Territorial organization of European countries

Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government (the central or 'federal' government) with regional governments (provincial, state, cantonal, territorial or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system. Its distinctive feature, exemplified in the founding example of modern federalism by the United States of America under the Constitution of 1787, is a relationship of parity between the two levels of government established.[1] It can thus be defined as a form of government in which there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status.[2]

Federalism differs from confederalism, in which the general level of government is subordinate to the regional level, and from devolution within a unitary state, in which the regional level of government is subordinate to the general level.[3] It represents the central form in the pathway of regional integration or separation,[4] bounded on the less integrated side by confederalism and on the more integrated side by devolution within a unitary state.[5]

Leading examples of the federation or federal state include the United States, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Argentina, Australia and India. Some also today characterize the European Union as the pioneering example of federalism in a multi-state setting, in a concept termed the federal union of states.[6]


The pathway of regional integration or separation

The terms 'federalism' and 'confederalism' both have a root in the Latin word foedus, meaning "treaty, pact or covenant." Their common meaning until the late eighteenth century was a simple league or inter-governmental relationship among sovereign states based upon a treaty. They were therefore initially synonyms. It was in this sense that James Madison in Federalist 39 had referred to the new United States as 'neither a national nor a federal Constitution, but a composition of both' (i.e. neither a single large unitary state nor a league/confederation among several small states, but a hybrid of the two).[7] In the course of the nineteenth century the meaning of federalism would come to shift, strengthening to refer uniquely to the novel compound political form, while the meaning of confederalism would remain at a league of states.[8] Thus, this article relates to the modern usage of the word 'federalism'.

Modern federalism is a system based upon democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between national and provincial/state governments. The term federalist describes several political beliefs around the world depending on context.

Federalism is sometimes viewed as in the context of international negotiation as "the best system for integrating diverse nations, ethnic groups, or combatant parties, all of whom may have cause to fear control by an overly powerful center."[9] However, in some countries, those skeptical of federal prescriptions believe that increased regional autonomy is likely to lead to secession or dissolution of the nation.[9] In Syria, federalization proposals have failed in part because "Syrians fear that these borders could turn out to be the same as the ones that the fighting parties have currently carved out."[9]

Federations such as Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia collapsed as soon as it was possible to put the model to the test.[10]

Explanations for adoption of federalist systems

According to Daniel Ziblatt's Structuring the State, there are four competing theoretical explanations in the academic literature for the adoption of federal systems:

  1. Ideational theories, which hold that a greater degree of ideological commitment to decentralist ideas in society makes federalism more likely to be adopted.
  2. Cultural-historical theories, which hold that federal institutions are more likely to be adopted in societies with culturally or ethnically fragmented populations.
  3. "Social contract" theories, which hold that federalism emerges as a bargain between a center and a periphery where the center is not powerful enough to dominate the periphery and the periphery is not powerful enough to secede from the center.
  4. "Infrastructural power" theories, which hold that federalism is likely to emerge when the subunits of a potential federation already have highly developed infrastructures (e.g. they are already constitutional, parliamentary, and administratively modernized states).[11]
Other Languages
Alemannisch: Föderalismus
العربية: فدرالية
ܐܪܡܝܐ: ܦܕܪܠܝܐ
asturianu: Federalismu
беларуская: Федэралізм
भोजपुरी: संघवाद
български: Федерализъм
català: Federació
Cebuano: Pederalismo
čeština: Federalismus
Cymraeg: Ffederaliaeth
Deutsch: Föderalismus
español: Federalismo
Esperanto: Federaciismo
euskara: Federalismo
فارسی: فدرالیسم
français: Fédéralisme
furlan: Federalisim
galego: Federalismo
한국어: 연방주의
हिन्दी: संघवाद
Bahasa Indonesia: Federalisme
italiano: Federalismo
עברית: פדרליזם
ქართული: ფედერალიზმი
қазақша: Федерализм
Limburgs: Federalisme
lumbaart: Federalism
मैथिली: सङ्घीयता
مازِرونی: فدرالیسم
Bahasa Melayu: Federalisme
Nederlands: Federalisme
नेपाली: सङ्घीयता
日本語: 連邦主義
norsk nynorsk: Føderalisme
occitan: Federalisme
polski: Federalizm
română: Federalism
русский: Федерализм
Scots: Federalism
Simple English: Federalism
slovenčina: Federalizmus
Soomaaliga: Federaaliisim
کوردی: فێدراڵیزم
српски / srpski: Федерализам
svenska: Federalism
Tagalog: Pederalismo
Thuɔŋjäŋ: Miiriwatwuɔt
українська: Федералізм
中文: 联邦主义