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Political union

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A political union is a type of political entity which is composed of, or created from, smaller polities, or the process which achieves this. These smaller polities are usually called federated states and federal territories in a federal government; and prefectures, regions, or provinces in the case of a centralised government. This form of government may be created through voluntary and mutual cession and is described as unionism[a] by its constituent members and proponents. In other cases, it may arise from political unification, characterised by coercion and conquest. The unification of separate states which, in the past, had together constituted a single entity is known as reunification.[2] Unlike a personal union or real union, the individual constituent entities may have devolution of powers but are subordinate to a central government or coordinated in some sort of organization. In a federalised system, the constituent entities usually have internal autonomy, for example in the setup of police departments, and share power with the federal government, for whom external sovereignty, military forces, and foreign affairs are usually reserved. The union is recognised internationally as a single political entity. A political union may also be called a legislative union or state union.[3] A union may be effected in many forms, broadly categorized as:

Incorporating union


In an incorporating union a new state is created, the former states being entirely dissolved into the new state (although some aspects may be preserved; see below).

Incorporating unions have been present throughout much of history, such as when:

Preservation of interests


Nevertheless, a full incorporating union may preserve the laws and institutions of the former states, as happened in the creating of the United Kingdom. This may be simply a matter of practice or to comply with a guarantee given in the terms of the union.[5] These guarantees may be to ensure the success of a proposed union (or in the least to prevent continuing resistance), as occurred in the union of Brittany and France in 1532 (Union of Brittany and France) in which a guarantee was given for the continuance of laws and of the Estates of Brittany (a guarantee revoked in 1789 at the French Revolution).[6] The assurance that institutions are preserved in a union of states can also occur as states realize that, whilst a power imbalance exists (such as between the economic conditions of Scotland and England prior to the Acts of Union 1707), it is not so great that it precludes the ability of concessions to be made. The Treaty of Union for creating the unified Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 contained a guarantee of the continuance of the civil laws and the existing courts in Scotland[7] (a continuing guarantee), which was significant for both parties. The Scottish, despite economic troubles during the Seven Ill Years preceding the union, still had remaining negotiating power.[8]

This marks a delineation of states that are able to ensure preservation of interests: there has to be some mutually beneficial reasoning behind the formal or informal preservation of interests. In the Union creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, no such guarantee was given for the laws and courts of the Kingdom of Ireland, though they were continued as a matter of practice.[9] The informal recognition of such interests represents the different circumstances of the two Unions, the small base of institutional power in Ireland at the time (those who were the beneficiaries of the Protestant Ascendancy) had faced a revolution in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and as a result there was an institutional drive toward unification, limiting the Irish negotiating power.[10] However, informal guarantees were given to preclude the possibility of further Irish unrest in the period following the French Revolution of 1789 and the 1798 rebellion. These types of informal arrangements are more susceptible to changes; for example, Tyrol was guaranteed that its Freischütz companies would not be posted to fight outside Tyrol without their consent, a guarantee later revoked by the Austrian state. However, this case can be contrasted with the continued existence of the Scottish Parliament and a separate body of Scottish law distinct from English law.[11]

Incorporating annexation


In an incorporating annexation a state or states is united to and dissolved in an existing state, whose legal existence continues.

Annexation may be voluntary or, more frequently, by conquest.

Incorporating annexations have occurred at various points in history, such as when:

Federal annexation


Federal annexation occurs when a unitary state becomes a federated unit of another existing state, the former continuing its legal existence. The new federated state thus ceases to be a state in international law but retains its legal existence in domestic law, subsidiary to the federal authority.[13]

Prominent historical federal annexations include:

Mixed unions


The unification of Italy involved a mixture of unions. The kingdom consolidated around the Kingdom of Sardinia, with which several states voluntarily united to form the Kingdom of Italy.[14] Others polities, such as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Papal States, were conquered and annexed. Formally, the union in each territory was sanctioned by a popular referendum where people were formally asked if they agreed to have as their new ruler Vittorio Emanuele II of Sardinia and his legitimate heirs.[15]

The unification of Germany began in earnest when the Kingdom of Prussia annexed numerous petty states in 1866.[16]

Historical unions


Supranational and continental unions


In addition to regional movements, supranational and continental unions that promote progressive integration between its members started appearing in the second half of the 20th century, first by the European Union. Other examples of such unions include the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations),[17][18] the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum,[19] and the Pacific Islands Forum.[20]

Academic analysis


The political position of the United Kingdom is often discussed,[21][22] as well as former states like Serbia and Montenegro (2003–2006), the Soviet Union (1922–1991) and the United Arab Republic (1958–1961).

Lord Durham was widely regarded as one of the most important thinkers in the history of the British Empire's constitutional evolution. He articulated the difference between a full legislative union and a federation. In his 1839 Report, in discussing the proposed union of Upper and Lower Canada, he says:

Two kinds of union have been proposed – federal and legislative. By the first, the separate legislature of each province would be preserved in its present form and retain almost all its present attributes of internal legislation, the federal legislature exercising no power save in those matters which may have been expressly ceded to it by the constituent provinces. A legislative union would imply a complete incorporation of the provinces included in it under one legislature, exercising universal and sole legislative authority over all of them in exactly the same manner as the Parliament legislates alone for the whole of the British Isles.[23]

However, unification is not merely voluntary. To meet this requirement, we need to have a balance of power between the two or more states, which can create an equal monetary, economic, social and cultural environment. We need also to take in account that those states eligible to unify must agree to a transition from anarchy, where there is no sovereignty above the state level, to hierarchy.

States can decide to enter a voluntary union as a solution for existing problems and to face possible threats, such as environmental threats for instance. The task of triggering a political crisis and to get the attention of the citizens toward the unification's necessity is in the hands of the elites. Despite it being quite rare, in some cases it works (see Old Swiss Confederacy and the confederation of the United States), while in most of the cases it turns to be a failure or leads to a forced unification (Italy, URSS) where the unified states are deeply unequal.

From a realist perspective, small states can unify in order to face strong states or to conquer weak ones. One of the reasons to seek unification to a stronger state besides a common threat can be a situation of negligence or ignorance on behalf of the weak state[24] which is, to simplify it, desperate and almost derelict.

According to a 1975 study by University of Rochester political scientist William Riker, unions were motivated by security threats.[25]

According to Ryan Griffiths, all instances of mutually wilful unification from 1816 onwards were between states that spoke the same languages.[26][dubiousdiscuss]

See also



  1. ^ In a different use of the term, unionism is used for membership or support of labour or trade unions. The term pro-union or -unity is sometimes used for political unionism instead of "unionism".[1]


  1. ^ "unionism (n.)". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ "Political Union". TheFreeDictionary.com. Archived from the original on 2020-08-06. Retrieved 2019-10-01.
  3. ^ Wohlgemuth, Michael (2017-06-01). "Political union and the legitimacy challenge". European View. 16 (1): 57–65. doi:10.1007/s12290-017-0432-z. ISSN 1865-5831.
  4. ^ Dullien, Sebastian; Torreblanca, José Ignacio (December 2012). "What is political union?" (PDF). European Council on Foreign Relations. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-08-19. Retrieved 2019-10-01.
  5. ^ Kincaid, John (1999-04-01). "Confederal federalism and citizen representation in the European union". West European Politics. 22 (2): 34–58. doi:10.1080/01402389908425301. ISSN 0140-2382.
  6. ^ What is political union?. 12 December 2012. Archived from the original on 1 October 2019. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  7. ^ ". . . that no Alteration be made in Laws which concern private Right, except for evident Utility of the Subjects within Scotland" – Article XVIII of the Treaty of Union
  8. ^ "The course of negotiations :: Act of Union 1707". Parliament UK. 2009-07-21. Archived from the original on 2009-07-21. Retrieved 2018-08-20.
  9. ^ Martin, Lawrence (1995). "Continental Union". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 538: 143–150. doi:10.1177/0002716295538000012. ISSN 0002-7162. JSTOR 1048332. S2CID 220848652.
  10. ^ "Everything you need to know about European political union". The Economist. 2015-07-27. ISSN 0013-0613. Archived from the original on 2019-10-01. Retrieved 2019-10-01.
  11. ^ Techau, Jan. "Political Union Now!". Carnegie Europe. Archived from the original on 2017-02-13. Retrieved 2019-10-01.
  12. ^ a b "Union of European Federalists (UEF): Federal Political Union". www.federalists.eu. Archived from the original on 2016-04-14. Retrieved 2019-10-01.
  13. ^ "Addresses Against Incorporating Union, 1706–1707". $USD. Archived from the original on 2018-06-12. Retrieved 2019-10-01.
  14. ^ "Unification of Italian States – Countries – Office of the Historian". history.state.gov. Archived from the original on 2011-06-02. Retrieved 2019-10-01.
  15. ^ Hoppen, K. Theodore (2008-04-01). "An Incorporating Union? British Politicians and Ireland 1800–1830". The English Historical Review. CXXIII (501): 328–350. doi:10.1093/ehr/cen009. ISSN 0013-8266. S2CID 145245653.
  16. ^ "Unification of German States – Countries – Office of the Historian". history.state.gov. Archived from the original on 2019-10-01. Retrieved 2019-10-01.
  17. ^ "Overview of Continental Unions". WiseMee. 2019-07-08. Archived from the original on 2019-10-01. Retrieved 2019-10-01.
  18. ^ Allison-Reumann, Laura; Murray, Philomena (2017-06-22). "Should the EU be considered a model for ASEAN?". Pursuit – The University of Melbourne. Archived from the original on 2017-07-02. Retrieved 2018-08-20.
  19. ^ J Bamber, Greg (2005-10-26). "What Context does the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) Provide for Employment Relations?" (PDF). Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-08-20. Retrieved 2018-08-20.
  20. ^ Robertson, Robbie. "Regionalism in the Pacific: A New Development Strategy" (PDF). The University of the South Pacific. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-02-27. Retrieved 2018-08-20.
  21. ^ "United Kingdom". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006-02-16. Archived from the original on 2006-02-16.
  22. ^ A Disunited Kingdom? – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, 1800–1949, Christine Kinealy, University of Central Lancashire, Cambridge University Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0-521-59844-6: "... explaining how the United Kingdom has evolved, the author explores a number of key themes including: the steps to political union, ..."
  23. ^ Lord Durham, Report on the Affairs of British North America (London: 1839); reprinted, Charles Prestwood Lucas (ed.), Lord Durham's report on the affairs of British North America (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912), vol. 2, p. 304.
  24. ^ Parent, Joseph M. (2011). Uniting States : voluntary union in world politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199782192. OCLC 696773008.
  25. ^ Riker, William H. 1975. "Federalism." in Fred I. Greenstein and Nelson W. Polsby (eds.), Handbook of Political Science. Addison-Wesley.
  26. ^ Griffiths, Ryan D. (2010). "Security threats, linguistic homogeneity, and the necessary conditions for political unification". Nations and Nationalism. 16 (1): 169–188. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8129.2010.00429.x. ISSN 1354-5078.

Further reading

  • Alberto Alesina and Enrico Spolaore. 2003. The Size of Nations. MIT Press.