switzerland until 1848, and the Netherlands until 1795, were confederations of this kind. The political theorists of those days referred to them as federal systems and traced the origins of that form of federalism to the ancient leagues of Greek city-states.

Since pre-modern federalism, or confederation, was principally a device for linking groups of small polities of the kind that existed prior to the rise of the modern nation-state, modern nationalism rejected it as a political solution and it virtually disappeared from the map after the Napoleonic Wars. As modern federal arrangements spread, it certainly came to be considered as something other than federalism.

Today, in the post-modern epoch, when national sovereignty is once again being limited as a result of new realities, confederation is reemerging as a federal alternative in new forms. The European Community, a new style confederation, has most of the characteristics of a classic confederation, except that its primary purposes have turned out to be economic rather than defense. It is pointing the way to confederation as a viable federal alternative under certain conditions.5 

On the other hand, Yugoslavia, formally a federation, has become, in effect, a confederation with real power vested in the republics and a plural Yugoslav executive in which all are represented.

The European Community had its formal beginning in an international treaty, the Treaty of Rome, signed by its original six members in 1957. Over time that treaty has evolved into a constitution while still retaining the form of a treaty. Moreover, membership in the community has grown from six to twelve, stretching from Ireland to Greece.

Subsequently other post-modern confederations have been established. In the West Indies, after the British-initiated effort to establish a West Indies Federation failed because of the insularity of its island members who did not perceive themselves as sufficiently tied to their sister islands to share a common government, the individual members became independent microstates while simultaneously establishing joint authorities in the form of a common supreme court, a common university, a common currency, and, to a degree, a common market known as the Caribbean Community. 

Quite a different confederal arrangement was established to link Senegal and Gambia. Gambia, which is for all intents and purposes an enclave surrounded by Senegal, was the victim of a coup that would have installed a dictatorial government hostile to Senegal and detrimental to the people of Gambia. The Gambians asked Senegal to intervene, which it did to restore the duly-constituted government. To prevent any efforts of a similar nature, the two states established a formal confederation in the form of an overarching government but for very limited purposes.

Characteristic of confederations is that each of the constituent or partner entities maintains a comprehensive set of governmental institutions. There may or may not be common citizenship in the confederation, but if there is it is based on citizenship in the constituent entities. Moreover, the confederal authorities formally are excluded from direct contact with the citizens of the constituent entities. Rather they work through the governments of those entities to fulfill their functions.

European Community (EC)

Founded: 1957 by Treaty of Rome.

Membership: Belgium, France, German Federal Republic, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands (1951); Denmark, Eire, United Kingdom (1973); (Greece (1981); Portugal (1985); Spain (1985).

Constitution: 1957 Treaty of Rome and related treaty-like documents

Purposes: Economic integration, political cooperation, common human rights standards

Government Structure:

1) Commission of the EC (17 members appointed by member-states for 4 year terms headed by president serving for 2 years) -- supervises implementation of the treaties in the name of the EC as a whole.
2) Council of Ministers (12 members, 1 appointed from each member state) -- the decision-making body of the community representing national interests.
3) European Council (heads of government of each member-state) -- meets three times a year to establish EC policies.
4) European Parliament (518 members apportioned among the member-states, elected by direct universal suffrage) -- has power to reject or force modification of annual EC budgets and to dismiss the Commission by a 2/3 vote.
5) Court of Justice (13 judges and 4 advocates general) -- adjudication of disputes pertaining to the application of treaties.

Functions: Coal and steel community; atomic energy community; customs union; free movement of goods, persons, services, and capital; common fiscal policy; encourage market competition within EC, common transport policy; common external trade policy; common agricultural policy; European monetary system; common educational policy; common social policy; consumer protection; environmental policy; regional development.

Caribbean Community (CARICOM)

Founded: 1973 by Treaty of Chiguaramas

Membership: Antigua and Barbuda, Balonterns, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago.

Constitution: CARICOM's associate institutions are the East Caribbean Common Market Council of Ministers; Caribbean Development Bank; Caribbean Examinations Council; Caribbean Investment Corporation; Caribbean Meterological Council; Council of Legal Education; Regional Shipping Council; University of Guyana; University of the West Indies; and West Indies Associated States Council of Ministers.

Purposes: Economic integration and development, foreign policy coordination, regional educational and cultural programs, common currency, common supreme court.

Governing Structure:

1) The Heads of Government Conference is CARICOM's principal organ. It is responsible for determining policy, concluding treaties between the community and international organizations and states, and meeting financial obligations of the community.
2) The Common Market Council is the main body of the Common Market. It is made up of a minister of government designated by each member state. It oversees the development and operation of the common market and is authorized to deal with any problems arising in that connection.
3) The secretariat deals with trade, economics and statistics; sectoral policy and planning; functional cooperation; legal; and general services and administration. An appointed secretary-general is responsible for carrying ou the secretariat's functions, presides and controls the agenda at all meetings.

Functions: Common external tariffs, internal common market, agricultural development and marketing, higher education, common currency.

Confederation of Senegambia

Founded: 1982 by framework of agreement between the leaders of the two states and 3 protocols ratified by their respective legislatures

Membership: Senegal and Gambia

Constitution: 3 protocols on the institutions of the Confederation, financial regulations, and coordination of external relations policy.

Purposes: Common defense, economic and monetary union, coordinated foreign relations and communications.

Governing Structure:

1) President of Senegal is president of the Confederation. President of Gambia is vice president of the Confederation.
2) General secretariat headed by secretary-general assists president and is responsible for policy implementation.
3) Council of Ministers (president, vice president, secretary-general, ministers from the state governments appointed by the president with the consent of the vice president)
4) Confederal Parliament (60 members, 1/3 from the Gambian House of Representatives and 2/3 from the Senegalese National Assembly) meets twice a year.

Functions: Joint armed forces, economic union, monetary union, other joint functions being developed.

What is characteristic of postmodern confederations is that they rarely begin with a single overarching confederal government, but rather are constructed out of joint and overlapping functional authorities established by the constituent entities to handle specific tasks. They may or may not develop common comprehensive executive, legislative, and/or judicial instruments. The European Community has done so, within limits. The Caribbean Community, a confederation of English-speaking island states in the West Indies, has not, and has deliberately abjured such instrumentalities, while Senegambia has a common confederal government but with extremely limited functions and powers. 

A strong case can be made that the United Arab Emirates and Yugoslavia should be considered confederations despite their formal designation as federations. The former assigns the exercise of different functions of the whole to individual emirates and does virtually nothing as a collectivity, while the latter has developed a system of collective decision-making through common institutions in which all of the republics and autonomous regions sit as equals and decide by consensus.

The principal advantage of confederation in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial society is that, since the confederal government serves the constituent or partner states first and foremost, issues of equal political status and rights can be handled on two levels: equality of all states within the confederation as states and equality of individuals within each state as defined by that state.

3. Federacy and Associated Statehood 6

The post-war world has given birth to two other kinds of federal arrangements, associated state federalism and federacy. 

Associated state arrangements or federacies (asymmetrical federations) have become increasingly popular in the post-war period because they offer options for self-government to political entities that would otherwise have to forego that possibility, along with democratic political linkage to another entity where conditions require maintenance of ties. 

In the process of decolonization, most former colonies became fully independent states in their own right. But, in some cases, full independence was found to be less advantageous while, at the same time, conventional federation was also not a viable option. In place of either, an asymmetrical federal relationship was developed usually involving the following:

A perpetual constitutional tie between the federate power and the federacy or associated state ratified by the peoples of both and/or their chosen representatives.

A comprehensive set of governmental institutions for each, with a minimum of overlapping authority or shared structures.

In federacies, common citizenship, but with specified distinctions in rights and duties in some spheres.

Allocation and division of functions in such a way that the federate power preserves control over certain external functions such as foreign affairs and defense, while the federacy or associated state preserves control over certain internal functions beyond that normally allocated within conventional federations.

Mutual allocation of benefits in such a way that each partner receives some special benefit in return for foregoing some usual benefit of conventional federal arrangements.

There are presently over twenty functioning federacies in existence. Some, like the Netherlands and Curacao, are the result of decolonization in circumstances that made it beneficial for the former colony to retain ties with what was once the mother country, but on a new basis. Others, such as the one between Switzerland and Lichtenstein, reflect the association of two political entities that came together for mutual advantages such a link offered (in this case, a customs union that gave Lichtenstein needed economic benefits while allowing it to preserve its independence and non-republican form of government). 

Some are relatively new, like the relationship between New Zealand and the Cook Islands; others, such as the link between the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands, are centuries old. In Finland and the Aaland Islands, regional security considerations have made federacy the only reasonable option serving the basic interests of both parties. Similarly, Berlin and the German Federal Republic are associated in this form because of conditions imposed by the great powers.

Federacies, then, come in all shapes and sizes and are established for a variety of reasons. What is common to all is a mutual agreement that both parties shall remain far more separated in their institutions than in conventional federal arrangements, while retaining links to one another for certain common purposes. Beyond that, federacy has proved to be extremely flexible. Thus there is no one common form of federacy. In each case a special institutional framework and set of relationships has developed to meet the specific needs of the parties involved.

One of the best examples of federacy is the arrangement between the United States and Puerto Rico, whose 3,435 square miles comprise an area approximately 50 percent larger than Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip combined.

Puerto Rico became an American colony in 1898 as a result of unanticipated military conquest. In the course of time, the Puerto Ricans (now numbering 2.7 million on the island) were given institutions for internal self-government whose range, scope, and powers were periodically expanded. By the 1940s it was clear that the island would not remain a colony much longer; the only question was what new status would it acquire. The U.S. had an interest in maintaining the island as the anchor of its strategic position in the Caribbean, but at the same time had no desire to limit the freedom of the island's residents.

Puerto Ricans have a deep sense of their own identity and great national pride. Hence any solution to their search for a place in the sun had to recognize their national aspirations. Since the islanders represented a different cultural tradition and speak a different language (Spanish), there was also little desire on either side for incorporating the island into the U.S. as a constituent state like those on the mainland.

The Puerto Rican leadership, while seeking substantial independence, recognized the advantages of economic and security links with the U.S. Puerto Rico needed the benefits of sharing in the American "common market" in order to improve its economic position and better the lot of its people; moreover, it did not need the burden of maintaining its own military defense.

The arrangement that was worked out provided for complete internal self-government on the island, subject only to minimum U.S. standards, exemption from most federal taxation, and an advantageous position with regard to the attraction of American industry. On the other hand, Puerto Rico was excluded from the governing institutions of the U.S. as a whole, and was given only nominal access to Congress.

After a decade of testing, the arrangement was formulated in detail in a compact ratified by both Congress and the people of Puerto Rico in 1952. Subsequently tested in a Puerto Rican plebiscite, it has become the basis for a continuing productive relationship between the two polities. The arrangement has been so successful that it has essentially obliterated the drive for independence on the island. In a series of elections and referenda that have been models of freedom of the ballot in an area not always noted for such freedom, over three-fifths of the population have consistently voted for maintaining the association with the U.S., nearly two-fifths have opted for constituent statehood (that is, to become the 51st state in the American Union), and perhaps three percent have voted for independence.

The most common federacy and associated state relationships are between mainland powers and islands. Even so, there are some examples of this relationship between adjacent mainland territories as between India and Bhutan, Italy and San Marino, and Switzerland and Lichtenstein.

The difference between federacy and associated statehood is that the former is a form of asymmetrical federation; that is to say, in order to change the terms of the union or its constitution, both parties must agree. Associated statehood is a form of asymmetrical confederation in which the original agreement provides for unilateral action on the part of one party or another to dissolve the relationship under specified conditions.

Federacy is a constitutionalized extension of the principle of self rule-shared rule that provides adequate guarantees to the weaker entity while obviating the necessity to deal with the sovereignty issue. Like all applications of the federal principle, it decisively turns away from the preoccupation with the sovereignty question that is characteristic of the modern European nation-state, and has been exported from Europe to various corners of the world for the last century. It focuses on people, not states, as the real repositories of political sovereignty and legitimacy.

The major benefit of the federacy arrangement is that both political entities involved can preserve their respective integrities in essentially undiluted form while maintaining a common framework in areas of mutual agreement. The major drawback is that the arrangement may be a transitional one.

While currently operational federacies may be about equally divided into long-established ones and those of recent vintage, in some cases, at any rate, federacy seems to have been a holding action rather than a final constitutional arrangement. It has led either to the incorporation of the smaller associated polity fully within the larger one, or the separation of the two into completely separate and independent units. An example of the first is India and Sikkim, and of the second, the Netherlands and Surinam. 

When India became independent, Sikkim remained outside the Indian union as an associated state under its own princely ruler. His actions were perceived by India to potentially threaten Indian security in its conflict with China. The Indians engineered a popular revolt in Sikkim against their ruler and a request by the new government to be incorporated as a constituent state within India. On the other hand, the Netherlands Antilles, which became a federacy under the Dutch crown shortly after the end of World War II, later decided that they wished to be independent. The Dutch acquiesced with no further problems. Even if these forms of federalism turn out to be transitional, they have proven themselves to be very useful in moving toward a more permanent status in one direction or another. 

4. Consociation 7

Consociational arrangements represent a potentially non-territorial form of federalism, though, in practice, they seem to work best (and perhaps only work at all) where they are accompanied by some kind of appropriate territorial framework. 

Consociational arrangements involve the formal or semi-formal constitutionalized distribution of power among presumably permanent (i.e., inter-generational) groupings -- religious, ideological, or linguistic -- within a polity so as to guarantee all their ability to maintain their particular ways of life while having a share in the governance of the whole polity. 

They differ from ordinary pluralism in that the polity recognizes the existence of permanent groups, provides them with resources for their self-maintenance, and guarantees them an equal place in the constitutional system that can only be changed through constitutional means. By and large, such arrangements are designed to guarantee religious, ideological and cultural differences and autonomy in the spheres that relate to the maintenance of those differences (e.g., education, mass communications, religious services, etc.).

The consociational framework provides for a general government to handle normal political activities which is either shared through some formula among the several groups (where there is no single majority group, or at least none with a very large majority), or, in rare cases, dominated by one of the groups (where there is a great disparity in size between the majority group and the minorities that benefit from consociational arrangements). 

Consociational arrangements work best where the various groups also have some territorial base, if not formally recognized politically then at least demographically, a "turf" as it were, which eases the problem of maintaining their separate institutions and ways of life. The maintenance of consociational arrangements depends upon either overwhelming power on the part of one group, which seeks to conciliate the minorities among it in order to avoid problems, or a balance among groups that makes it mutually advantageous for all of them to maintain a consociational consensus.

5. Union 8

While there is a real question as to whether union is a form of federalism, it does involve at least a utilization of federal principles in the constitution of the polity. The principle characteristic of a union is that the constituent polities surrender their separate political character and institutions in return for a guaranteed share in the governance of the whole and a guarantee of their continued existence as subpolitical or administrative entities with regional or municipal powers.

The Union of South Africa is a case in point. When it was constituted out of the four colonies or states whose representatives came together in 1910, its founders explicitly rejected federation as an impediment to the Afrikaners' ability to gain control over the whole country. Consequently the constituting entities surrendered all but certain limited powers to the union government, but preserved their own roles in the activation of that government in such a way as to enable them to preserve their respective integrities. In this respect, it was not a unitary state that was created with a single center of power but a compound polity whose framing agent was itself compounded out of the representatives of the constituting units and which provided for the maintenance of this compound structure in the ordinary business of government.

When the Union was replaced by the Republic of South Africa in 1961, one of the purposes of the change was to centralize in the state what power remained with the provinces. The provinces were reduced to strictly municipal entities, basically territorial vessels for the organization of the Nationalist Party, which always has been a federation of provincial party organizations. At the present time, even the structure of provincial government is about to be changed to complete the transformation of the RSA from a territorial union to a consociational polity. The provinces will lose their legislative bodies and be governed by executive councils whose heads will be appointed by the state president. On the other hand, they will be strengthened to serve as vehicles for each of the three ethnoracial groups represented in the government of the republic to organize themselves to provide regional services to their respective populations.

6. Constitutionally Decentralized States 9

In the years since World War II there has developed a group of formerly centralized unitary states which have been divided into regions whose existence and powers are written into the state constitutions. While not fully federal, this constitutional decentralization guarantees a substantial measure of autonomy and home rule to those regions and the regional governments have powers that go beyond those of municipal government. 

In a sense, they are like unions except that constitutionally the state preexisted the regions, devolved some of its powers to them, and the regions do not have a significant share as regions in the governance of the state. The best examples of this form of government are Belgium, Italy, and Spain. Japan, the Solomon Islands, and Sudan also fall into this category. 

Belgium adopted regionalization to accommodate the demands for separate development on the part of the Flemings. In 1988 it moved from regional decentralization to become a full federation.

Italy, which had deliberately rejected federalism when it was unified in the nineteenth century on behalf of a unitary monarchy had always lived with internal tensions based upon separate regional identities, particularly at its peripheries. After World War II, in an effort to prevent the concentration of authority and power which had enabled Mussolini to seize power, the Allies required Italy to provide in its new constitution for special autonomous powers to the five regions on its peripheries, including the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, and somewhat less autonomy for fifteen other regions. 

When Spain reestablished democratic government in 1978 after Franco's death, it sought to accommodate the intense demands for self-determination of the Basques and Catalonians as well as the demands for home rule on the part of Galicians, Andalusians, and other regional groupings, through a constitution which provided for autonomous regions. The most important of these "autonomies" were established through bilateral negotiations with Madrid on the basis of separate constitutional statutes reminiscent of the medieval Spanish fueros. Wisely, the Spanish government insisted that all designated autonomous communities organize themselves accordingly by a specific deadline, thereby effectively federalizing the entire country. Today Spain is a federation in all but name. 

The Allies also required Japan to increase the power of the prefectures in its postwar constitution as a substitute for imposing a full-fledged federal system which General Douglas MacArthur realized was not suited to Japan's political culture. Japan has retained that system, structured around great decentralization of expenditure and subsidiarity in policy-making, whereby prefectural authorities defer to local officials and national authorities to their prefectural counterparts as a matter of routine, even while retaining ultimate authority. 

When Jafar Numieri was the ruler of Sudan, he recognized that the southern third of the country, inhabited by non-Muslims of a different race, needed to be given autonomy. Wisely, he also recognized that an asymmetrical arrangement would not work, so decided that it would be in the interests of the country to divide its whole territory into seven autonomous regions of which the south would be one. He struggled valiantly to make the system work but was only partially successful before he was overthrown. 

7. Unitary States With Federal Arrangements 10

In addition, a growing number of polities which are formally unitary utilize federal arrangements in their organization to accommodate ethnic, religious, linguistic, or ideological differences that exist among their populations. In most cases, these take the form of autonomy arrangements for particular territories or groups. In half of the cases, especially those in which autonomy has been granted to peripheral regions or groups, as in China, Equatorial Guinea, and Iraq, they are no more than pro forma. 

8. Economic Unions and Leagues

A different kind of federal option is economic union, usually built around a customs union, in which two or more politically sovereign states unite to form a common economy for mutual benefit. Southern Africa has such an arrangement, linking the Republic of South Africa with Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland, three independent black states that have never been under South African rule, and the four former South African homelands granted their independence by the RSA. A better example for our purposes is that of the Benelux economic union. 

Such unions may be complete in their specific spheres without providing for any formal linkages in any others.

Leagues normally offer less integration in any single sphere than economic unions, but provide for intergovernmental sharing on a quasi-voluntary basis across several spheres. One of the most visible leagues in recent years has been the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), consisting of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Brunei. The ASEAN nations maintain a common defense policy and intensive cultural and associational links, but have only minimal economic ties. 

An older and more firmly grounded league is the Nordic Council. While formally far less binding than the other federal options, the close ethnic, cultural and religious links among the Nordic states have combined to give the Nordic Council strength which is now being manifested in the economic realm as well. Of the Council members, only Denmark is also a member of the European Community, but since the five countries form a free trade area, the non-member states have begun to use Denmark as their gateway into the Common Market on a duty-free basis.

The foregoing arrangements are at the edges of federalism. Nevertheless, they need to be considered in any pursuit of Israel-Palestinian-Jordanian peace.

Benelux Economic Union

Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg -- the historic "low countries" of northwestern Europe -- had once been under a single government. After the secession of the seven northern provinces in 1581 to form the United Provinces of the Netherlands, the remaining provinces remained under Hapsburg rule until the wars of the French Revolution. In 1815 the southern provinces were reunited with the Netherlands. The nine provinces of Belgium seceeded in 1830, while Luxembourg remained tied to the Netherlands through personal monarchic union until 1890, after which it became fully independent. Belgium and Luxembourg entered into a customs union in 1922. In 1947 the Netherlands agreed to join them. All three states joined the European Community upon its formation and continued their customs union within the framework of the EC.

Since November 1, 1960 the Benelux Economic Union Treaty has been in effect, expanding the original agreement into a complete economic union among the three countries. A joint customs tariff was adopted for imports into the three countries from outside sources and import duties were no longer levied on imports into each of the three countries from the other two.

The Economic Union is governed by a number of institutions. The Committee of Ministers is made up of at least three ministers from each country, usually the ministers of foreign affairs, foreign trade, economic affairs, agriculture, finance and social affairs. Its function is to supervise the implementation of the Benelux Economic Union Treaty. It has the power to establish working parties and joint services to which certain responsibilities may be delegated. 

There also is a Consultative Inter-Parliamentary Council composed of 49 parliamentary delegates, 21 each from the Netherlands and Belgiumand 7 from Luxembourg. Since 1956, it has functioned as an advisory board to the three countries on issues related to Benelux. An annual report is released on cultural relations, foreign policy and the standardization of laws.

The Council of Economic Union consists of one chairman from each member state and the presidents of the committees. Its responsibilities include supervising the implementation of decisiosn voted upon by the committee of ministers and coordinating the activities of the regular and special committees.

There are eight Benelux committees, in the areas of foreign economic relations; monetary and financial; industrial and commercial; agriculture, food and fisheries; customs and taxation; transport; social; and movement and establishment of persons. Special committees deal with coordination of statistics; comparison of government budgets; public tenders; public health; retail, trade and handicrafts; movement of persons (external frontiers control); territorial planning; tourism; administrative and judicial cooperation; and environment.

The secretary-general is always a Netherland representative assisted by two deputy secretaries-general, one Belgian and one Luxembourgian. They are appointed by the Committee of Ministers and directly responsible to them. Joint services are empowered with executive responsibilities. Since 1979, the two which exist are the Benelux office on trademarks and brands and the joint service for the registration of medicaments.

The two Benelux judicial bodies are: 1) the arbitration tribunal, a six-person board whose function is to settle disputes arising from the union's activities; and 2) court of justice which is empowered to give binding interpretations on judicial ruling common to the three countries, advise on interpretations of common judicial ruling, and supervise the legal protection of union employees. There is also an economic and social advisory council consisting of representatives from the member-states economic and social organizations.

The Nordic Council

The Nordic Council was formed in 1953 through a treaty of cooperation between Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. It is an advisory body dealing with economic, social, cultural, environmental, legal and communications issues. Since 1971, the Nordic Council has functioned as the advisory board for the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Under the provisions of a revised treaty of cooperation of 1972 and 1974, the governments of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden formed the Nordic Council of Ministers. The ministers of defense and foreign affairs of the member-states do not participate in this arrangement. 

The Council is composed of 78 delegates elected annually from the parliaments of each member country with participation by non-voting government representatives. The recommendations adopted at the annual meetings are sent to the Nordic Council of Ministers. 

The presidium consists of five members and is empowered with the responsibility to deal with all issues which arise between sessions. There are five standing committees meeting periodically which also convene for joint sessions with the Nordic Council of Ministers. There are also several other special committees. Each delegation to the Nordic Council has a secretariat at its national parliament There is also a cabinet minister appointed by each member-state to serve as a minister for Nordic cooperation. 

Both formal and informal meetings of the Nordic Council of Ministers are held with the participation of ministers of the member-states concerned with the specific area under discussion. There is also a secretariat for Nordic cultural cooperation focusing on education, research, general cultural activities and radio and television. In addition, various sub-committees exist, including a committee of deputies and a committee of senior officials, both dealing with administrative issues.

Areas of discussion deal with agreements and treaties, guidelines for national legislation, recommendations from the Nordic Council, financing of joint studies, and setting up Nordic institutions. All formal decisions must be unanimously approved and are binding on the member governments, except in instances requiring ratification by members' parliaments. The Council of Ministers must report annually to the Nordic Council on its progress and future plans. 

The functions of the secretariat are divided into the following areas:

1) Coordination, budget and legislative issues;
2) Economic cooperation, industry and energy policy, regional policy, cooperation in the building sector, trade and money policy, resources policies, transportation, communications, tourism, development, farming, forestry and fishing.
3) Social policy and health care, labor market issues, occupational environment, environmental protection, and equality and consumer issues.

Federal Combinations

While in the foregoing pages, each particular federal arrangement has been presented as exclusive, in reality, many polities are combinations of more than one arrangement, sometimes in overlapping ways and sometimes in the variety of options offered within the polity as a whole. 

It has already been noted that consociational arrangements tend to be longer lived when they are implemented within federations. 

Austria, Belgium, and Switzerland are the best examples of this. Austria and Switzerland were federal before they were consociational, while Belgium moved from simple consociationalism to territorial federalism while also being part of a customs union with Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Even in the Netherlands the existence of strong provincial and local governments made it easier to implement consociational arrangements when they were at their peak. As those arrangements decline, they are being replaced by increasing decentralization to the territorial units.

In addition, most of the classic federal systems, while based on one dominant federal arrangement, are likely to include others as well. So, for example, the United States, a federation of 50 states, has developed federacy arrangements with Puerto Rico, the Northern Marianas, and, in a semi-recognized way, with the Indian tribes within its borders. It is in the process of developing associated state relationships with the three republics of Micronesia, one of which is a federation in its own right. Finally, many of the American states are unions of their counties or towns, and offer the latter extensive constitutional home rule. Or, to take a different example, the United Kingdom is a union with different arrangements for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, plus federacy arrangements with its offshore islands and some of its remaining West Indian territories. the remaining colonies all have constitutional home rule.

The Will to Federate 

Given this variety and flexibility of federal principles and arrangements, the scope which federalism offers for the solution of complex problems of political organization is great indeed. If there is a will to federate, it is likely that a suitable arrangement can be found. What is crucial, however, is that those who must build a political life together must have the will to do so and to do so on a federal basis. Lacking that will, even the great scope which federalism provides is insufficient.

The will to federate need not be based upon a strong commitment to federalism per se or even to one's potential partners per se. It is sufficient if the constituent parties develop the will to federate for lack of any alternative or to achieve minimal common goals which they recognize can be achieved in no other way. There are federal systems based upon the idea that federalism itself is a comprehensive human end, but there are far more whose will to federate is based upon such very limited common ends as the need to foster military security, to promote economic prosperity or simply to maintain law and order among peoples and polities that history and geography have placed adjacent to one another. With the proper spirit, that is quite sufficient.

While it is by no means certain that the parties to the Israeli-Arab conflict have the will to federate, there is no reason to presuppose that they cannot. The objective conditions for federal solutions prevail and the historical experience of the peoples involved does not preclude the development of a will to federate although it makes it difficult to achieve. One other question remains, however, that is, is there a sufficient cultural basis for federation among these peoples?

While scholars are not united on this point, there is a growing tendency to understand one of the major factors in successful implementation and maintenance of federal systems as the existence of a federal political culture among the constituent population. Such a political culture includes a commitment to democratic government, a willingness to accept pluralism and power-sharing, a penchant for resolving conflicts through negotiation, and a sense of self-restraint in pursuing political goals and in the exercise of power, even where it is available to be exercised. 

Many of these are predispositions which are generally related to democratic government, but they go somewhat beyond that by including a commitment to power-sharing. While a federal political culture is not sufficient in and of itself -- constitutionally established arrangements are of the essence in the preservation of federal systems -- it does seem to be one major element in making the constitutional arrangements work.

The basis for such a political culture exists among the Jews, rooted as they are in a theo-political tradition with a strong covenantal dimension. They should certainly be open to federal solutions from a tactical point of view. 

Since federal principles are derived from the covenant idea (indeed the world "federal" is derived from the Latin foedus, meaning covenant), there is a natural relationship, one which can be traced back to the Bible where the first political manifestation of God's covenant with Israel was the confederation of the twelve tribes. 

On the other hand, there is a tendency for covenanted peoples to be able to develop close ties only with other covenanted peoples. Since the Jews see themselves as a covenanted people and do not see the Arabs as such, this may serve to neutralize the federal impulses which their religion introduces into their culture.

No generalization can be made about the Arabs as a group. Rather, different corners of the Arab world have different cultural orientations. The Egyptians, for example, have nothing in their history to indicate a predisposition toward power-sharing. Quite to the contrary, since the days of the Pharaohs their very national existence has been based upon a strong hierarchical order. 

At the same time, the village and familial structure of the Palestinians provides for a strong measure of institutionalized decentralization. The Bedouin tribes have a background which is more open to federal arrangements, since they have maintained confederal links among clans and tribes since time immemorial that was always grounded in putative kinship ties. 

In general, modern Arab states have relied on centralization and hierarchical organization, combining the spirit of traditional Arab imperial rule with the theory and practice of the modern European state. On balance, then, the possibility that a federal political culture could develop in the land is a real one, even if the predispositions toward it are not uniform throughout the societies involved.

Thinking Federal 

In thinking about the organization of power in any federal arrangement, it is necessary to remove the hierarchical images which in our times have normally accompanied thinking about states and to reconceptualize them as cybernetic models in place of federal power pyramids. 

The very idea of federalism is based upon a matrix model in which a number of political arenas, each with its own governing institutions, are linked to one another for purposes of power-sharing in specified spheres on a self-rule/shared rule basis. There is no higher and lower among them. By combining they introduce a synergism into their efforts to solve problems, to gain mutual goals or mutual advantage. In this sense, federalism is a political application of the principles of cybernetics which we now see sweeping the world, not only to reorganize the means of communication but reorganizing the workplace, education, health care, and so many vital services. 

It is no wonder that so much of the world is undergoing a federalist revolution in its political arrangements at the same time. Forty years ago a federal solution still involved some measure of swimming against the stream at a time when every people sought exclusive statehood for itself. Today it is a matter of leaping forward into the twenty-first century by recognizing the realities of the cybernetic frontier.


1. This definition of federalism is presented and developed in Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Self-Rule/Shared Rule (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984).

2. Daniel J. Elazar, Exploring Federalism (University, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1986), includes an extensive bibliography on federalism.

3. For up-to-date information on polities in the catogories presented here, see Daniel J. Elazar, et al., Handbook of Federal and Autonomy Arrangements (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, forthcoming).

4. On federations, see Ivo Duchacek, Comparative Federalism: The Territorial Dimension of Politics (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1987); William S. Livingston, Federalism and Constitutional Change (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956); K.C. Wheare, Federal Government (New York: Oxford University Press, Galaxy Book, 1964); Arthur W. Macmahon, Federalism: Mature and Emergent (New York: Russell and Russell, 1962); Preston King, Federalism and Federation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982); Rufus S. Davis, The Federal Principle: A Journey Through Time in Quest of a Meaning (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1970).

5. On contemporary confederations, see Mauro Cappeletti, Integration Through Law: Europe and the American Federal Experience (Firenze: Walter de Gruyter, 1986); E.H. Freeman, A History of Federal Government in Greece and Italy, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillian, 1982).

6. On federacy and associated state arrangements, Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Handbook of Federal and Autonmy Arrangements, and Exploring Federalism; R. Michael Stevens, "Asymmetrical Federalism: The Federal Principle and the Survival of the Small Republic," Publius 7:4 (1977): 177-204; Robert I. Ratborg, and John Barret, eds., Conflict and Compromise in South Africa (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1980).

On Belgium, see Frank Delmartino, "Regionalisation in Belgium: Evaluation of an Ongoing Institutional Crisis," European Journal of Political Research 16 (1988): 381-394; G.V. Stephenson, "Cultural Regionalism and the Unitary State Idea in Belgium," Geographical Review 62 (October 1972): 501-523; Jean Beaufays, "Belgium: A Dualist Political System?" Publius 18:2 (Spring 1988); R. Denolf, "Federalism in Belgium as a Constitutional Problem," Res Republica 10:3 (1968): 383-406.

On Spain, see Cesar Enrique Diaz Lopez, "The State of the Autonomic Process," Publius 11:3-4 (Summer 1981); "Votes By the Basques and Catalans Seem to Favor Home-Rule Statutes," The New York Times (October 26, 1979). On Italy, see Dan Segre, Regionalism in Italy -- An International Conflict Internalized (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Federal Studies, January 1978); Fabio Lorenzoni, "Italian Accommodation of Cultural Differences," in Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Governing Peoples and Territories; Robert Leonardi, Rafaella Y. Nanetti, and Robert D. Putnam, "Devolution as a Political Process: The Case of Italy," Publius 11:1 (Winter 1981).

7. On consociations and consociationalism, see K.D. McRae, ed., Consociational Democracy: Political Accommodation in Segmented Societies (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974); Gerhard Lehmbruch, "Federalism and Consociationalism: Some Comments." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (Chicago, September 1983), pp. 1-2; Arend Lijphart, "Consociation and Federation: Conceptual and Empirical Links," Canadian Journal of Political Science 12 (September 1979): 499, and Democracies: Patterns of Majoritanian and Consensus Government in Twenty-One Countries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984); Federalism and Consociationalism: A Symposium, a special edition of Publius 15:2 (Spring 1985).

8. There has been almost nothing written on the theory of union and only a limited literature on the union dimension of existing unions. See Richard Rose, The Territorial Dimension in Government: Understanding the United Kingdom (Chatham, N.J.: Chatham House, 1982).

9. On constitutionally decentralized states, see C. Lloyd Brown-John, "Introduction: Centralizing and Decentralizing Trends in Federal States," in Centralizing and Decentralizing Trends in Federal States (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1988); Cesar Enrique Diaz Lopez, "The State of the Autonomic Process in Spain," Publius 11:3-4 (Summer 1981): 193-218; Keith G. Banting and Richard Simeon, eds., The Politics of Constitutional Change in International Societies; Redesigning the State (London: MacMillan Press, 1986); Richard Simeon, "Considerations on Centralization and Decentralization," Canadian Public Administration 29:3 (1986): 445-461.

10. See Handbook of Federal and Autonomy Arrangements. 



Mail Us Copyright 1998/2009 All Rights Reserved Home