Federalism and centralism

The Federalism is the political system in which states retain their sovereignty, so they have some autonomy in political and administrative decisions. The centralism is a political system where all power and decision-making rests with the central government.

These two political systems differ in the way in which powers are administered in the territory of a country.

In federalism, political power is divided by territories, while in centralism there is a single central government, that is, there is no division of political power by territories.

MeaningPolitical system where states retain their sovereignty and delegate a certain degree of autonomy to the central state.Political system where all political and administrative power is concentrated in a single central body: the State.
Division of powerIt is divided by geographical territories that can be provinces, regions or States.There is no territorial division of power: everything falls to a central government that has representation in the different states.
LawsThe congresses of the States dictate the laws for their territories.Congress dictates the laws for the entire national territory.
TypesSymmetrical and asymmetrical.Pure, with administrative decentralization and with political and administrative decentralization.
PresenceAustria, Germany, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, the United States, India, Mexico, Russia, Switzerland, Venezuela and others.Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chile, Cyprus, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Finland, France, Guatemala, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru , Poland, Portugal, Romania, Uruguay and others.

What is federalism?

It comes from the Latin word fœdus which means ‘pact’ and refers to an agreement where the territorial entities of a country come together to preserve their sovereignty.

In this political system, the different states retain their own laws and authorities . A certain degree of autonomy and some freedoms are delegated to a general body or authority, which is the State.

Federalism aims for the bodies that make up the States to be associated to exercise their functions fully and freely.

For this reason, the federal states are responsible for legal, educational, financial and other matters.

Characteristics of federalism

  • The constitution approved by the States establishes the functions of the government.
  • The division of powers is based on the geographical division of each territory.
  • Both the central government and lower units participate in decision-making regarding public services in each jurisdiction and other issues.
  • The Supreme Court of Justice is in charge of interpreting and modifying the constitution whenever required.

Types of federalism

Symmetrical Federalism

It occurs when there is equal powers for all governing bodies in each territory of a country. This happens, for example, in the United States.

Asymmetric federalism

It occurs when some States have more powers than others. An example of this is Quebec, in Canada, a federal entity that maintains an official language different from that of the rest of the country.

Advantages and disadvantages of federalism


  • Government authorities are closer to citizens so they can see directly what problems affect them and solve them.
  • The application, monitoring and evaluation of the results of public policies throughout the country is facilitated.


  • The effectiveness of political and administrative actions can be affected if there is no coordination between all government entities in the country.
  • Many times the economic resources available to the States are not enough to meet all the needs of the inhabitants.

What is centralism?

It comes from the Latin word centr, which means ‘a single place’, and lismo , which means ‘person’.

This political doctrine advocates the political and administrative centralization of power. The central government is the supreme authority and has all the power in decision-making.

Centralism usually originates from the lack of economic funds in the States to provide basic services to all citizens.

In this form of government, it is the State that assumes competences before the states or administrative divisions, since the exercise and administration of public rights throughout the country falls on it .

This form of government in its purest expression is less and less common.

Characteristics of centralism

  • There is a single central government that is in charge of all political and administrative aspects of the country.
  • There is no territorial division of political power.
  • In the different localities there is a representation of the State.
  • The culture and traditions that exist in the different states are often not taken into account by the central government.

Types of centralism

Pure centralism

The central administrative body exercises all powers in an absolute manner. An example of this type of centralism is Monaco.

Centralism with administrative decentralization

Politically, the States are centralized, but administratively they are decentralized because the State delegates powers to them. For example, France.

Centralism with political and administrative decentralization

They are the states that have politically centralized cooperative federalism. It can also be called centralized federalism or unitary federalism. Examples of this are countries like Austria, Mexico, India, and Venezuela.

Advantages and disadvantages of centralism


  • The process in making political and administrative decisions is streamlined by not having to be discussed with different government entities.
  • The government has all the economic resources of the State and the responsibility for any irregularity falls on it.


  • States, losing their sovereignty, cannot make decisions in situations that affect them locally.
  • Lack of attention on the part of the central government to the existing problems in the different regions of the country.

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