International Conferences on Federalism

1st International Conference on Federalism

The 1st International Conference on Federalism, entitled “Federalism in an Era of Globalization” was organized as the first major activity of the Government of Canada’s non-governmental Committee interested in establishing an organization that would provide a network of practitioners in federalism to exchange information on best practices to improve federal governance. In Mont-Tremblant, Canada from the 5-8 October 1999, this conference successfully took place and lead to the official establishment of the Forum of Federations in January 2000, with the Government of Canada as its first co-founder.

The conference consisted of plenary sessions with presentations by heads of State and political leaders from federal countries, such as United States President Bill Clinton. These sessions were interspersed between smaller roundtable workshops lead by practitioners to address practical policy issues and encourage the exchange of information. Each workshop was accompanied by a prepared background paper on the discussion topic. Discussions during the conference surrounded four main themes: (1) social diversity and federalism, (2) economic and fiscal arrangements, (3) intergovernmental relations, and (4) federalism and the welfare state.

A selection of presentations and background papers from the conference were selected for publication in issue 167 of the International Social Science Journal.

Some conclusions which were drawn from the conference are listed below:

  • Many contemporary federations face the same issues
  • The responses to these similar situations differed vastly per federation
  • There is much more to be learned on federalism from comparing experiences and exchanging information
2nd International Conference on Federalism

The 2nd International Conference on Federalism, entitled “Federalism in a Changing World – Learning from Each Other” was held in St. Gallen Switzerland from the 27-30 August 2002. Gathering over 600 participants from over 60 countries, the second conference of its kind brought together elected representatives, officials, academics, and youth.

The conference was oriented around a concept known as the “knowledge spiral”, the purpose of which was to help participants expand their individual and institutional knowledge. The “knowledge spiral” format of the conference consisted of four hour-long work sessions to increase multi-national dialogue among equals, followed by dialogue tables and plenary sessions, both taking into account the results from the work sessions. Discussions focused on three themes: (1) federalism and foreign relations; (2) federalism, decentralization, and conflict management in multicultural societies; and (3) assignment of responsibilities and fiscal federalism.

The results of the conference proceedings have been published in two books and a film. The discussions from the conference, along with the scientific background papers prepared for the conference, and the plenary speeches, were published in the book “Federalism in a Changing World – Learning from Each Other”. The analysis presented in this publication identified four overarching themes of (1) identity, (2) responsibility, (3) mutuality, and (4) pragmatism.

3rd International Conference on Federalism

The 3rd International Conference on Federalism was hosted in Brussels, Belgium from the 3-5 March 2005. This conference represented a commitment to continued international dialogue on federalism. Held to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Belgian federalism, the Brussels conference brought together over 1,000 participants from over 80 countries, increasing its participation from the two previous International Conferences on Federalism.

The discussion topics at the conference were centered around changing international political contexts, notably the peace process in Sudan, the nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the development of a European constitution. This conference took a thematic focus to federalism and applied it to topical issues around the world. The conference maintained the format of plenary presentations interspersed with discussion workshops. The workshops centered around the following four themes: (1) the foundations of federalism, (2) federalism and the distribution of responsibilities, (3) federal techniques and methods of functioning, and (4) federalism and international relations. However, there were added speaker representatives from non-federal states, representing a diversification of perspectives, and a growing interest in the possibilities of federal governance beyond the established federations of the world.

Some conclusions which were drawn from the conference are listed below:

  • Federalism was deemed a flexible tool, to (1) accommodate diversity and (2) manage change both from within and beyond the limits of the state
  • Federalism as a tool is dependent on (1) the underlying political culture and (2) the disposition of key actors in realizing the potential offered by federalism
  • Federalism must be understood as a process, rather than a ready-made set of institutions
4th International Conference on Federalism

The 4th International Conference on Federalism was held at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi from the 5-7 November 2007. It was hosted by the Government of India through its Inter-State Council Secretariat. The conference brought together 1,300 experts, practitioners, and heads of State from 116 countries. A panel of Indian and international experts on federalism developed the four main themes discussed during the conference: (1) building on and accommodating diversities, (2) emerging issues in fiscal federalism, (3) interaction in a federal system, and (4) local government and federal systems. These themes were then addressed more specifically as 12 subthemes.

The papers prepared for this conference, the discussions, and more in relation to the themes explored in this 4th International Conference on Federalism were published as a Forum of Federations series entitled “Unity in Diversity: Learning from Each Other”, which can be found in the Forum’s Resource Library under Publications and Special Collections.

5th International Conference on Federalism

The 5th International Conference on Federalism, entitled “Equality and Unity in Diversity for Development”, was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from the 13-16 December 2010. It was hosted by the Government of Ethiopia and the Forum of Federations. The overarching theme of the conference was the need for sustainable development in federal, federalizing, or decentralizing countries in Africa and other non-Western regions. The importance of this theme was rooted in the concept that sustainable development requires equality and unity in diversity, qualities which are necessary for the emergence and sustenance of social peace and democracy.

The discussion and workshop topics of the conference were as follows: (1) federalism and the democratization process; (2) the impacts of regionalization and globalization on federations; (3) unity in diversity through federalism; (4) federalism and conflict prevention, management, and resolution mechanisms; and (5) fiscal federalism and equitable development.

Forum of Federations