A confederation, also known as confederacy or league, is a union of political units for common action in relation to other units. 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 and even may permit secession from the confederation. Other confederations with stricter rules may resemble federations. A unitary state or federation may decentralize powers to regional or local entities in a confederal form.
In a non-political context, confederation is used to describe a type of organization which consolidates authority from other autonomous (or semi-autonomous) bodies. Examples include sports confederations or confederations of pan-Europeantrades unions.
In Canada, the word confederation has an additional, unrelated meaning. "Confederation" refers to the process of (or the event of) establishing or joining the Canadian federal state.
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."Vincent de Coorebyter, Director of the CRISP wrote in Le Soir "Belgium is undoubtedly a federation... [but] has some aspects of a confederation." Michel Quévit, Professor at the Catholic University of Leuven wrote also in Le Soir "The Belgian political system is already in dynamics of a Confederation." The same author wrote previously about this issue in 1984 with other professors.
Nevertheless, the Belgian regions and communities lack the crucial autonomy to leave the Belgian state. As such, the federal aspects seem to dominate. Also for fiscal policy and public finances, the federal state dominates the other levels of government.
The limited confederal aspects appear to be a meager political reflection of the profound sociological, cultural and economic differences between Flemings and Walloons (or French-speaking Belgians). As an example, in the last several decades, over 95% of the Belgians have voted for political parties that represent voters from only one community. Parties that advocate Belgian unity and appeal to voters of both communities systematically get only a few percent of the votes.
This makes Belgium fundamentally different from federal countries as Switzerland, Canada, Germany and Australia. In those countries, national parties get over 90% of the votes. The only comparable places with Belgium are Catalonia, the Basque Country and Scotland. These also have a majority voter turnout for local political parties, and national parties total less (or much less) than half of the votes.
Due to its unique nature, and the political sensitivities surrounding it, there is no common or legal classification for the European Union (EU). However, it does bear some resemblance to both a confederation (or "new" type of confederation) and a federation. The EU operates common economic policies with hundreds of common laws, which enable a single economic market, open internal borders, a common currency and allow for 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 must be transcribed into national law by national parliaments; decisions by member states are taken by special majorities with blocking minorities accounted for; 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. As international law professor Joseph H. H. Weiler (of the Hague Academy and more recently New York University) wrote, "Europe has charted its own brand of constitutional federalism." Jean-Michel Josselin and Alain Marciano see the European Court of Justice as being a primary force behind building a federal legal order in the Union with Josselin stating that "A complete shift from a confederation to a federation would have required to straightforwardly replace the principality 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." Rutgers University political science professor R. Daniel Kelemen has observed: "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 ... 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." [when?] According to Thomas Risse and Tanja A. Börzel, "the EU only lacks two significant features of a federation. First, the Member States remain the 'masters' of the treaties, i.e., they have the exclusive power to amend or change the constitutive treaties of the EU. Second, the EU lacks a real 'tax and spend' capacity, in other words, there is no fiscal federalism."
The Iroquois League, historically the Iroquois Confederacy, is a group of Native Americans (in what is now the United States) and First Nations (in what is now Canada) that consists 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. The League has been functioning since prior to major European contact. Each tribe sends chiefs to act as representatives and make decisions for the whole nation.
As a confederation, Serbia and Montenegro were united only in very few realms, such as defense, foreign affairs and a very weak common president of the confederation. The two constituent republics functioned separately throughout the period of its short existence, and continued to operate under separate economic policies, as well as using separate currencies (the euro was and still is the only legal tender in Montenegro, while the dinar was still the legal tender in Serbia). On 21 May 2006, the Montenegrin independence referendum was held. Final official results indicated on 31 May that 55.5% of voters voted in favor of independence. The state union effectively came to an end after Montenegro's formal declaration of independence on 3 June 2006, and Serbia's formal declaration of independence on 5 June.
Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Confederation, is an example of a modern country that refers to itself as a confederation. However, at the time Switzerland adopted the Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica, no distinction existed in Europe between the words 'confederation' and 'federation' regarding the strength of federal authority. After the Swiss 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. It had been a confederacy since its inception in 1291 as the Old Swiss Confederacy, originally created as an alliance among the valley communities of the central Alps, and retains the confederal name. The confederacy facilitated management of common interests (free trade) and ensured peace in the important mountain trade.
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 21st-century political scientists might classify as those of a confederation.
Some have more the characteristics of a personal union, but appear here because of their self-styling as a "confederation":
^ "How Canadian Govern Themselves, First Edition, 1980 by Eugene Forsey, Ch. on A Federal State p.1". .parl.gc.ca. Retrieved 2011-02-19.
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
Belgian research center whose activities are devoted to the study of decision-making in Belgium and in Europe[dead link]
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
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
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
P.W. Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada (5th ed. supplemented), para. 5.1(b).
How Canadians Govern Themselves, 7th ed
Kiljunen, Kimmo (2004). The European Constitution in the Making. Centre for European Policy Studies. pp. 21–26. ISBN 978-92-9079-493-6.
Burgess, Michael (2000). Federalism and European union: The building of Europe, 1950–2000. Routledge. p. 49. ISBN 0-415-22647-3. "Our theoretical analysis suggests that the EC/EU is neither a federation nor a confederation in the classical sense. But it does claim that the European political and economic elites have shaped and moulded the EC/EU into a new form of international organization, namely, a species of "new" confederation."
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."
"How the Court Made a Federation of the EU" [referring to the European Court of Justice]. Josselin (U. de Rennes-1/CREM) and Marciano (U. de Reims CA/CNRS).
J.H.H. Weiler (2003). "Chapter 2, Federalism without Constitutionalism: Europe's Sonderweg". The federal vision: legitimacy and levels of governance in the United States and the European Union. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-924500-2. "Europe has charted its own brand of constitutional federalism. It works. Why fix it?"
How the [ECJ] court made a federation of the EU Josselin (U de Rennes-1/CREM) and Marciano (U de Reims CA/CNRS).
Josselin, Jean Michel; Marciano, Alain (2006). The political economy of European federalism (PDF). 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.
Bednar, Jenna (2001). A Political Theory of Federalism. Cambridge University. pp. 223–270.
Thomas Risse and Tanja A. Börzel, Who is Afraid of a European Federation? How to Constitutionalise a Multi-Level Governance System, Section 4: The European Union as an Emerging Federal System, Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law
Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose (2003-07-08). "Giscard's 'federal' ruse to protect Blair". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-10-15.