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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-European trades union.
In the context of the history of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, a confederacy may refer to a semi-permanent political and military alliance consisting of multiple nations (or "tribes", "bands", or "villages") which maintained their separate leadership. One of the most well-known is the Iroquois, but there were many others during different eras and locations across North America; these include the Wabanaki Confederacy, Western Confederacy, Powhatan, Seven Nations of Canada, Pontiac's Confederacy, Illinois Confederation, Tecumseh's Confederacy, Great Sioux Nation, Blackfoot Confederacy, Iron Confederacy and Council of Three Fires.
Many scholars have claimed that the Kingdom of Belgium, a country with a complicated federal structure, has adopted some characteristics of a confederation under the pressure of separatist movements, especially in Flanders. For example, C. E. Lagasse declared that Belgium was "near the political system of a Confederation" regarding the constitutional reform agreements between Belgian Regions (federated states with well-defined geographical borders: Flanders, Wallonia and Greater Brussels) and Communities (statelike authorities based on the mother tongue, not geography), while the director of the Centre de recherche et d'information socio-politiques (CRISP) Vincent de Coorebyter called Belgium "undoubtedly a federation...[with] some aspects of a confederation" in Le Soir. Also in Le Soir, Professor Michel Quévit of the Catholic University of Leuven wrote that the "Belgian political system is already in dynamics of a Confederation".
Nevertheless, the Belgian regions (and linguistic communities) lack the necessary autonomy to leave the Belgian state. As such, the federal aspects are still dominating. Also for fiscal policy and public finances, the federal state dominates the other levels of government.
The increasingly confederal aspects of the Belgian Federal State appear to be a political reflection of the profound cultural, sociological and economical differences between Flemings (Belgians who speak Dutch or Dutch dialects) and Walloons (Belgians who speak French or French dialects). 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, the separatist NVA being the party with the biggest voter support among the Flemish population. Parties that strongly advocate Belgian unity and appeal to voters of both communities play usually only a marginal role in nationwide general elections.
This makes Belgium fundamentally different from federal countries like Switzerland, Canada, Germany and Australia. In those countries, national parties get regularly over 90% of voter support. The only geographical areas comparable with Belgium within Europe are Catalonia, the Basque Country (both part of Spain), Northern Ireland and Scotland (both part of the United Kingdom), where a massive voter turnout for regional (and often separatist) political parties has become the rule in the last decades, while nationwide parties advocating national unity draw less (frequently much less) than half of the votes.
In modern terminology, Canada is a federation and not a confederation. However, at the time the Constitution Act, 1867, confederation was the normal British and Canadian term for a single sovereign nation-state of federating provinces. Canadian Confederation generally refers to the Constitution Act, 1867 which formed the Dominion of Canada from three of the colonies of British North America, and to the subsequent incorporation of other colonies and territories. Therefore, on July 1, 1867, Canada became a self-governing dominion of the British Empire with a federal structure under the leadership of Sir John A. Macdonald. The provinces involved were the Province of Canada (comprising Canada West, now Ontario, formerly Upper Canada; and Canada East now Quebec, formerly Lower Canada), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Later participants were Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Alberta and Saskatchewan (the latter two created as provinces from the Northwest Territories in 1905), and finally Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador) in 1949. Canada is an unusually decentralized federal state and not a confederate association of sovereign states (the usual meaning of confederation in modern terms). A Canadian law, the Clarity Act, and a court ruling, Reference Re Secession of Quebec, set forth the conditions for negotiations to allow Canadian provinces (though not territories) to leave the Canadian federal state; however, as this would require a constitutional amendment, there is no current "constitutional" method for withdrawal.
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 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 in Luxembourg City 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 straight-forwardly 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 political science professor R. Daniel Kelemen 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?] Thomas Risse and Tanja A. Börzel claim that 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."
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the chairman of the body of experts commissioned to elaborate a constitutional charter for the European Union, was confronted with strong opposition from the United Kingdom towards including the words "federal" or Federation in the European Constitution, and hence replaced the word with either "Community" or Union.
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.
Serbia and Montenegro
Serbia and Montenegro (2003–06) was a confederation that was formed by the two remaining republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFR Yugoslavia): Montenegro and neighboring Serbia were sole legal successors to FR Yugoslavia, which consequently ceased to exist. The country was reconstituted as a very loose political union called the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. It was established on February 4, 2003.
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 May 21, 2006, the Montenegrin independence referendum was held. Final official results indicated on May 31 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 June 3, 2006, and Serbia's formal declaration of independence on June 5.
Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Confederation, is an example of a modern country that traditionally refers to itself as a confederation. This is due to the fact that the official (and traditional) name of Switzerland in German (the majority language of the Swiss) is Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (literally Swiss Comradeship by Oath), an expression which was translated into the Latin Confoederatio Helvetica (Helvetic Confederation).
After the Sonderbund War of 1847 (the so-called Sonderbundskrieg), when some of the conservative Catholic cantons of Switzerland tried to set up a separate union (Sonderbund in German) against the liberal Protestant majority, the resulting political system established by the victorious liberal cantons 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 nowadays the name of Confederacy for reasons of historical tradition. The confederacy facilitated management of common interests (e.g. freedom from external domination, especially by the Austrian Habsburg, development of republican institutions in a Europe composed of monarchies, free trade, etc.) and ensured peace between the different cultural entities in the central alpine area.
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":
- a Confederated personal union.
- b De facto confederation.
- Oxford English Dictionary
- "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 Archived February 3, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- 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
- Le petit Larousse 2013 p1247
- 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" (PDF). Series: Public Economics and Social Choice. Centre for Research in Economics and Management, University of Rennes 1, University of Caen: 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: 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.
- Jennings, p.94
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- "Federal Chancellery - The Swiss Confederation – a brief guide". Bk.admin.ch. 2010-03-01. Retrieved 2011-02-19.
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- Chevallaz, Histoire générale de 1789 à nos jours, p132ff, Publ. Payot, Lausanne 1974
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