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 and the central government, and the distribution of powers among them, is highly variable. Some looser confederations are similar to international 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.

The word "confederation" refers to the process of (or the event of) confederating; i.e., establishing a confederation (or by extension a federation). In Canada, 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, not a confederation.



Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Confederation, is the most notable modern example of a confederation[2][3][4]. It has been a confederacy since its inception, in 1291, and so remains 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 its political system has all the characteristics of a federation [5].

Iroquois ConfederacyEdit

Main article: Iroquois Confederacy

The Iroquois Confederacy (also known as the "League of Peace and Power", the "Five Nations"; the "Six Nations"; or the "People of the Longhouse") 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.[6] Each tribe sends chiefs to act as representatives and make decisions for the whole nation.

European UnionEdit

The EU is not de jure a confederation – but some academic observers conclude that it has elements of a confederation or a federation.[7] [8]



A more nuanced view has been given by the German Consitutional Court. Here the EU is defined as 'an association of sovereign national states (Staatenverbund)'.[9]

Belgium Edit

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 [10]. Vincent de Coorebyter, Director of the CRISP [11] wrote in Le Soir Belgian is undoubtedly a federation... [but] has some aspects of a confederation[12] 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 [13]. The same author wrote already about this issue in 1984 with other Professors [14]

Confederation vs federation Edit

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.[15][16][17][18] 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]

Historic confederations Edit

Frankfurter Fürstentag 1863 Abschlußphoto

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 Edit

Template:Supranationalism/World government topics

Cite error: <ref> tags exist, but no <references/> tag was found