The Center for Constitutional Transitions

Creation of Constituent Units in Federal Systems

By George Anderson

Federal and devolved systems of government are based on a territorial delimitation into political states, provinces or regions (constituent units: CUs).  When previously unitary countries enter into a constitutional transition to federalism, delimiting the new CUs can be politically controversial and even an obstacle to achieving federalism.  Several countries have confronted this issue recently or are currently engaged in doing so.  Their success has varied considerably.  This paper looks at the experiences of over 20 federal and quasi-federal countries in defining new CUs.  It examines both the issues around CU definition during a period of constitutional transition as well as the rules that have been developed for the incremental creation of new CUs once a federal constitution has been adopted.  Some lessons are drawn regarding approaches to timing of CU definition, criteria, decision-making processes during transitions and longer-term rules that may be appropriate in different contexts.

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About the Working Paper Series

This Working Paper is part of the series “Meeting the Challenges of Emerging Constitutional Democracy“, focusing on specific challenges that confront constitution-makers in new democracies. The Working Papers are intended primarily as a resource for practitioners working in the field in countries undergoing constitutional transition and in new democracies where efforts are being made to consolidate the transition to democracy. The four substantive papers in the series consider constitutional mechanisms to protect of minority rights in culturally diverse societies, whether meaningful electoral democracy can be achieved without a political party system, the advantages and dangers of semi-presidential government in the post-authoritarian context, and the creation of constituent or sub-national territorial units in federal systems. The last of these papers is supplemented by two data-rich annexes and a shorter “practitioners manual”.

About the Center

Constitutional Transitions generates and mobilizes knowledge in support of constitution building. Constitutional Transitions generates knowledge by identifying issues of critical importance to the success of constitutional transitions, where a lack of adequate, up-to-date research impedes the effectiveness of technical assistance for constitution building, and assembles and leads international networks of experts to complete thematic research projects that offer evidence-based policy options to practitioners. Constitutional Transitions mobilizes knowledge through an innovative clinical program that provides “back office” research support to constitutional advisors in the field, and deploys faculty experts and field researchers for support on the ground. We meet existing field missions’ needs for comprehensive research, dramatically enhancing their effectiveness and efficiency in their role as policy advisors and actors.