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Federalism and Multilinguism

Federalism vs. Centralism

Building democracy did not change one basic difference in the administration of France and Germany: as before under the rule of kings France has a centralistic government, decisions are made in the capital and the local authorities act all according to the same directives. The federal states of Germany on the other side have quite some autonomy with own parliaments and governments. Switzerland's first attempt to become a modern democracy (1798-1802) failed not least because the revolution tried to replace extremely federalist structures by a centralist system.

The reasons why centralism works perfectly in some countries while others cannot think of anything else than federalism are not obvious. Evidently it is not a question of absolute size - there are big as well as small nations in both groups.

There are good arguments for both systems: The centralistic system allows to implement efficient standardized solutions, opens markets to competition and facilitates mobility. The federalist system allows to tailor laws and administrative processes to match the individual needs and mentalities of different regions and may reduce costs by focusing state activity on what the regional population really wants.

Federalism, Minorities and Multilinguism

Federalism has one advantage that is not easy to assess, but may still be very important: In the federalist system, decisions are transferred to the lowest level possible. People are likely to be more directly involved in decision-making, the credibility of the system is increased. The same decision, discussed in a regional parliament, may be far better accepted by the population than it would have been when taken in a far away capital.

as the key point is transferring decisions to the regions, federalism may play a key role in reducing conflicts between ethnical and/or religious groups as long as they live in separate regions. In Switzerland most people are convinced that federalism with 26 autonomous cantons does help to reduce the dominance of the German speaking majority (74%) over the French and Italian speaking minorities and allows rural and urban areas to set different priorities.

The federal system will not show these specific beneficial results, however, if a minority group spreads out all over a country. For this case other models of political participation are needed to prevent frustration and open conflict.

more ... More: Switzerland's Population and Languages

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