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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A confederation is an association of sovereign member states, that by treaty have delegated certain of their competences to common institutions, in order to coordinate their policies in a number of areas, without constituting a new state on top of the member states. Under international law a confederation respects the sovereignty of its members and its constituting treaty can only be changed by unanimous agreement.

A confederation in modern political terms is a permanent union of sovereign states for common action in relation to other states.[1] Usually created by treaty but often later adopting a common constitution, confederations tend to be established for dealing with critical issues such as defense, foreign affairs or a common currency, with the central government being required to provide support for all members.

The nature of the relationship among the states constituting a confederation varies considerably. Likewise, the relationship between the member states, the central government and the distribution of powers among them, is highly variable. Some looser confederations are similar to intergovernmental organizations, while tighter confederations may resemble federations.

In a non-political context, confederation is used to describe a type of organization which consolidates authority from other semi-autonomous bodies. Examples include sports confederations or confederations of Pan-European trades unions.

In Canada, the word confederation has an additional, unrelated meaning.[citation needed] It refers to the process of (or the event of) establishing a federation.[citation needed] Canadian Confederation generally refers to the Constitution Act, 1867 which initially united three colonies of British North America (Province of Canada, Province of New Brunswick and Province of Nova Scotia), and to the subsequent incorporation of other colonies and territories; Canada, however, is a federation and not a confederation, since it is a sovereign nation-state.


Confederation vs federation

By definition the difference between a confederation and a federation is that the membership of the member states in a confederation is voluntary, while the membership in a federation is not.[2][3][4][5] A confederation is most likely to feature these differences over a federation:

  • (1) No real direct powers: many confederal decisions are externalised by member-state legislation.
  • (2) Decisions on day-to-day-matters are not taken by simple majority but by special majorities or even by consensus or unanimity (veto for every member).
  • (3) Changes of the constitution, usually a treaty, require unanimity.[citation needed]



Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Confederation, has been the most notable modern example of a confederation.[6][7][8] It has been a confederacy since its inception in 1291, and so remains namely to the present day. The Old Swiss Confederacy was originally created as an alliance among the valley communities of the central Alps. The confederacy facilitated management of common interests (free trade) and ensured peace on the important mountain trade. It should be noted, however, that Switzerland is a confederation only in name as, after the civil war of 1847 when some of the Catholic cantons tried to set up a separate alliance (the Sonderbundskrieg), the resulting political system acquired all the characteristics of a federation.[9]

Iroquois League

The Iroquois League, historically the Iroquois Confederacy, is a group of First Nations/Native Americans that consist of six nations: the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Seneca and the Tuscarora. The Iroquois have a representative government known as the Grand Council. The Grand Council is the oldest governmental institution still maintaining its original form in North America.[10] Each tribe sends chiefs to act as representatives and make decisions for the whole nation.

European Union

Due to its unique nature, and political sensitivities surrounding it, there is no common or legal classification of for the European Union (EU). However, it does bear some resemblance to a confederation or federation. The EU operates common economic policies with hundreds of common laws to enable a single economic market, open internal borders, a common currency and numerous other areas where powers have been transferred and directly applicable laws are made. However unlike a federation the EU does not have exclusive powers over foreign affairs, defence and taxation. Furthermore: laws sometimes needs transcribing into national law by national parliaments; decisions by member states are taken by special majorities with blocking minorities accounted form; and treaty amendment requires ratification by every member state before it can come into force.

However academic observers more usually discuss the EU in the terms of it being a federation;[11][12]

Europe has charted its own brand of constitutional federalism.
Those uncomfortable using the “F” word in the EU context should feel free to refer to it as a quasi-federal or federal-like system. Nevertheless, for the purposes of the analysis here, the EU has the necessary attributes of a federal system. It is striking that while many scholars of the EU continue to resist analyzing it as a federation, most contemporary students of federalism view the EU as a federal system (See for instance, Bednar, Filippov et al., McKay, Kelemen, Defigueido and Weingast).
— (R. Daniel Kelemen, Rutgers University)


Many authors are now speaking of Belgium as a country with some aspects of a confederation. C.E. Lagasse wrote it about the agreements between Belgian Regions and Communities: We are near the political system of a Confederation.[13] Vincent de Coorebyter, Director of the CRISP [14] wrote in Le Soir Belgian is undoubtedly a federation... [but] has some aspects of a confederation[15] Michel Quévit, Professor at the Université Catholique de Louvain wrote also in Le Soir The Belgian political system is already in dynamics of a Confederation.[16] The same author wrote already about this issue in 1984 with other Professors.[17]

Historic confederations

The monarchs of the member states of the German Confederation meet in Frankfurt in 1863.

Note that historical confederations (especially those predating the 20th century) may not fit the current definition of a confederation, may be proclaimed as a federation but be confederal (or the reverse), and may not show any qualities that are today recognized as those of a federation.

Some have more the characteristics of a personal union, but they are listed here because of their own self-styling.

See also


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Haller/Kölz, p. 147
  10. ^ Jennings, p.94
  11. ^ Josselin, Jean Michel; Marciano, Alain (2006), The political economy of European federalism, Series : Public Economics and Social Choice, Centre for Research in Economics and Management, University of Rennes 1, University of Caen, p. 12, WP 2006-07; UMR CNRS 6211,, "A complete shift from a confederation to a federation would have required to straightforwardly replace the principalship of the member states vis-à-vis the Union by that of the European citizens. [. . .] As a consequence, both confederate and federate features coexist in the judicial landscape." 
  12. ^ How the court made a federation of the EU [1].Josselin (U de Rennes-1/CREM) and Marciano (U de Reims CA/CNRS).
  13. ^ French Le confédéralisme n'est pas loin Charles-Etienne Lagasse, Les nouvelles institutions politiques de la Belgique et de l'Europe, Erasme, Namur 2003, p. 405 ISBN 2-87127-783-4
  14. ^ Belgian research center whose activities are devoted to the study of decision-making in Belgium and in Europe
  15. ^ French La Belgique est (...) incontestablement, une fédération : il n’y a aucun doute (...) Cela étant, la fédération belge possède d’ores et déjà des traits confédéraux qui en font un pays atypique, et qui encouragent apparemment certains responsables à réfléchir à des accommodements supplémentaires dans un cadre qui resterait, vaille que vaille, national Vincent de Coorebyter "La Belgique (con)fédérale" in Le Soir 24 june 2008
  16. ^ French Le système institutionnel belge est déjà inscrit dans une dynamique de type confédéral Michel Quévit Le confédéralisme est une chance pour les Wallons et les Bruxellois, Le Soir, 19 september 2008
  17. ^ Robert Deschamps, Michel Quévit, Robert Tollet, Vers une réforme de type confédéral de l'État belge dans le cadre du maintien de l'union monétaire, in Wallonie 84, n°2, pp. 95-111

External links

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Proper noun




  1. In Canada, the federal union of provinces and territories which formed Canada, beginning with New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec, and later including all the others.
    1. In Canada, the date of Confederation; 1 July 1867.
  2. In Newfoundland, the political union of Newfoundland with Canada.
    1. In Newfoundland, the date of Confederation; 31 March 1949.

Derived terms

  • Confederation Day
  • Confederation poets

Related terms

Simple English

A confederation is a group of countries that, by treaty, have given some of their powers to a central government. They do this in order to coordinate their actions in a number of areas. This is like a federation, but without the association being a new country.

A confederation is not the same as a federation, but they have a similarity. A confederation is a group of countries, a federation is a country.

The only example today, is the European Union. Switzerland has the latin name Confœderatio Helvetica, although it is not a confederation in this sense, but a federation.

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