Countries in Green are Federal and Blue are Unitary

Federal vs. Unitary Governments

In a unitary government the power is held by one central authority but in a federal government, the power is divided between national (federal) government and local (state) governments. In recent years there has been a strong global trend toward federal governments. Unitary systems have been sharply curtailed in a number of countries and scrapped together in others. France is a good example of a nation-state that has a long tradition of a unitary government in which a very strong national government dominates local government decisions. Their basic form of governments consists of 96 departments that each has an elected general council. The administrative head is elected by the national government as opposed to being elected by the people. The French government has granted additional legal powers to the departments and communes over recent years. Local governments can now borrow money freely to finance local projects without government approval. In a unitary government, the central government possesses much authority and decision-making power. Local governing bodies simply serve as administrative arms of the central government. Great Britain is a familiar example of a unitary government; individual British counties have little of the power commonly exercised by American states. Places like the United Kingdom, where England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own internal governments are still subject to the laws created by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The devolved governments cannot challenge the constitutionality of acts of Parliament, and the powers of the devolved governments can be revoked or reduced by the central government (the Parliament with a government comprising the Cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister).

In a federal government, power is split between a central government authority and its constituent states. Usually, an overriding law of the land, known as a constitution, allocates duties, rights, and privileges to each level of government. The constitution usually defines how power is shared between national, state, and local governments. The United States is considered the first modern federation. After declaring independence from Britain, the U.S. adopted its first constitution, the Articles of Confederation in 1781. This was the first step towards federalism by establishing the federal Congress. This is a government with strong central powers.

Federal Versus Unitary Government
The government of any state is organized generally in two main ways: The unitary system or the federal system. As more and more ethnicities move towards self-determinism, governments restructure their system to transfer limited authority to regional or local governments from the national government. In this sense, ethnicities can possess majority control of a local unit of government without compromising a higher power.

Unitary State: Places most power in the hands of central government officials.
Federal State: Allocates strong power to units of local government within a country.

What also must be taken into consideration is that a country’s cultural and physical characteristics influence the type of government that is in existence. An example would be a theocratic government, which is a government based on religion and the law provided. This type of government is in existence in many Middle Eastern countries because the religion that is dominant there encompasses directional law that covers all aspects of life including the system of government.

Federal government
Federal Government System: This type of government system distributes power from the national government to local governments in order to adopt their own laws within reason of the country. Multinational states tend to adopt a federal system of government to empower different nationalities and avoid political instability. Under a federal system, local government boundaries can be drawn to encompass a region inhabited by a certain ethnicity. The federal system also works effectively for larger states because the capital may be too far away to efficiently control further regions. However the size of state does not always reveal its type of government because Belgium for example, is a small country with a federal system for the purpose of managing two majority ethnicities. Another example would be the large state of China, which has a unitary government to spread and diffuse Communist values.
* Has multiple hierarchy levels, with both the central authority and the states (or provinces) both being sovereign.
* The central (national) rules override the state rules
* Has a balance between them. (The US)
* Shared between national and local levels. In a federal form of government, the term "federal" is also used to refer to the national level of government.

Federal Government

-a government with strong central powers
-Allows much authority
-Goes along with a multi national state
-Power is diffused
-Gives more power to local territories/ provinces to make rules/laws
-The U.S. has a federal government
-Students of federal governments will note that within a basic federal political system, there are two or more levels of government that exist within an established territory and govern through common institutions with overlapping or shared powers as prescribed by a constitution.

Unitary government
Unitary Government System: This type of government system works best in nation-states where few cultural differences exist within the state and a strong sense of national pride and unity is prevalent. Since the power is centralized in a unitary system, there must be efficient communication throughout the country, therefore smaller states tend to have unitary government systems. Governments of this type are common in Europe. Although typically nation-states tend to have a unitary system in place, multi-national states have also had a unitary system in the past. When a unitary system exists in a multinational state, it is often predictable that values and beliefs of one nationality are imposed over the lesser ones. When Communist parties controlled government, many Eastern European countries had unitary systems to spread and promote diffusion of Communist values.
* There is no hierarchy of sovereign powers.
* States have no authority to pass their own laws, and the central (national) government can order the states to do anything. (Just like a state can order a town to do anything, because the town is not sovereign.)
* The federal government has a huge percentage of the power. (Japan)


-Government system
-Central government possesses most of the authority
-Uniformly applied
-Tends to be dictatorship/totalitarianism
-France is a unitary government but is democratic
-Power is centrally concentrated
-Little to no provincial authority
-Major decisions are made by the central government
-Tends to go along with nation-state
-A unitary state is a country whose three organs of state are governed as one single unit.
-In a unitary state, any sub-governmental units can be created or abolished, and have their powers varied, by the central government.
-A unitary state can broaden and narrow the functions of such devolved governments without formal agreement from the affected bodies.

Nation vs. Multinational State

-The nation-state is a certain form of state that derives its legitimacy from serving as a sovereign entity for a nation as a sovereign territorial unit.
-a specific form of state, which exists to provide a sovereign territory for a particular nation and which derives its legitimacy from that function.
-Minimizes conflict and makes for stronger states
-Organized by race or cultural background
- On the other hand, there are strong states with sizeable minorities
-a single nation comprises the bulk of the population
- Examples: Japan, Denmark, and Poland
-The term "nation-state" implies that the two geographically coincide, and this distinguishes the nation state from the other types of state, which historically preceded it.
-Has different attitudes to their territory and other territory
-has defined borders and territories
-cannot exist when there is a defined ethnic and cultural group that exists without territorial borders.

Multinational State
-A state in which consists of two or more ethnically distinct nations of significant size
-Contrast with nation-state
-Majority of population is not ethnically homogenous
-China and India are the two largest multinational states in the world; having more than a billion peoples each.
-Examples: UK of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland


-Definition: The tendency for states to give up political power to a higher authority in pursuit of common objectives. (Political, Economic, Military, Environmentally)
- Method of decision-making in multi-national political communities, wherein power is transferred to an authority broader than governments of member states.
- A supranational authority, by definition, can have some independence from member state governments, although not as much independence as with federal governments.
-Organizations that take part in supranationalism: EU, EEC, Common market, Benelux, NAFTA, ASEAN, UN, NATO, Warsaw Pact, League of Nations, Arab League, SEATO, OAS, CARICOM, ACS, Andean Group, MERCOSUR, AU, ECOWAS, APEC, CIS, OPEC, NORDEN, Central American Common Market
-The USSR, East and West Germany, and the United Kingdom are NOT supranationalist organizations.
-Supranationalism has had a great effect on most European countries. Some of the changes that have been brought upon
These countries are as follows:
1. Larger markets (greater trade, free trade, reduced tariffs, greater economic property)
2. Greater international influence (greater political/economic power, greater ability to compete
To compete with economies of other countries
3. Open borders (labor, tourists)
4. Common Currency
5. Common policy {resources, agriculture, economic,
Environment, trade, military)
Loss of controls over individual policy
-Another method of decision-making in international organizations is intergovernmental, in which state governments play a more prominent role.


-Definition: The process whereby regions within a state demand and gain political strength and growing autonomy at the expense of the central government.
-The process in which sub-government units and/or national or regional parliaments are created by a central government.
- The statutory granting of powers from the central government of a state to government at a subnational level, such as a regional, local, or state level.
- The devolution can be mainly financial, e.g. giving areas a budget which was formerly administered by central government.
-The breakup of a state, which is the process of balkanization.
-Europe is one of the places that have changed through devolution as well. The results were as follows:
1. Formation of new states/governments
2. More power to regions
3. Political instability (civil war, fighting, hostility, conflict, etc.)
4. Mass migration
-Examples of devolution:
1. Balkanization in Yugoslavia/ Balkans
2. Demand for greater autonomy (required I.D. of internal units or groups) in countries within the U.K., Belgium, Canada, Spain, Italy, France, U.S., India, and Pakistan.

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