A confederation in modern political terms is a permanent union of political units for common action in relation to other units.[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 autonomous or semi-autonomous bodies. Examples include sports confederations or confederations of pan-European trades unions.

In Canada, the word confederation has an additional, unrelated meaning.[2] It refers to the process of (or the event of) establishing a federation.[2] Canadian Confederation generally refers to the Constitution Act, 1867 which initially united four colonies of British North America (Province of Ontario, Province of New Brunswick, Province of Quebec, 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 many memberships of the member states in a confederation are voluntary, while the membership in a federation is not.[3][4][5][6]

Serbia and Montenegro

Serbia and Montenegro (2003–2006) was a confederation that was formed by the two remaining republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFR Yugoslavia): Serbia and Montenegro, and was a sole legal successor to SFR 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 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.


Confederation for Canada happened (officially "Constitution Act, 1867" — formerly known as the British North America Act) on July 1, 1867 when it become a self-governing dominion of the British Empire under the leadership of Sir John A. Macdonald. The provinces first involved were Canada West (Ontario, formerly Upper Canada), Canada East (Quebec, formerly Lower Canada), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Later joining Confederation were Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Alberta and Saskatchewan (created as provinces from the Northwest Territories in 1905), and finally Newfoundland in 1949. Some people hold the view that Canada is not an example of a modern Confederation but that it is more aptly described as being a Federation.[citation needed][disputed ] Canadians provinces (though not territories) can leave the Canadian Confederation under terms defined in the Clarity Act.


Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Confederation,[7][8][9] is a notable example of a modern country that refers to itself as confederation. 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.[10] 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 to the present day. The confederacy facilitated management of common interests (free trade) and ensured peace on the important mountain trade.

Iroquois League

The Iroquois League, historically the Iroquois Confederacy, is a group of Native Americans 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.[11] Each tribe sends chiefs to act as representatives and make decisions for the whole nation.

European Union

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 a confederation or 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;[12][13]

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."[14] Vincent de Coorebyter, Director of the CRISP [15] wrote in Le Soir "Belgium is undoubtedly a federation... [but] has some aspects of a confederation."[16] 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."[17] The same author wrote previously about this issue in 1984 with other Professors.[18]

Historical 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. ^ a b "How Canadian Govern Themselves, First Edition, 1980 by Eugene Forsey, Ch. on A Federal State p.1". Retrieved 2011-02-19. 
  3. ^ "The Federalist". Retrieved 2011-02-19. 
  4. ^ "NigeriaWorld Letters & Viewpoints (CONFEDERATION OR FEDERATION?: Understanding the Igbo Agenda)". 2000-03-20. Retrieved 2011-02-19. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Dr. Jeremy Lewis (2001-01-28). "Justice Theories". Retrieved 2011-02-19. 
  7. ^ "Startseite". 2011-02-13. Retrieved 2011-02-19. 
  8. ^ "Federal Chancellery - The Swiss Confederation – a brief guide". 2010-03-01. Retrieved 2011-02-19. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Haller/Kölz, p. 147
  11. ^ Jennings, p.94
  12. ^ 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." [dead link]
  13. ^ How the court made a federation of the EU [1].Josselin (U de Rennes-1/CREM) and Marciano (U de Reims CA/CNRS).
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ Belgian research center whose activities are devoted to the study of decision-making in Belgium and in Europe[dead link]
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^ How Canadians Govern Themselves

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • confédération — [ kɔ̃federasjɔ̃ ] n. f. • 1358; lat. confœderatio 1 ♦ Union de plusieurs États qui s associent tout en conservant leur souveraineté. La Confédération helvétique. ⇒ fédération. 2 ♦ Groupement d associations, de fédérations professionnelles,… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • confédération — CONFÉDÉRATION. s. f. Ligue, alliance. Confédération bonne, ferme, stable. Se joindre, s unir par confédération. Il y a confédération entre ces deux États, entre ces deux Rois. Renouveler une confédération. Entrer en confédération. Ce Prince étoit …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • confederation — Confederation. s. f. Ligue, alliance. Confederation bonne, ferme, stable. se joindre, s unir par confederation. il y a confederation entre ces deux Estats, ou entre ces deux Rois. renouveller une confederation. entrer en confederation. ce Prince… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Confederation — Confédération Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom …   Wikipédia en Français

  • confederation — con‧fed‧e‧ra‧tion [kənˌfedəˈreɪʆn] noun [countable] a group of people, organizations, or countries, who have joined together in order to help each other: • the Confederation of United Kingdom Coal Producers, also known as Coalpro * * *… …   Financial and business terms

  • Confederation — Con*fed er*a tion, n. [L. confoederatio: cf. F. conf[ e]d[ e]ration.] 1. The act of confederating; a league; a compact for mutual support; alliance, particularly of princes, nations, or states. [1913 Webster] The three princes enter into some… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • confederation — index affiliation (amalgamation), association (alliance), band, cartel, chamber (body), co …   Law dictionary

  • confederation — [kən fed΄ər ā′shən] n. [ME confederacion < LL confoederatio: see CONFEDERATE] 1. a uniting or being united in a league or alliance 2. a league or alliance; specif., independent nations or states joined in a league or confederacy whose central… …   English World dictionary

  • confederation — early 15c., act of confederating, from M.Fr. confédération, from O.Fr. confederacion (14c.), from L.L. confoederationem (nom. confoederatio), noun of action from confoederare (see CONFEDERATE (Cf. confederate)). Meaning states or persons united… …   Etymology dictionary

  • confederation — Confederation, Foedus …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • confederation — ► NOUN 1) an alliance of a number of parties or groups. 2) a union of states with some political power vested in a central authority. 3) the action of confederating or the state of being confederated …   English terms dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”