A federation, also known as a federal state, is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central (federal) government. In a federation, the self-governing status of the component states, as well as the division of power between them and the central government, are typically constitutionally entrenched and may not be altered by a unilateral decision of the latter.
In a federation the component states are in
some sense sovereign, insofar as certain powers are reserved to them that may
not be exercised by the central government. However, a federation is more than a
mere loose alliance of independent states. The component states of a federation
usually possess no powers in relation to foreign policy, and so they enjoy no
independent status under international law. However, German Lander do have this
power, which is beginning to be exercised on a European level.
federations are called asymmetric because some states have more autonomy than
An example of such a federation is Malaysia, in which Sabah and Sarawak entered the federation on different terms and conditions from the states of
A federation often emerges from an initial agreement
between a number of separate states. The purpose can be the will to solve mutual
problems and to provide for mutual defense, or to create a nation state for an
ethnicity spread over several states. The former was the case with the United
States and Switzerland, the latter with Germany.
as the histories of countries and nations vary, the federalist system of a state
can be quite different from these models. Australia, for instance, is unique in
that it came into existence as a nation by the democratic vote of the citizens
of each state, who voted "yes" in referendums to adopt the Australian
Brazil, on the other hand, has experienced both the federal and
the unitary state through its history. Some present day states of the Brazilian
federation retain borders set during the Portuguese colonization, whereas the latest state, Tocantins,
was created by the 1988 Constitution for chiefly administrative reasons.