(Con)federalism: Cure or Curse?

Re-Bel e-book 18, Published in English in July 2015, 41 pages

Editors Kris Deschouwer & Johanne Poirier
Contributions by Kris Deschouwer, Philippe Destatte, Michael Keating, John Loughlin, Johanne Poirier, Jan Velaers


This e-book addresses two questions. Is there, or can there be a clear and unambiguous way to distinguish between different types of territorial (re)organization, in particular between federalism and confederalism. In a country that invests considerable energy in debates concerning its institutional future, it might be useful to agree on some basic terminology. Afgainst this background, in a country that is engaged in apparently never-ending discussions about what it actually is, and what it might become, it is also interesting to ask whether fiddling with the territorial organization of the state is a fruitful avenue. Can federal-type solutions really bring about a stable and lasting equilibrium? Or is there something like an inevitable slippery slope from unitarism to federalism to confederalism and finally full separation?

In the end, the question of whether (con)federalism is a cure or a curse for complex societies in general, and for Belgium is particular, is given a predictably nuanced answer by the contributors to this volume. Institutional designs, whether federal, confederal, or hybrid carry a number of advantages and hazards, which evolve with time and do not call for unanimous evaluations. A cure for some may be a curse for others. And, more importantly, a cure at some point in time may turn into a curse in the long run. Conversely, what may have appeared as a curse for some time may actually carry the seeds of (a temporary) cure. This volume challenges the idea that there are simple univocal definitions, unquestionable normative solutions or “once and for all” institutional arrangements.