EURAC Institute for Studies on Federalism and Regionalism

EURAC Institute for Studies on Federalism and Regionalism


Hello my name is Francesco Palermo. I am the head of the institute for Studies on Federalism and Regionalism. Let me take you for a short trip around the world to show you five federal states that exemplify why federalism matters to all of us. First stop the United States of America. The United States is the first historical example of a federal country. Federalism there was created in order to guarantee democracy. In one single state power is naturally concentrated in the federal system power is divided and no one has the prevalence over the others. For example to win the presidential elections popular vote might not be sufficient sometimes the state’s might have the decisive say. Now let’s move to India. India is a federation composed by 28 states, seven union territories, it has 1.2 billion inhabitants, about 2,000 ethnic groups and all major religions are represented. With such a huge diversity India needs federalism to be democratic. For example while at federal level two languages are official each of the 28 states can determine its official language policy. This means that 22 languages are official in the country. Now let’s move from the biggest federal country to one of the smallest: Switzerland. Switzerland has a population of only about eight million people and has as many cantons as indian states: 26 cantons exist in Switzerland and they enjoy a great degree of autonomy. For example, one canton might decide to reduce taxes in order to make its economy more competitive. Another canton might decide also by referendum to increase the taxes in order to provide better services to the citizens. This is what makes Swiss federalism so competitive and flexible. Germany is ethnically much less diverse than other federal countries but federalism has a long tradition in Germany. It has existed long before the establishment of the German state. What I like particularly about German federalism is the fact that the two levels of government are intertwined. Legislation is done almost exclusively at federal level, implementation is done by the sub-national governments. This allows to have a common framework for all but also quite a different implementation close to the needs of citizens. Finally, South Tyrol. South Tyrol is well known for an autonomy system that has made it possible to solve an ethnic conflict between German speakers and Italian speakers. Thanks to its autonomy within the Italian and the European context not only ethnic freedom was established through a federal idea but by the passing of time South Tyrol has been able to develop close links to the neighboring countries and regions. This made it possible to coordinate many policies such as infrastructure, transport, tourism, health care or environment. It is fitting to end with South Tyrol because this is where I’m speaking from the European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen at the Institute for Studies on Federalism and Regionalism we do first basic research on complex federal issues, we offer training opportunities especially at postgraduate level and we do consultancy for policymakers on how decisions can be made in issues like environment, financial relations or education. If you’d like to find out more about what we do please come visit us on our website. That’s good! That’s, that’s the one! The United States, no that’s too artificial.

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