Difference Between Federation and Confederation

The main difference between Federation and Confederation is that the sovereignty of the members in a federation ceases to exist with its formation while the members in a confederation retain their sovereign power even after the formation of the confederation.

Federation, therefore, is usually among sub-regions within a state whereas the confederation is among several states. Federation and confederation are distinct political concepts and systems that focus on the administrative system among states.

The membership of the member states in a federation is not voluntary while the membership in a confederation is voluntary. Therefore, the members of a confederation can withdraw their membership anytime, unlike in a federation.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is a Federation
     – Definition, Features, Characteristics,
2. What is a Confederation
     – Definition, Features, Characteristics 
3. What is the Difference Between Federation and Confederation
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Confederation, Federation, Politics

Difference Between Federation and Confederation - Comparison Summary

What is a Federation

The governing political system of federalism is the basis of the concept of federation. A federation is a political entity characterised by the unification of partially self-governing provinces, states, or other regions under a central (federal) government. Usually, the states with large territories having numerous provinces and regions follow the concept of federation.

In other words, a federation is a form of government in which the sovereign power divides formally between the central authority and the other constituent regions. This helps to retain the control of these other constitutional regions with concern to their internal as well as their external affairs.

This division of power among the constituents and the central government happens according to an accepted written constitution. It happens as a result after an initial agreement with the leaders of these sub-regions with concern to common interests, common aims, etc. in order to avoid and reduce differences among them and to encourage them to stand for a common goal as one new state.

Main Difference - Federation vs Confederation

Figure 1: Flag of the Federation of Russia

Moreover, although the constituent members, i.e., the provinces and the other regions, lose their sovereign power under this governing system, they also can, to a certain degree, enjoy their independent governments with regard to separate laws, traditions and habits, etc. However, the members of a federation are bound to respect the authority of the central government, especially concerning defence, military and security matters, foreign policy, international relations and diplomacy, economic matters like the currency rates, etc.

Some examples of federations are Canada, Russia, USA, China, India, and Australia.

What is Confederation

A confederation is a union of States who keep their sovereignty, sometimes adopting a common Constitution. In other words, a confederation is a loose union of some sovereign states where the member states retain their sovereign power even after the formation of the confederation. It means that the member states carry on their sovereign identity and autonomous political and economic policies even after forming the union.

Thus, in a confederation, states come together, creating a loose (often temporary) union for matters of political, economic or administrative convenience. The confederating states evolve some common defence and foreign policy or some other issues of common interest. Therefore, it is not a new state but a union of different autonomous states for the purpose of a collective action, often concerning other states.

The member states get together under the umbrella of an organisation for some specific and temporary purposes. Hence, on fulfilling their objectives, the confederation might dissolve or the member states can break away from the union.

Difference Between Federation and Confederation

Figure 2: Confederation of Rhine, First meeting of Member States

Moreover, the resolutions passed by the central organisation of the confederation do not concern the status of law; they are more academic or attempt to address their common objectives. So they need not be enforced by the court of law in the member states. This is different concerning the members of a federation. 

Difference Between Federation and Confederation


Federation is a political entity of regional states or constituents united into a single group with centralized control while the confederation is a more or less permanent union of sovereign states according to common interests and political, economic or even administrative convenience.

Central Authority

The federal government which governs the member states acts as the central authority of the federation whereas, in a confederation, the central authority is usually a weak nominal body appointed by the member states.

New State

Federation is a creation of a new state, but the confederation does not create any new state.


The member states in a federation lose their sovereignty and are controlled by the central authority while the member states in a confederation retain their sovereignty even after their union. This is the main difference between Federation and Confederation.


The membership in a federation becomes mandatory while the membership in a confederation is voluntary to the states. Therefore, the members of a confederation can leave the union at any time they wish.


Federation has a written constitution while confederation does not have a written constitution.


The resolutions passed by federations concern the laws made by the federal government, and the member states bound to obey and enforce them. On the contrary, the resolutions passed by the Confederation are not of the status of law; they are mostly academic, or joint foreign policy etc. thus, not binding the member states to enforce them.


The extent of the association in a confederation is not as deep as in a federation. In other words, a federation is a rigid union while confederation is more or less a loose union.


Some examples of federations are Russia, China, USA, Belgium, Austria, Australia, Germany, etc. Some examples of Confederation are EU, Indigenous confederations in North America, Old Swiss Confederacy, Confederation of the Rhine, etc


Federation and Confederation are two forms of government systems in the world. We can see the federation system in states consisting of large territories with several provinces and regions while the confederation is usually among autonomous states with common political and economic objectives. The main difference between federation and confederation lies in the sovereign status of their members after the formation of the confederation.

Reference :

1. “Difference: Confederation and Federation | States | Political Science.” Political Science Notes, 28 Mar. 2017, Available here.
2. “Federation.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 June 2018, Available here.
3. “Confederation.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 June 2018, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “State Flag of Russia(Alternative)” By Osipov Georgiy Nokka – Own work, Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Confederation of the Rhine First Meeting” By Contemporary engraving c. 1806 –  (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Upen

Upen, BA (Honours) in Languages and Linguistics, has academic experiences and knowledge on international relations and politics. Her academic interests are English language, European and Oriental Languages, Internal Affairs and International Politics, and Psychology.

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