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A rule of conduct or procedure established by custom, agreement, or authority. The body of rules and principles governing the affairs of a community and enforced by a political authority; a legal system: international law. The condition of social order and justice created by adherence to such a system: a breakdown of law and civilized behavior. A set of rules or principles dealing with a specific area of a legal system: tax law; criminal law. A piece of enacted legislation. What is Law?


Federalism denotes a system of government in which power is divided by
constitutional right between national and local units of government in
regions. A state that follows the federal system is known as a federation.
Examples of federal systems include the governments of Australia, Canada,
Germany, Malaysia, the former Soviet Union, Switzerland, the United States,
and the former Yugoslavia. Some countries, whilst not being formal
federations, function like them - Spain, for instance, gives more powers to
its autonomous communities than most federations to their constituent parts.

Unlike unitary systems, in which the powers of the local units of government
are granted to them and can be varied or taken away by the national
legislature, in a federal system the local units of government have their
own independent constitutionally guaranteed authority. However they remain
sub-units of one overall state, and thus do not have national sovereignty
and have no standing under international law. In general, the local units of
government cannot undertake an independent foreign policy, nor can they have
standing armies without permission of federal government.

The distinction between unitary and federal governments is not always clear,
as the national government in a formally unitary system of government may
make large grants of power to local units resulting in a system that becomes
de-facto federal. An example of this is the United Kingdom. In theory, any
of the regional devolved authorities created could be abolished, though
politically that is exceptionally unlikely to happen once the citizens in
each region accept the authority's legitimacy over them. This system of
devolution that evolves into a form of de-facto federalism can sometimes
occur without formal legislation, as is the case with the People's Republic
of China in which largely informal grants of power to the provinces to
handle economic affairs and implement national policies has resulted in a
system which some have termed "de-facto federalism with Chinese
characteristics." In strict constitutional terms, however, regional
authorities which have no constitutional right to exist are referred to as
devolved assemblies, while those that have a constitutionally guaranteed
right to exist are federal authorities (often called 'states').

Often, the division of power between federal and local governments is
outlined in the national constitution, as is the case with the United States
and Australia. It is also common for the regional governments to have
existed longer than the national government and for the national government
to have come into being as a result of a union of local governments. This
was the case with the United States, Switzerland, Canada, and Australia.
Indeed many 'states' within federal systems may themselves have their own

The precise division of power varies from system to system. In the case of
the United States, the Federal government has powers over areas enumerated
in the United States constitution with the remaining powers belonging to the
states. (In practice, the enumeration and the "remaining powers" are both
fairly broad, and have been interpreted differently at different times.) In
the case of Germany, the division is less one of content than of
administration: the national government issues directives and the regional
governments (Lander) have broad discretion as to how to implement them. In
the People's Republic of China, the defacto federal situation is one in
which the central government sets up general economic policy and goals, and
leaves the implementation to provincial governments.

There are a number of issues that are common to federal systems. One is that
the exact division of power and responsibility between national and local
governments is often a major source of conflict. Often, as is the case with
the United States, such conflicts are resolved through the judicial system
which delimits the powers of federal and local governments. The relationship
between federal and local courts varies from nation to nation and can be a
controversial and complex issue in itself.

Another common issue in federal systems is the conflict between local
interests and regional interests. In some cases, such as Canada, these
interests become entangled with differences in language or ethnicity. The
ability of a federal government to create national institutions that can
mediate differences that arise due to language, ethnic, religious, or other
regional difference is major challenge, and the inability to meet this
challenge has been the cause of the collapse of some federal systems such as
Nigeria, the Soviet Union, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nysaland, and the
West Indies Federation.

Almost all federal systems have mechanisms such as the United States Senate,
United States Electoral College or the Australian Senate which give
numerically less numerous regions a larger share of power than their numbers
suggest. However, in some cases even these mechanisms break down, and in
these situations the local governments may become the focus of efforts at
secession. Faced with a serious secession movement, the national government
may simply dissolve, as was the case with the Soviet Union or may otherwise
find it necessary to resort to armed force to preserve the federation as was
the case of the United States during the American Civil War.
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