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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A map showing current federal states (in green).

Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant (Latin: foedus, covenant) with a governing representative head. The term federalism is also used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units (like states or provinces). Federalism is a system in which the power to govern is shared between national and central (state) governments, creating what is often called a federation. Proponents are often called federalists.

Federalism is the type of politics wherein a group of members create a sovereign constitution with central governing authority and political units.

In Europe, "federalist" is sometimes used to describe those who favour a common federal government, with distributed power at regional, national and supranational levels. Most European Federalists want this development to continue within the European Union. European federalism originated in post-war Europe; one of the more important initiatives was Winston Churchill's speech in Zurich in 1946.[1]

In Canada, federalism implies opposition to sovereigntist movements (usually those of Quebec). The same is historically true in the United States. Advocates of a weaker federal government and stronger state governments are those that generally favor confederation, often related to early "anti-federalists" and later the Confederacy.

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, India and Malaysia among others, are also federal countries.

Federalism may encompass as few as two or three internal divisions, as is the case in Belgium or Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ecclesiastic and theological federalism also exist within some Christian denominations.

In general, two extremes of federalism can be distinguished. In practice, however, there is always a mixture of both.


Examples of Federalism

Federalism in Europe

Several federal systems do exist in Europe, such as Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Belgium and the European Union. Germany and the EU are the only examples in the world where the upper federal houses (the Bundesrat and the Council), is neither elected nor appointed, but is composed of the governments of their constituents.

In Germany, during the first part of the twentieth century, Adolf Hitler viewed federalism as an obstacle. As he wrote in Mein Kampf, "National Socialism must claim the right to impose its principles on the whole German nation, without regard to what were hitherto the confines of federal states."

In Britain, federalism has long been proposed as a solution to the "Irish Problem", and more lately, the "West Lothian question"[2]

European Union

Following the end of World War II, several movements began advocating a European federation, such as the Union of European Federalists or the European Movement, founded in 1948. Those organizations were influential in the European unification process, but never in a decisive way.[citation needed]

The European Union has many of the characteristics of federalism. The European federalists campaigned in favour of a directly elected European Parliament (est. 1979), and were among the first to put a European Constitution on the agenda.[citation needed] Opponents of European federalists are both those in favour of a lesser role for the EU and those who wish for the EU to be ruled by national governments rather than with an elected parliament, and the commission becoming just a secretariat of the council.[citation needed] Although federalism was mentioned both in the drafts of the Maastricht treaty and the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, it was never accepted by the representatives of the member countries. The strongest advocates of European federalism have been Germany, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg while those historically most strongly opposed have been France and the United Kingdom; also other countries that have never pronounced specifically about the way of governance in Europe are considered as federalists.[citation needed] It is the case of states such as Spain, Portugal, Greece, or even Hungary. It is also remarkable that in recent times the French government have become increasingly pro-European Union and countries like Poland or the Czech Republic have taken on the roles of primary opponents to a stronger EU.

Europe has charted its own brand of constitutional federalism.(Joseph H. H. Weiler)

[citation needed]

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)


On 1 January 1901 the Australian nation emerged as a fornication. The model of Australian federalism adheres closely to the original model of the United States of America, though through a Westminster system.


The fall of Brazilian monarchy in 1889 by a milary coup d'état led to the rise of the presidential system, headed by Deodoro da Fonseca. Aided by well-known jurist Ruy Barbosa, Fonseca established federalism in Brazil by decree, but this system of government would be confirmed by every Brazilian constitution since 1891, although some of them would distort some of the federalist principles. The 1937 Constitution, for example, granted the federal government the loveable to appoint State Governors (called interventors) at will, thus centralizing power in the hands of President Getúlio Vargas. Brazil also uses the Fonseca system to regulate trade.

The Brazilian Constitution of 1988 introduced a new component to the ideas of federalism, including local governments as federal entities. Brazilian cities are now invested with some of the traditional powers usually granted to states in federalism, and although they are not allowed to have a Constitution, they are structured by an organic law.


Canada is divided into 10 separate provinces and 3 territories.

In Canada, the system of federalism is described by the division of powers between the federal parliament and the country's provincial governments. Under the Constitution Act (previously known as the British North America Act) of 1867, specific powers of legislation are allotted. Section 91 of the constitution gives rise to federal authority for legislation, whereas section 92 gives rise to provincial powers.

For matters not directly dealt with in the constitution, the federal government retains residual powers; however, conflict between the two levels of government, relating to which level has legislative jurisdiction over various matters, has been a longstanding and evolving issue. Areas of contest include legislation with respect to regulation of the economy, taxation, and natural resources.


Indian state governments led by various political parties as of March 2009

The Government of India (referred to as the Union Government) was established by the Constitution of India, and is the governing authority of a federal union of 28 states and 7 union territories.

The governance of India is based on a tiered system, wherein the Constitution of India appropriates the subjects on which each tier of government has executive powers. The Constitution uses the Seventh Schedule to delimit the subjects under three categories, namely the Union list, the State list and the Concurrent list.

Asymmetric federalism

A distinguishing aspect of Indian federalism is that unlike many other forms of federalism, it is asymmetric[3]. Article 370 makes special provisions for the state of Jammu and Kashmir as per its Instrument of Accession. Article 371 makes special provisions for the states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Sikkim as per their accession or state-hood deals. Also one more aspect of Indian federalism is system of President's Rule in which the central government (through its appointed Governor) takes control of state's administration for certain months when no party can form a government in the state or there is violent disturbance in the state.

Coalition politics

Although the Constitution did not envisage it, India is now a multi-lingual federation[4]. India has a multi-party system with political allegiances frequently based on linguistic, regional and caste identities[5], necessitating coalition politics, especially at the Union level.

United States

The United States is divided into a number of separate states, each with varying amounts of government and power.

Federalism in the United States is the evolving relationship between state governments and the federal government of the United States.

Because the states were preexisting political entities, the U.S. Constitution did not need to define or explain federalism in any one section. However, it contains numerous mentions of the rights and responsibilities of state governments and state officials vis-à-vis the federal government. The federal government has certain express powers (also called enumerated powers) which are powers spelled out in the Constitution, including the right to levy taxes, declare war, and regulate interstate and foreign commerce. In addition, the Necessary and Proper Clause gives the federal government the implied power to pass any law "necessary and proper" for the execution of its express powers. Powers that the Constitution does not delegate to the federal government or forbid to the states—the reserved powers—are reserved to the people or the states.[6] The power delegated to the federal government was significantly expanded by amendments to the Constitution following the Civil War, and by some later amendments—as well as the overall claim of the Civil War, that the states were legally subject to the final dictates of the federal government.

The Federalist party of the United States was dissolved in 1824. Prior to this, they were heavily opposed by the anti-federalist party, which included powerful figures such as Thomas Jefferson. The anti-federalists mainly believed that:

a) The Legislative had too much power (mainly because of the Necessary and Proper Clause) and that they were unchecked.

b) The Executive branch had too much power, and that there was no check on him. A dictator would arise.

c) A bill of rights should be coupled with the constitution to prevent a dictator (then believed to eventually be the president) from exploiting citizens. The federalists, on the other hand, argued that it was impossible to list all the rights, and those that were not listed could be easily overlooked because they were not in the official bill of rights. Rather, rights in specific cases were to be decided by the judicial system of courts.

After the Civil War, the federal government increased greatly in size and influence, in terms of its influence on everyday life and its size relative to the state governments. There are several reasons for this, including the need to regulate businesses and industries that span state borders, attempts to secure civil rights, and the provision of social services.

Many people believe that the federal government has grown beyond the bounds permitted by the express powers. From 1938 until 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court did not invalidate any federal statute as exceeding Congress' power under the Commerce Clause for over fifty years until United States v. Lopez overturned the power of the Federal government under the Commerce Clause (see also, challenging the Gun-Free School Zones Act). However, most actions by the federal government can find some legal support among the express powers, such as the Commerce Clause. The Commerce Clause is used by Congress to justify certain federal laws, but its applicability has been narrowed by the Supreme Court in recent years. For example, the Supreme Court rejected the Gun-Free School Zones Act in the aforementioned Lopez decision, and they also rejected the civil remedy portion of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 in the United States v. Morrison decision. Recently, the Commerce Clause was interpreted to include marijuana laws in the Gonzales v. Raich decision.

Dual federalism holds that the federal government and the state governments are co-equals, each sovereign. In this theory, parts of the Constitution are interpreted narrowly, such as the Tenth Amendment, the Supremacy Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, and the Commerce Clause. Under this narrow interpretation, the federal government has jurisdiction only if the Constitution clearly grants such. In this case, there is a large group of powers belonging to the states or the people, and the federal government is limited to only those powers explicitly listed in the Constitution.[7]

However, dual federalism also holds the federal government as the final judge of its own powers. The establishment of Native American governments (which are separate and distinct from state and federal government) exercising limited powers of sovereignty, has given rise to the concept of "bi-federalism."

Federalism with two components


Main articles: Belgian federal government, Belgian federal parliament and Communities, regions and language areas of Belgium

Federalism in the Kingdom of Belgium is an evolving system. Belgian federalism reflects both the linguistic communities (French and Dutch, and to a lesser extent German) and the economic regions (Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia). These correspond to the language areas in Belgium. Although officially there are four language areas, for all practical purposes only two languages are relevant on the federal level, Dutch and French:

  • Brussels is officially a bilingual area, but it has a French-speaking majority.[8]
  • Flanders is the region associated with the Belgium's Dutch-speaking majority, i.e. the Flemish Community.
  • Due to its relatively small size (approximately one percent) the German-speaking Community of Belgium does not have much influence on national politics.
  • Wallonia is a French-speaking area, except for the East Cantons. French is the second most spoken first language in Belgium, following Dutch. Within the French-speaking Community of Belgium, there is a geographical and political distinction between Wallonia and Brussels for historical and sociological reasons.[9]

On one hand, this means that the Belgian political landscape, generally speaking, consists of only two components: the Dutch-speaking population represented by Dutch-language political parties, and the majority populations of Wallonia and Brussels, represented by their French-speaking parties. The Brussels region emerges as a third component.[10] This specific dual form of federalism, with the special position of Brussels, consequentially has a number of political issues -even minor ones- that are being fought out over the Dutch/French-language political division. With such issues, a final decision is only possible in the form of a compromise. This tendency gives this dual federalism model a number of traits that generally are ascribed to confederalism, and makes the future of Belgian federalism contentious.[11][12]

On the other hand, Belgian federalism is federated with three components. An affirmative resolution concerning Brussels' place in the federal system passed in the parliaments of Wallonia and Brussels.[13][14] These resolutions passed against the desires of Dutch-speaking parties, who are generally in favour of a federal system with two components (i.e. the Dutch and French Communities of Belgium). However, the Flemish representatives in the Parliament of the Brussels Capital-Region voted in favour of the Brussels resolution, with the exception of one party. The chairman of the Walloon Parliament stated on July 17, 2008 that, "Brussels would take an attitude".[15] Brussels' parliament passed the resolution on July 18, 2008:

The Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region approves with great majority a resolution claiming the presence of Brussels itself at the negotiations of the reformation of the Belgian State.[14] July 18, 2008

This aspect of Belgian federalism helps to explain the difficulties of partition; Brussels, with its importance, is linked both to Wallonia and Flanders and vice-versa. This situation, however, does not erase the traits of a confederation in the Belgian system.

Other examples

FIAV 111111.svg Official flag of Iraqi Kurdistan Ratio: 2:3

Current examples of two-sided federalism:

Historical examples of two-sided federalism include:

  • The 1960 Constitution of Cyprus was based on the same ideas, but the union of Greeks and Turks failed. Also, Tanzania, which is the union of Tanganika and Zanzibar.
  • Iraq adapted a federal system in 15 October 2005, and formally recognized the Kurdistan region of Iraq as the county's first and currently only federal region. See Constitution of Iraq for more information regarding Iraq's method of creating federal entities.

Christian Church

Federalism also finds expression in ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). For example, presbyterian church governance resembles parliamentary republicanism (a form of political federalism) to a large extent. In Presbyterian denominations, the local church is ruled by elected elders, some of which are ministerial. Each church then sends representatives or commissioners to presbyteries and further to a general assembly. Each greater level of assembly has ruling authority over its constituent members. In this governmental structure, each component has some level of sovereignty over itself. As in political federalism, in presbyterian ecclesiology there is shared sovereignty.

Other ecclesiologies also have significant representational and federalistic components, including the more anarchic congregational ecclesiology, and even in more hierarchical episcopal ecclesiology.

Some Christians argue that the earliest source of political federalism (or federalism in human institutions; in contrast to theological federalism) is the ecclesiastical federalism found in the Bible. They point to the structure of the early Christian Church as described (and to many, prescribed) in the New Testament. This is particularly demonstrated in the Council of Jerusalem, described in Acts chapter 15, where the Apostles and elders gathered together to govern the Church; the Apostles being representatives of the universal Church, and elders being such for the local church. To this day, elements of federalism can be found in almost every Christian denomination, some more than others; although the Roman Catholic Church has almost completely rejected this model in favour of the absolute authority of the Pope and a very centralized, top-down power structure.

See also


  1. ^ | Winston Churchill's speech in Zurich in 1946
  2. ^ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/talking_politics/82358.stm "UK Politics: Talking Politics The West Lothian Question"]. BBC News. 1998-06-01. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/talking_politics/82358.stm. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  3. ^ Indian Constitution at Work The Philosophy of the Constitution, NCERT, Pg. 232.
  4. ^ Indian Constitution at Work The Philosophy of the Constitution, NCERT, Pg. 233.
  5. ^ Johnson, A "Federalism: The Indian Experience ", HSRC Press,1996, Pg 3, ISBN 0796916993
  6. ^ "THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA With Explanatory Notes". U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programs. http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/constitution/supreme.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  7. ^ "Constitutional Topic: Federalism". The U.S. Constitution Online. http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_fedr.html. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  8. ^ (Dutch)”Taalgebruik in Brussel en de plaats van het Nederlands. Enkele recente bevindingen”, Rudi Janssens, Brussels Studies, Nummer 13, 7 January 2008 (see page 4).
  9. ^ Historically, the Walloons were for a federalism with three components and the Flemings for two. (See: Witte, Els & Craeybeckx, Jan. Politieke geschiedenis van België. Antwerpen, SWU, pp. 455, 459-460.) This difference is one of the elements which makes the Belgian issue so complicated. The Flemings wanted to defend their language while the Walloons wanted to defend their economy: It is true that the Walloon movement, which has never stopped affirming that Wallonia is part of the French cultural area, has never made this cultural struggle a priority, being more concerned to struggle against its status as a political minority and the economic decline which was only a corollary to it. (Wallonia today - The search for an identity without nationalist mania - (1995)
  10. ^ Charles Picqué, Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region said in a September, 2008 declaration in Namur at the National Walloon Feast : It is impossible to have a debate about the future institutions of Belgian State without Brussels. (French Il n'est d'ailleurs, pas question d'imaginejtr un débat institutionnel dont Bruxelles serait exclu. [1]) The Brussels-Capital Region has claimed and obtained a special place in the current negotiations about the reformation of the Belgian state. (French Pendant 18 ans, Bruxelles est demeurée sans statut (...) L'absence de statut pour Bruxelles s'expliquait par la différence de vision que partis flamands et partis francophones en avaient: [les partis flamands étaient] allergiques à la notion de Région (...) les francophones (...) considéraient que Bruxelles devait devenir une Région à part entière (...) Les partis flamands ont accepté [en 1988] la création d'une troisième Région et l'exercice par celle-ci des mêmes compétences que celles des deux autres... C.E. Lagasse, Les nouvelles institutions politiques de la Belgique et de l'Europe, Erasme, Namur, 2003, pp. 177- 178 ISBN 2-87127-783-4)
  11. ^ "Brussels". Encyclopædia Britannica. http://concise.britannica.com/dday/print?articleId=106096&fullArticle=true&tocId=9680. 
  12. ^ "Bruxelles dans l'oeil du cyclone" (in French). France 2. 2007-11-14. http://info.france2.fr/dossiers/europe/34025346-fr.php?page=2. 
  13. ^ La Libre Belgique 17 juillet 2008
  14. ^ a b La Libre Belgique, 19 juillet 2008
  15. ^ Le Vif

External links

Simple English

Federalism is a political philosophy in which a group of people are bound together, with a governing head. In federalism, the authority is divided between the head (for example the central government of a country) and the political units governed by it (for example the states or provinces of the country).

Currently, several countries in the world have a federal government; examples are United States of America, Canada, Switzerland and Austria. The European Union can be called a sort of federal government as well.

In other words Federalism is a system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and various constituent units of the country.

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