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Confederation, primarily any league or union of people or bodies of people.
The term in modern political use is generally confined to a permanent union of sovereign states for certain common purposes—e.g.
the German Confederation established by the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
The distinction between confederation and federation—words synonymous in their origin—has been developed in the political terminology of the United States.
Until 1789 the U.S. was a confederation; then the word federation, or federal republic, was introduced as implying closer union.
This distinction was emphasized during the American Civil War when the seceding states formed a confederation (Confederate States of America) in opposition to the Federal Union.
Confederation thus came to mean a union of sovereign states in which the stress is laid on the autonomy of each constituent body
while federation implies a union of states in which the stress is laid on the supremacy of the common government.
The distinction is, however, by no means universally observed.
The variant confederacy, derived through the Anglo-French confederacie and meaning generally a league or union
whether of states or individuals, was applied in America in the sense of confederation to the seceding Southern states.
In its political sense confederacy has generally come to mean rather a temporary league of independent states for certain purposes.
A confederation (also known as a confederacy or league) is a union of sovereign groups or states united for purposes of common action.
Usually created by a treaty, confederations of states tend to be established for dealing with critical issues
such as defense, foreign relations, internal trade or currency, with the central government being required to provide support for all its members.
Confederalism represents a main form of intergovernmentalism
which is defined as any form of interaction around states which takes place on the basis of sovereign independence or government.
The nature of the relationship among the member states constituting a confederation varies considerably.
Likewise, the relationship between the member states and the general government and the distribution of powers among them varies.
Some looser confederations are similar to international organisations. Other confederations with stricter rules may resemble federal systems.
Since the member states of a confederation retain their sovereignty, they have an implicit right of secession.
The political philosopher Emmerich de Vattel said: “Several sovereign and independent states may unite themselves together by a perpetual confederacy
without each in particular ceasing to be a perfect state…. The deliberations in common will offer no violence to the sovereignty of each member”.
Under a confederation, unlike a federal state, the central authority is relatively weak.
Decisions made by the general government in a unicameral legislature, a council of the member states
require subsequent implementation by the member states to take effect
they are not laws acting directly upon the individual but have more the character of interstate agreements.
Also, decision-making in the general government usually proceeds by consensus (unanimity), not by majority.
Historically, those features limit the effectiveness of the union and so political pressure tends to build over time for the transition to a federal system of government
as happened in the American, Swiss and German cases of regional integration.
In terms of internal structure, every confederal state is composed of two or more constituent states, that are referred to as confederated states.
In regard to their political systems, confederated states can have republican or monarchical forms of government.
Those that have republican form (confederated republics) are usually called states (like states of the American Confederacy, 1861-1865)
or republics (like republics of Serbia and Montenegro within the former State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, 2003-2006).
Those that have monarchical form of government (confederated monarchies) are defined by various hierarchical ranks
(like kingdoms of Iraq and Jordan within the Hashemite Arab Union in 1958).
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 and between Communities
and 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 the linguistic communities do not have the necessary autonomy to leave the Belgian state.
As such, federal aspects still dominate. 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 economic differences between the Flemish (Belgians who speak Dutch or Dutch dialects) and the Walloons (Belgians who speak French or French dialects). For example, in the last several decades, over 95% of Belgians have voted for political parties that represent voters from only one community, the separatist N-VA being the party with the most 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. The system in Belgium is known as consociationalism.
That makes Belgium fundamentally different from federal countries like Switzerland, Canada, Germany and Australia. In those countries, national parties regularly receive 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) and parts of Italy, where a massive voter turnout for regional (and often separatist) political parties has become the rule in the last decades, and nationwide parties advocating national unity draw around half or sometimes less of the votes.
The Benelux is a politico-economic union of the states of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg bound through treaties and based on consensus between the representatives of the member states.
They partially share a common foreign policy, especially in regards to their navies through the BeNeSam. The Dutch Defence minister (2010-2012) Hans Hillen even said on Belgian radio that it is not impossible that the three armed forces of the member-states could be integrated into “Benelux Armed Forces” one day.
Because of this the Benelux is sometimes labeled as a “kind of confederation” by, for example; Belgian Minister of State Mark Eyskens.
Its unique nature and the political sensitivities surrounding it cause there to be no common or legal classification for the European Union (EU).
However, it bears some resemblance to both a confederation (or a “new” type of confederation) and a federation.
The term supranational union has also been applied. The EU operates common economic policies with hundreds of common laws
which enable a single economic market, a common customs territory, (mainly) open internal borders, and a common currency among most member-states.
However, unlike a federation, the EU does not have exclusive powers over foreign affairs, defence, and taxation.
Furthermore, most EU laws, which have been developed by consensus between relevant national government ministers
and then scrutinised and approved or rejected by the European Parliament, must be transposed into national law by national parliaments. Most collective decisions by member states are taken by weighted majorities and blocking minorities, rather than unanimity. Treaties or amendments to them require ratification by every member state before they can come into force.
However, some academic observers more usually discuss the EU in the terms of it being a federation. As the 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 the building of a federal legal order for the EU, 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 said: “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”. 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”.