Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


I. Use of Terminology

Confederations1 are associations of autonomous states that agree to the joint exercise of power and the limitation of their sovereignty in a number of defined areas of governmental activity, such as defence, trade, public health and environment, in order to ensure the achievement of a common purpose through the establishment of some joint machinery of deliberation and decision-making and a jointly manned central administration.

The EU can be seen as a confederal arrangement, as can, arguably, the Belgian state. The limitations on the freedom of action of the member states of a confederation may include the obligation, in limited fields, to be bound by majority decisions of the constituent states.2 A confederal state stresses the equality of its constituent members as well as their togetherness for certain common purposes.

The confederation is often distinguished from that other, related form of divided sovereignty, the federation, in that the range of areas to be entrusted to the central decision-making organs is more limited, there is more emphasis on decision-making by unanimity or consensus rather than by majority, there is less democracy in the sense that direct representation may be lacking, and the constituent states, at least theoretically, retain the option of terminating the bond. A confederation is further removed from being a unitary democracy than is a federation.

Whereas these forms of integration between political entities can be seen as extremes, in actual practice the dividing line between federations and confederations is not clearcut, as there is a spectrum of variations between them. A confederation can have federal traits and a federation confederal traits. Both the confederation and the federation can be emanations of consociationalism,3 a generic term used by some scholars to describe a relationship between political units in which sovereignty is diffused. There may be diplomatic merit in using a generic term like this when seeking a settlement for Cyprus, because, being more vague, it desensitizes issues and overcomes prejudice.4 For present purposes, however, - and for the sake of simplicity - it is preferable to adopt, with caution, the slightly ambiguous but more commonly used terminology.

According to some, the more lose type of a confederal arrangement seems, today, to be particularly attractive for entities seeking to accommodate themselves, like Cyprus or the EU, to the challenges and needs of present-day realities. In a world of growing interdependence and consequent desire for linkage among states and peoples, confederations allow closer cooperation without creating new nations. They safeguard individual identities and they respect ethnic and cultural diversity, while accommodating resulting tensions. For Cyprus, an improved, confederal arrangement within the framework of the EU could provide a politically secure structure and norms for a new cooperative relationship between the parties.

1 Dodd, Clement, "Constitutional Conundrums", conference paper in: Centre for the Study of International Relations amd Strategic Studies (CERIS), ULB, The Need for New Perspectives on Cyprus, Brussels 2000, 9-17. Daniel J. Elazar, Federal Systems of the World: A Handbook of Federal, Confederal and Autonomy Arrangements, Longman Current Affairs, London 1991, p. xvi, defines a confederation as a number of "pre-existing polities joined together to form a common government for strictly limited purposes, usually foreign affairs and defence, and more recently, economics, which remains dependent upon its constituent polities in critical ways and must work through them."

2 It may also involve the use of weighted voting.

3 Taylor, Paul, "Consociationalism", conference paper in: Centre for the Study of International Relations amd Strategic Studies (CERIS), ULB, The Need for New Perspectives on Cyprus, Brussels 2000, 18-21. See also Schreuer, "The Waning of the Sovereign State: Towards a New Paradigm for International Law", 4 European Journal of International Law (1993), 447-71.

4 For the same reasons as set out above the term "partnership", which appears in the proposal of 31 Aug. 1998 by President Denktas (see below) may be used in political discussions aiming at a lasting solution in Cyprus. Also the use of the term "Consociational Cyprus Union" could be envisaged.



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