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Constitutional FAQ Answer #146

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Q146. "Your page on the Articles of Confederation says that there are no more confederations existing in the world. I beg to differ — Switzerland is a confederation."

A. There have not been many confederations in the past two centuries or so, and the main reason is that governments are not very willing to share power in the way that they have to to have a successful confederation. One text book I have lists just three: the United States (1781-1787), Germany (1815-1866), and Switzerland (1815-1874). Europe has some of the traits of a confederation, but until the "national" parliament acquires more power, it can't be called one. The wider acceptance of the euro and the wider ratification of the European Constitution would also help. The United Arab Republic tried be a confederation, but only lasted from 1958-1961.

As to Switzerland, it is officially known as a confederation: its official name is in Latin, Confoederatio Helvetica, to avoid preference to any of the three main languages. It is a federal republic, much like the United States in many ways, with 26 small cantons in the place of states. Under the Swiss constitution, the cantons hold all powers not delegated to the federal government, but the most important powers of a nation, economic and military, are reserved to the federal government, and preclude calling Switzerland a true confederation, despite the name. The CIA Factbook lists Switzerland as "formally a confederation, but similar in structure to a federal republic."


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