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Debate: Confederation

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Is a confederation the best way to run national or supra-national affairs?

Background and context

‘Federalist’ has become almost a term of abuse in some countries, such as the United Kingdom, at the beginning of the new millennium - where there are fears of being subsumed into a European superstate. However federalist ideas have been circulating as valuable political ideas in many other polities for some time now: the archetype of the federalist model coming into existence in 21 June 1788 with the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America. Other examples of federal states are Australia, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuala, Switzerland, India, Malaysia, Cameroon and Nigeria. A federalist system is one in which essentially equal states agree to administer some or all of their function at a supra-state level. This compact necessitates a formal covenant of union (usually a written constitution), and a large pre-existing degree of autonomy on the parts of those states which are joining together. Federalism is often opposed by the notion of centralism in which the central authority of an organisation holds power and control. This debate can be argued with particular reference to the European Union, or in a different local context, or at a more general and theoretical level.

Contents

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Argument #1

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Yes

Federal units allow sharing of political resources whilst maintaining political independence - thus defence policies/foreign affairs, and external trade can be maximised without a subsequent loss of authority on the part of the individual parts. (a) In defence terms this equates at a very basic level to a bigger army, which increases the safety of the federal unit. (b) In terms of external trade this implies an increased market for potential investors, but also removes trade-barriers internally thus increasing the ease with which the economy can grow on the basis of inward investment.

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No

Federalism only works in examples where groups of states with very similar cultures join together and share a common bond; for example Switzerland, the United States, Canada and Australia.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Federal units allow sharing of economic resources rather than encouraging states to be self-sufficient. Thus a state that traditionally has produced rice, but has also had to produce grains, minerals, fuel etc., can afford to specialise more.

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No

Federalism only works where groups of states are financially equal - Prussia in the German union of 1871 eventually steam-rolled policy decisions because of its financial and territorial might.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Federal systems automatically encourage a more representative democracy, since parties must respond to local needs in order to bargain at a federal level.

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No

Politics in federal systems usually degenerate into those who are in favour of greater federal rights, and those who are in favour of greater state rights (cf. US, Europe, Australia).

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Argument #4

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Yes

Federal systems encourage the protection of minority groups since the ethos of a federal union is continually one of negotiation and bargaining at a federal level, which in turn propagates to the state level.

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No

Federalism encourages insularity within the federation, and increases the focus on internal matters, rather than encourages the individual states to relate to external bodies.

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Argument #5

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Yes

A federal system should be less bureaucratic than a national one - since powers are reserved to the federal government they only require one administration.

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No

In a federal system the government does not act in the best interests of individual states, but in the best interests of the whole. This will mean that, from time to time, one state will lose out.

Motions:

  • This House believes that United States are better than autonomous nations
  • This House believes a federal Europe is the only future

In legislation, policy, and the real world:

See also

External links and resources:

Books:

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