What is Federalism

Federalism is a form of organization of the State in which there is a government that exercises the functions of a centralizing State. But at the same time that there is a central power, there is a division of power between the units that form it.

These units, when they are united and regulated by a common Federal Constitution, form a Federal State.

In Federalism, the division of power occurs through delegation, that is, the central political power is shared by each of the federative units.

In practice, this form of organization means that there are different poles of administration that are divided within a country. Power is distributed among the territories that form the state. In the case of Brazil, power is divided between the administration of the federal, state and municipal governments.

Federalism in Brazil

In the country, the federalist system was adopted from 1889, the year in which the Proclamation of the Republic took place . The adoption of the form of federative state occurred due to the intention of the central government to respond to the desires of the Brazilian regional elites, who, at that time, were dissatisfied with the monarchy model in force until then.

After the promulgation of the 1988 Federal Constitution, the federalist model was strengthened in the country, since the Constitution established the points of autonomy of the Member States.

When the system was adopted, the model of institutional structure used by the United States was used as the basis.

In this model there is a central government, which concentrates sovereignty. There are also federation units (states), which have their own administrative structures, such as the Three Powers (Executive, Legislative and Judiciary). Powers are independent of each other, that is, they have autonomy and perform specific functions.

Also read the articles on Federal Constitution and Three Powers .

What is the purpose of Federalism?

The federalist model has the main purpose of maintaining a balanced division of power between the various territories that are part of the State, so that each of the Member States has its own legislation and that it is adapted to the regional and inhabitants’ needs.

Features of Federalism

There are many Federations in the world and therefore they may have some particularities. However, some of these characteristics are shared by all nations. The main ones are:

  • Political decentralization: it is the political, legislative and administrative independence given to Member States. It allows the federative units to have the power to organize and make decisions according to the interests of the region, in addition to the permission to prepare their Constitutions and state laws.
  • The federative units are autonomous from each other: this means that there is no hierarchical relationship between the Member States. Likewise, there is also no hierarchy between the Federal State and the federal units.

Also common to Federalism are:

  • Despite having administrative autonomy, Member States are not sovereign.
  • Division of competences between the entities that are part of the State.
  • Government cooperation between member states and the central government.

Federalism and federative units

In Federalism, or federative form, the division of the national territory is done through political organizations, called states or federative units.

These federative units, when brought together, make up a kind of central system, governed by a Federal Constitution, which determines their mode of operation.

The Constitution determines, for example: territorial organization, type of government and administration, in addition to the rights and duties of citizens. Brazil is governed by the Federal Constitution of 1988.

However, despite being part of a broader system, each of the units has decision and management autonomy for some issues, such as:

  • creation, voting and approval of new laws;
  • definition of public policies to be applied;
  • creation and collection of taxes.

Despite being connected to this system, federative units can direct their administrative and political decisions according to local needs.

Also read the meaning of UF (Federation Unit) and see the acronyms of the states of Brazil .

Countries that adopt Federalism

Federalism is used as a form of state in countries like: Brazil, United States, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Canada, Belgium and Russia.

Difference between Federalism and Confederation

There are two fundamental differences between Federalism and Confederation. The first concerns the sovereignty and authority of the Member States in relation to the central state. The second is the way they are constituted.

Autonomy is the ability of a State to position itself before others, making the supremacy of its decisions count. Autonomy, on the other hand, is the State’s capacity for self-administration, that is, the permission to make political and administrative decisions.

In Federalism , States are linked to central power, but have their political and administrative autonomy to make decisions in some areas. Although they have administrative autonomy, they do not have sovereignty, that is, sovereignty belongs to the Central State.

In a Confederation , the Member States maintain their sovereignty. Therefore, in a Confederation, in addition to autonomy (as in Federalism), there is also the sovereignty of each State.

Another difference is that Federations are formed from Federal Constitutions. Confederations are born through the signing of treaties.

Union Federation

Federalism is not only used as a way of organizing States and their federative units.

A good example of this are organizations in union format, which are subdivided into smaller sections or confederations, which have a connection with the central union entity, but, at the same time, have autonomy to make decisions.


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