Federal state

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There are 28 federal states worldwide, including Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

A federal state is a state that is composed of several sub- states or constituent states . Legally, such a federal state consists of several subjects of constitutional law , i.e. political orders with state quality, and therefore usually combines different political levels : a federal level and at least one level of the member states. In this way, the federally organized state differs both from a loosely structured confederation and from a centralized, unitary state .

A federal state is therefore a constitutional connection of (non-sovereign) states to a ( sovereign ) general state. The relations between this federation and the member states and between the latter are of constitutional (not international ) nature.

In German constitutional law , the term federal state is a normative term and not specified (i.e. not above the legal system ).


Germany adm location map.svg
Lower SaxonyLower Saxony Lower Saxony
BremenBremen Bremen
HamburgHamburg Hamburg
Mecklenburg-Western PomeraniaMecklenburg-Western Pomerania Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
Saxony-AnhaltSaxony-Anhalt Saxony-Anhalt
SaxonySaxony Saxony
BrandenburgBrandenburg Brandenburg
BerlinBerlin Berlin
ThuringiaThuringia Thuringia
HesseHesse Hesse
North Rhine-WestphaliaNorth Rhine-Westphalia North Rhine-Westphalia
Rhineland-PalatinateRhineland-Palatinate Rhineland-Palatinate
BavariaBavaria Bavaria
Baden-WürttembergBaden-Württemberg Baden-Württemberg
SaarlandSaarland Saarland
Schleswig-HolsteinSchleswig-Holstein Schleswig-Holstein
Austria's federal states
Swiss cantons

A State may centralist or federal (federal) be organized. In this sense it is either a unitary state or a federal state (further differentiations such as a unitary federal state or a cooperative federal state are possible, see cooperative federalism ). A traditional example of a unitary state is France . There, only the highest, the national, level has sovereignty and statehood in the state structure .

In contrast, federal systems have as the United States or the Federal Republic of Germany next to a sovereign state as a whole - with republican form of government is this often referred to as the Federal Republic , otherwise referred to as federal republic - even subordinate units with state quality ( constituent states / provinces). These states are sub-states in the area of ​​their national jurisdiction . They have the right to regulate many things independently and without interference from the federal level , with the state organs located there (especially the highest federal organs such as the federal parliament or the highest federal courts) being superordinate to them - in the hierarchical sense. The school system in the USA and Germany , for example, is organized in the member states, while the national level determines, for example, defense and foreign policy .

In a federal state, the parliament typically consists of two chambers . One is the direct representation of the people and represents the people as a whole. The other fundamentally represents the interests of the member states ( Länderkammer ).

Demarcation and Development

A federal state or federation ( constitutional association of states) is not only to be delimited from the unitary state, but also from the confederation of states (association of states under international law , possibly confederation ). The question about the seat of sovereignty to delimit state organizational associations is called: federal state or confederation? A confederation of states is a loose connection of individual states that retain their sovereignty, so that the federal structure exists without relinquishing essential state competencies . The confederation of states as such can only make decisions if the individual states approve them. In contrast, the member states are obliged to be loyalty to the federal state .

Compared to a federation, for example in the United Kingdom , a union state where parliamentary sovereignty is maintained, the constitutional guarantee of autonomy is missing . One speaks here of devolution .


In German history , the German Confederation (1815–1866) is considered to be the most important example of a confederation, while the North German Confederation from 1867 to 1871 was the first German federal state. The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany speaks in Article 20 for the first time explicitly of a "state" to anchor the federal principle.

In 1871, an alliance between the German states established the federal state of the German Empire. The federal state of the Weimar Republic was created in 1919, like the federal state of the Federal Republic of Germany, in 1949 through the constituent power of the people .

The Federal Republic, founded on May 23, 1949 in the three western occupation zones , initially consisted of twelve countries. With the merger of the states of Württemberg-Baden , Baden and Württemberg-Hohenzollern , the number changed to ten in 1952. In 1957, when the Saarland joined , another federal state was added. Due to the "accession-related" amendments to the Basic Law made on October 3, 1990 by Art. 4 of the Unification Treaty , a total of 16 federal states form the common German state.

About the Federal countries act in accordance with the Basic Law legislation and administration of the federal as well as in matters of the European Union with.


According to the Federal Constitution of 1920 in the version of 1929, which came into force again in 1945, Austria is a federal , parliamentary-democratic republic consisting of nine federal states .

The Bundesrat , representing the states' interests only in cases where the states will interfere with the rights of an absolute veto .


The Switzerland is a federal state since 1848th The cantons are sovereign insofar as their sovereignty is not restricted by the federal constitution; they exercise all rights that are not vested in the federal government.



country Form of government States Federal immediate areas Remarks
ArgentinaFlag of Argentina.svgArgentina presidential Federal Republic 23 provinces Capital District 1994 Constitution
AustraliaFlag of Australia.svgAustralia federal parliamentary monarchy 6 states 3 territories, 7 outlying areas 1901 Constitution
EthiopiaFlag of Ethiopia.svgEthiopia parliamentary federal Republic 9 states,
2 separate cities
1995 Constitution
BelgiumFlag of Belgium.svgBelgium federal parliamentary monarchy 3 regions,
3 communities (overlapping)
1994 Constitution
Bosnia and HerzegovinaFlag of Bosnia and Herzegovina.svgBosnia and Herzegovina parliamentary federal Republic 2 entities a condominium of the two entities 1995 Dayton Accords
Federation of Bosnia and HerzegovinaFlag of Bosnia and Herzegovina.svgFederation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina 10 cantons Bosniak-Croatian entity within Bosnia-Herzegovina (not itself a sovereign state, just a member state)
BrazilFlag of Brazil.svgBrazil presidential Federal Republic 26 states Federal District 1988 Constitution
GermanyFlag of Germany.svgGermany parliamentary federal Republic 16 countries Basic Law of 1949 ( all-German constitution since amendment in 1990)
IndiaFlag of India.svgIndia parliamentary federal Republic 28 states 9 Union Territories (including National Capital Territory of Delhi ) 1950 Constitution
IraqFlag of Iraq.svgIraq Federal Republic 18 governorates 2005 Constitution
CanadaFlag of Canada.svgCanada federal parliamentary monarchy 10 provinces 3 territories Constitution of 1867/1982
ComorosFlag of the Comoros.svgComoros Islamic Federal Republic 3 islands 2001 Constitution
MalaysiaFlag of Malaysia.svgMalaysia federal electoral parliamentary monarchy 13 states 3 territories 1957 Constitution
MexicoFlag of Mexico.svgMexico presidential Federal Republic 31 states Capital District 1917 Constitution
MicronesiaFlag of the Federated States of Micronesia.svgMicronesia Federal Republic 4 states 1979 Constitution
NepalFlag of Nepal.svgNepal parliamentary federal Republic 7 provinces 2015 Constitution
NigeriaFlag of Nigeria.svgNigeria Federal Republic 36 states Capital territory 1979 Constitution
oesterreFlag of Austria.svgAustria parliamentary federal Republic 9 countries Constitution of 1920 as amended in 1929
PakistanFlag of Pakistan.svgPakistan Islamic, parliamentary Federal Republic 4 provinces, 1 semi-autonomous area 2 territories (including the capital city of Islamabad ) 1973 Constitution
SwitzerlandFlag of Switzerland.svgSwitzerland Federal Republic 26 cantons Constitution of 1848 (total revisions of 1874 and 1999)
SomaliaFlag of Somalia.svgSomalia Federal Republic 6 states Capital Territory (Banadir Regional Administration) provisional constitution of 2012
VenezuelaFlag of Venezuela.svgVenezuela presidential Federal Republic 23 states Capital District, Dependent Territory 1999 Constitution
United Arab EmiratesFlag of the United Arab Emirates.svgUnited Arab Emirates federal hereditary monarchy 7 emirates 1971 Constitution
United StatesFlag of the United States.svgUnited States presidential Federal Republic 50 states Capital District, 14 outer areas Constitution of 1787

Borderline cases

The following states have a federal structure, but the powers of the member states are so limited that they can neither be clearly classified as federal states nor as unitary states.

country Link units Remarks
RussiaFlag of Russia.svgRussia A total of 85  federal subjects
( 22 republics, 9 regions, 46 oblasts, 3 "cities [of] federal importance", 1 autonomous oblast, 4 autonomous districts )
Constitution of 1993 in the version of 2014. The territorial units ( federal subjects ) are grouped into nine federal districts. Asymmetrical federalism : The degree of autonomy varies among the different types of federal subjects.
South AfricaFlag of South Africa.svgSouth Africa 9 provinces 1996 constitution

In Italy , Spain and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland the devolution towards the regions or parts of the country is so pronounced that they also represent a "cross between federal and unitary state elements". According to the Canadian political scientist Ronald L. Watts , Spain is “practically a federal state” or - like South Africa - a “quasi-federation”.


country States Federal immediate areas Remarks
North German FederationFlag of Germany (1867-1919) .svgNorth German Confederation  (1867–1871) 22 states / federal members Southern part of the Grand Duchy of Hesse federal-free area
German EmpireFlag of Germany (1867-1919) .svgGerman Empire  (1871-1918) 25 states (federal members) 1 Reichsland
German EmpireFlag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio) .svgGerman Empire  (1919–1933) 18 countries,
from 1929 17 countries
Weimar Republic
GermanyDemocratic RepublicFlag of East Germany.svgGDR  (1949–1952) 5 countries (and East Berlin as the capital) According to the constitutional lawyer Karl Brinkmann, the early GDR was only apparently a federal state: “Overall, behind the facade of the federal state there was a unified state , moreover as a uniting power , more centralized. There was no federalism at all, but a strict unitarianism ”. In the opinion of the constitutional lawyer Siegfried Mampel, the GDR formally fulfilled the characteristics of a federal structure, until 1958 it still had a “federal character” - which was favorable for a possible reunification . According to the historians Detlef Kotsch and Harald Engler, the GDR was “initially defined as a federal state and also organized as a federal state in important areas”, but it “did not function as a real federal state for a single day” because of the decision-making authority was central to the Soviet Control Commission . The West German political scientist Heinz Laufer characterized the early GDR as a “decentralized unitary state in the guise of the federal state”. The constitutional lawyers Theodor Maunz and Reinhold Zippelius also classified it as a “decentralized [...] unitary state” before the state chamber was dissolved (1958).

East Berlin was represented as the “Capital of the Republic” or “Capital of the German Democratic Republic, Berlin” with an advisory voice in the Chamber of States. The Western powers , however, insisted on the four-power status for all of Berlin, which is why East Berlin could not be "an integral part of the GDR". They recognized the capital city character of East Berlin only with reservations.

IndonesiaFlag of Indonesia.svgUnited States of Indonesia (1949–1950) 16 states Federal capital Jakarta
YugoslaviaSocialistiscFlag of Yugoslavia (1946-1992) .svgYugoslavia  (1945–1992) 6 republics
Serbia and MontenegroFlag of Yugoslavia (1992-2003);  Flag of Serbia and Montenegro (2003-2006) .svgFederal Republic of Yugoslavia (1992-2003) 2 republics Kosovo under UN administration (since 1999)
United States of ColombiaFlag of Colombia.svgUnited States of Colombia  (1863–1886) 9 states
Confederate States of AmericaFlag of the Confederate States of America (1865) .svgConfederate States of America  (1861–1865) 13 states 1 territory
Congo DRFlag of Congo-Léopoldville (1963-1966) .svgDemocratic Republic of the Congo  (1964–1967) 26 provinces sometimes also Congo Kinshasa called
NigeriaFlag of Nigeria.svgNigeria  (1954–1963) 3 regions until 1960 as a British colony , then independent
Republic of AustriaFlag of Austria.svgRepublic of Austria  (1918–1934) 9 (federal) states Federal Constitutional Act of October 1, 1920; Division into nine independent countries from January 1, 1922, for the prehistory see History of Austria and German Austria .
AustriaFlag of Austria.svgFederal State of Austria  (1934–1938) 8 (federal) states Federal capital Vienna Austrofascism

The May constitution of 1934 proclaimed the Austrian state as a federal state . The appointment of the state governors by the Federal President and the absolute right of veto of the Federal Chancellor with regard to state legislation allowed "an independent state policy [...] only a very limited scope." The states were "almost completely subordinate" to the federal government.

PakistanFlag of Pakistan.svgPakistan  (1956–1971) 2 provinces Tribal areas under federal administration , Federal Capital Territory (Karachi; until 1958), capital city Islamabad (from 1970) West and East Pakistan ; Dissolution as a result of the Bangladesh War , which led to Bangladesh's independence .
RhodesiaFlag of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1953–1963) .svgRhodesia  (1953–1963) 3 states Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland within the British Commonwealth
Soviet UnionFlag of the Soviet Union.svgSoviet Union  (1922–1991) 15 Union Republics The Soviet Union was formally federally structured (due to a large number of Soviet republics). In truth, it was ruled centrally. The Stalin Constitution , which ran from 1936 to 1977, was openly centralistic.
Syrian FederationFlag of Syria French mandate.svgSyrian Federation  (1922-1924) 3 states Federal state under the French mandate
Capital: Aleppo (1922–1923) Damascus (1923–1924)
CzechoslovakiaFlag of the Czech Republic.svgCzechoslovakia  (1968–1992) 2 republics
West Indian FederationFlag of the West Indies Federation (1958–1962) .svgWest Indian Federation  (1958–1962) 10 provinces

See also


  • Karl Doehring : General state theory. 3rd edition, CF Müller, Heidelberg 2004, § 6, Rn. 155-173 (pp. 68-75).
  • Ann L. Griffiths (Ed.): Handbook of Federal Countries. McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal 2005.
  • Walter Haller , Alfred Kölz , Thomas Gächter: General constitutional law. 5th edition, Nomos, Baden-Baden 2013, §§ 19–23, pp. 154–191.
  • Thomas O. Hueglin, Alan Fenna: Comparative Federalism. A Systematic Inquiry. 2nd edition, University of Toronto Press, Toronto [u. a.] 2015.
  • Hans Kristoferitsch: From confederation to federal state? - The European Union in comparison with the USA, Germany and Switzerland . Springer, Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-211-35201-4 (Diss. Univ. Vienna ).
  • Thomas Krumm: A comparison of federal states. An introduction. Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2015, ISBN 978-3-658-04955-3 .
  • Burkhard Schöbener , Matthias Knauff : General state theory. 2nd edition, CH Beck, Munich 2013, § 6, Rn. 5-22 (pp. 256-262).
  • Klaus Stern : German constitutional law. Volume I, 2nd edition, § 19, CH Beck, Munich 1984, ISBN 3-406-09372-8 .
  • Reinhold Zippelius : General state theory . 16th edition. CH Beck, Munich 2010, p. 311–318 (Section 39. Federal States and Confederations of States).

Web links

Wiktionary: State  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Cf. Ingo von Münch , Ute Mager : Staatsrecht I. State organization law taking into account the references under European law . 7th edition. Stuttgart 2009, p. 370 ff .
  2. Konrad Hesse : Principles of the constitutional law of the Federal Republic of Germany , reprint of the 20th edition, CF Müller, Heidelberg 1999, Rn. 217 ; Edin Šarčević: The federal principle. A constitutional study on the dogmatics of the federal constitution of the Basic Law , Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2000 ( Jus Publicum , Vol. 55), pp. 36 , 53 .
  3. E. Gruner, B. Junker: Citizens, State and Politics in Switzerland , 1972.
  4. Reinhold Zippelius, Allgemeine Staatslehre , 16th edition, Beck, Munich 2010, § 9 IV; Theodor Schweisfurth : Völkerrecht , Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2006, p. 36 f.
  5. ^ Heinrich Wilms : Staatsrecht I. State organization law taking into account the federalism reform. Kohlhammer, 2007, para. 234 .
  6. ↑ For more information, see Roland Sturm , Politik in Great Britain , VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2009, pp. 54 ff .; Ders., United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - Devolution and Parliamentary Supremacy , in: Roland Sturm, Jürgen Dieringer (Ed.): Regional Governance in EU States , Verlag Barbara Budrich, Opladen 2010, p. 107 ff.
  7. Peter Badura , Constitutional Amendment, Constitutional Change , Constitutional Customs Law , in: Josef Isensee / Paul Kirchhof (ed.): Handbuch des Staatsrechts der Bundes Republik Deutschland , Vol. XII, 3rd edition, Heidelberg 2014, § 270 Rn. 37.
  8. Art. 3 Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of April 18, 1999.
  9. Haller, Kölz, Gächter: Allgemeine Staatsrecht , 2013, Rn. 501 (p. 155).
  10. On Russia cf. z. B. Anja Schlage: The distribution of state power between the Russian Federation and its subjects. Presentation of federalism in Russia from a German perspective. Lit Verlag, 2011, p. 13 f.
  11. 2008–2014 the number of subjects was no longer 89 due to mergers, but only 83.
  12. ^ In addition, Andreas Heinemann-Grüder : The asymmetrical federalism of Russia and the role of the regions. In: Russia under new leadership. Politics, economy and society at the beginning of the 21st century. Agenda, Bremen 2001, pp. 78–88; Jakob Fruchtmann: The development of Russian federalism - an interim balance. In: Russia today. Recentralization of the state under Putin. VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2007, pp. 67-68; Daniel Thym : Asynchronism and European Constitutional Law. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2004, p. 349 ff.
  13. Ronald L. Watts: Typologies of federalism. In: John Loughlin u. a .: Routledge Handbook of Regionalism and Federalism. Routledge, Abingdon (Oxon) / New York 2013, pp. 19–33, here pp. 19 f., 22.
  14. ^ Karl Brinkmann: Constitutional theory . 2nd, supplemented edition, R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich / Vienna 1994, ISBN 978-3-486-78678-1 , p. 372 f. (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  15. ^ Siegfried Mampel , quoted from Michael Richter : The formation of the Free State of Saxony. Peaceful revolution, federalization, German unity 1989/90 , Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2004, ISBN 3-525-36900-X , pp. 40, 45, quotation p. 55.
  16. ^ Detlef Kotsch and Harald Engler: State and State Party. The administrative reform of the SED in Brandenburg 1952–1960. In: the same and Oliver Werner (ed.): Education and establishment of the GDR districts in Brandenburg. Administration and parties in the districts of Potsdam, Frankfurt / Oder and Cottbus 1952–1960. BWV, Berlin 2017, pp. 18–21.
  17. ^ Heinz Laufer: Federalism. The Federal Republic of Germany as a federal state. Information on Political Education No. 169, 1976, p. 8.
  18. ^ Theodor Maunz, Reinhold Zippelius: A study book. 28th edition, CH Beck, Munich 1991, p. 9.
  19. See Art. 4 of the Act on the Formation of a Provisional Chamber of the German Democratic Republic of October 7, 1949 .
  20. Michael Schweitzer : Staatsrecht III. Constitutional law, international law, European law , 10th edition, CF Müller, Heidelberg 2010, p. 263 f., Rn. 642.
  21. Ronald L. Watts: Typologies of federalism. In: John Loughlin u. a .: Routledge Handbook of Regionalism and Federalism. Routledge, Abingdon (Oxon) / New York 2013, pp. 19–33, here pp. 22, 28.
  22. ^ Emmerich Tálos : The Austrofascist system of rule: Austria 1933–1938 (=  politics and contemporary history . Volume 8 ). 2nd Edition. Lit Verlag, Berlin / Münster / Vienna 2013, ISBN 978-3-643-50494-4 , pp. 86 .
  23. ^ Wilhelm Brauneder : Österreichische Verfassungsgeschichte: Introduction to development and structures . With support from Friedrich Lachmayer. Manz, Vienna 1976, ISBN 3-214-04868-6 .
  24. See also Dirk Hanschel: Conflict Resolution in the Federal State. The solution of federal competence, financial and territorial conflicts in Germany, the USA and Switzerland , Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2012, p. 34.
  25. Ronald L. Watts: Typologies of federalism. In: John Loughlin u. a .: Routledge Handbook of Regionalism and Federalism. Routledge, Abingdon (Oxon) / New York 2013, pp. 19–33, here p. 28.
  26. Andreas Thüsing, quoted in after Michael Richter: The formation of the Free State of Saxony. Peaceful Revolution, Federalization, German Unity 1989/90 , Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2004, p. 55.
  27. ^ Karl Brinkmann: Constitutional theory . 2nd, supplemented edition, R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich / Vienna 1994, pp. 366 and 373 ff. (Accessed via De Gruyter Online).