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Thread: When does a country need to be federal?

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    Default When does a country need to be federal?

    The countries of the world are divided into unitary and federal countries. In unitary countries the central government is in charge of all of the matters relating to the country. It can devolve power to the lower tiers of government but can at will take that power away. In federal countries the central government represents the country to the outside world but otherwise the country is divided into regions which all have their own governments and laws. Of course, there are great variotions in this point. It has been said that a Canadian province has far more say in its own matters than a US state.

    Austria is a federal country. Why is Austria a federal country? In my opinion federalism is needed when certain circumstances apply. That is a) If a country is geographically very large b) If a country is very populous c) If a country is made up of many religious factions which just can't stand each other d) If a country is made up of many ethnic groups which just can't stand each other.

    None of this criteria applies to Austria. Canada and Australia are federal countries because they are so huge in size. Belgium is a federal country because it is made up of two different communities which don't really like each other.

    Even Japan is a unitary country though it is very populous and relatively large in terms of geographic area. Germany could as well be a unitary country but the Allied powers wrote the German constitution to make it impossible for the German central government to have too much power. Very understandable.

    But why on earth is Austria a federal country?

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    Politics.ie Member Panopticon's Avatar
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    Austria is federal because it was the core of the Holy Roman Empire, which was very decentralised (and not a real country at all). However, nowadays, its states enjoy very few powers. This would agree with your theory of why modern countries are federal or unitary.

    Similarly, Japan is very homogenous: an island nation with a racist attitude towards other ethnicities. So there are fewer regional divisions than in other countries.

    From first principles, if federal states are to be contiguous, federalism should be a solution for regional differences, or at least social differences that can be transposed onto regions. For instance, if the EU were to become a state, it would be extremely federal. Switzerland has lots of different languages and correspondingly strong federalism. On the other hand, Australia doesn't have many significant cultural differences among its states, and federalism is not as strong there.

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    Are there any examples of unitary countries turning into federal countries? (Apart from Germany as that was forced upon them. Has it happened anywhere as the will of the people.)

    I ask because I am wondering if the UK is on this path.

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    Politics.ie Member Panopticon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Antrim View Post
    Are there any examples of unitary countries turning into federal countries? (Apart from Germany as that was forced upon them. Has it happened anywhere as the will of the people.)

    I ask because I am wondering if the UK is on this path.
    Spain is the only one that comes to mind. I don't know if it is officially federal, but it may have the most powerful secondary-tier governments in Europe.

    The problem with UK federalism is that there are two models which would each cause problems:
    1. English devolution, which would create too powerful a sub-government, and would be tantamount to dissolution of the Union; and
    2. regional devolution, which has already been rejected at the ballot box, and would cost a lot of money.

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    Politics.ie Member ocoonassa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by THR View Post
    But why on earth is Austria a federal country?
    Copying their neighbours in the Swiss Confederation I suppose.

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    Indeed, Spain is a semi-federal country with 19 so-called automous communities but some of them having a larger say on their own matters than others.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Antrim View Post
    Are there any examples of unitary countries turning into federal countries? (Apart from Germany as that was forced upon them. Has it happened anywhere as the will of the people.)

    I ask because I am wondering if the UK is on this path.
    Germany was federal for its entire history except during the Nazi period and the Communist era in the East. So the Allies were restoring the pre-Nazi way of governing although the states they set up aren't all the same as the historic ones.

    Belgium went from unitary to federal:
    [ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_reform_in_Belgium"]State reform in Belgium - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia@@AMEPARAM@@/wiki/File:Coats_of_arms_of_Belgium_Government.svg" class="image"><img alt="" src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ef/Coats_of_arms_of_Belgium_Government.svg/100px-Coats_of_arms_of_Belgium_Government.svg.png"@@AMEP ARAM@@commons/thumb/e/ef/Coats_of_arms_of_Belgium_Government.svg/100px-Coats_of_arms_of_Belgium_Government.svg.png[/ame]

    Italy rejected a referendum to become a federation a few years ago.

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    Political castes love federalism.

    PSF and the SDLP are federalists, they might even be vaguely N.I. nationalists.
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    Austria, after the war, was split up in a similar manner to Germany, with Britain, France and the US taking the west and south of the country, and the Soviets taking the east. Vienna, in a similar fashion to Berlin, was deep inside the Soviet zone, but it was also split between the powers on similar lines (remember the shenanigans between the Brits and the other armies in the film The Third Man?). The last foreign troops pulled out in 1955, by which time the provincial system of ruling the country was well established. Owing to conditions regarding the treatment of the Slovene and Croat minorities, and Austria's 'anschluss' with Germany, the central government was kept weak and that's why it remains a federal country.



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    Politics.ie Member seabhcan's Avatar
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    Are there any examples of unitary countries turning into federal countries?
    Mexico changed to a federal constitution in the 19th century.

    The 08 Charter movement in China (of Nobel Prize fame) is calling for a federal China.

    I can't think of any examples of a federal nation becoming unitary...

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