Federation vs Confederation: Difference and Comparison

Conversely, the federation states must submit their authority to the central government. They have to accept a subordinated position vis-à-vis the superordinate central government.

Key Takeaways

  1. A federation is a political system in which power is shared between a central government and individual states or provinces.
  2. A confederation is a political system in which individual states or provinces hold power, and a central government has limited authority.
  3. A Federation is characterized by a strong central government, while a weak central government characterizes a confederation.

Federation vs Confederation

The difference between a federation and a confederation is that while the member states in the former submit their sovereignty to the federal government, the member states in the latter retain their sovereignty. The central government in a confederation is merely a figurehead organization. It remains accountable to the member states.

Federation vs Confederation

A confederation is a coalition of several sovereign states that reserve the right to secession. These composite units retain primary sovereignty. Unlike such a division of sovereign authority, a federal union reserves preliminary dominance over the quasi-sovereign member states.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonFederationConfederation
Possession of SovereigntyPrimary sovereignty is submitted to the common federal government.The member states retain primary sovereignty.
AuthorityThe central federal government is extremely powerful.The central organization in a confederation is weak.
AutonomyAutonomy of the states is curbed.The autonomy of member states is retained.
Possibility of SecessionThe member states cannot secede easily from the union because of the stringent legal terms of the alliance.The member states can easily secede from the union.
Scope of PowerThe authoritative federal government exercises power by the constitutional provisions. Its powers include defence, foreign policy, national security, etc.The central organization can only exercise power over certain issues as mandated by the member states.
CitizenshipDual citizenships are commonly accorded to all citizens.No separate citizenship is awarded to the citizens.
Popularity of EachFederations are very popular political systems used in several states of the world.Confederations were popular in earlier periods, but most have changed into federations. Now they are mostly used as treaty-based international organizations.
ExamplesUSA, Germany.Iroquois Confederation, U.N, E.U

What is a Federation?

A federation is a political system formed when several constituent states submit a part of their sovereign authority to a central government.


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This common federal government possesses expansive defence, foreign affairs, national security, and finance powers. However, a certain degree of autonomy is retained by the states. But the possibility of seceding from the union is eliminated.

Strong legal ties bind the states together. A written constitution is often essential for dictating the division of powers between the federal government and the constituent states.

The policy decisions taken by the federal government are binding on the member states. Federations are often political systems adopted by erstwhile confederations.

America, Germany, and Russia are all examples of this transformation. These nation-states have adopted a federal political structure marking an end to their confederation statuses. Several populous countries in the world have adopted the federal form of government.


What is a Confederation?

A confederation is a voluntary alliance of several states that may be formed to attain certain commonly agreed-upon goals. The coalition may be formed to achieve various economic, political, cultural, or social objectives.

The member states can secede from the union if they feel these objectives are not adequately fulfilled. Sovereignty is possessed solely by the constituent states. The central organization is a nominally selected figurehead devoid of real power.

It can only exercise those powers that the states have assigned. The real role of this central body is to ease the communication between states and hasten all administrative processes. Moreover, it remains accountable to the member states.

The states retain the most important legislative areas- making them the real centres of power. Few nation-states have adopted the confederation system.

Most international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union are based on the principle of a confederation, where the real power is vested in the member states.


Main Differences Between Federation and Confederation

  1. The main difference between a federation and a confederation is the possession of sovereign authority. Under a federation, primary sovereignty is vested in the federal government. At the same time, primary sovereignty is located in the member states in the case of a confederation.
  2. The power and authority vested in the central government are quite contrary in both federations and confederations. As the central government of a confederation is a nominally appointed figurehead, the real powers are held by the member countries. A weak central government characterizes most confederations. In the case of a federation, the central federal government is extremely powerful.
  3. The autonomy of the constitutive member states is extremely significant in a confederation. On the other hand, member states have to sacrifice a part of their autonomy to the federal government.
  4. The influential federal government can exercise its powers over defence, national security, foreign policy, finance, etc. However, the weak government of a confederation can only exercise powers in arenas clearly defined by the member states. It does not have any de facto powers.
  5. The member states in a federal nation cannot secede from the federation. Various legal ties bind the member states of a federation. In a confederation, secession is open to all member states. They may exercise it if they feel this alliance is no longer gainful.
  6. Federations are popular political systems. Several erstwhile confederations have successfully adopted them. Confederations were common in ancient Greek and Italian societies; however, very few survived as nation-states in the contemporary period. Confederations are mostly modalities of forming international organizations.
  7. A federal state may provide its citizens with dual citizenship, where one represents the member state the citizen belongs to, and the other is representative of the federal government’s citizenship. A confederation does not allot separate citizenship to its citizens; they remain citizens of the individual member states.
  1. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=nT8YpGSGDcIC&oi=fnd&pg=PA45&dq=federation+vs+confederation&ots=mUNGvptgsP&sig=uQNzwiuvxge4Qsmf9vbTF0eELHk
  2. http://sam.gov.tr/pdf/perceptions/Volume-IV/september-november-1999/CLEMENT-H.-DODD.pdf
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