minority nations

Multinational Federalism: How to Measure A ‘Federal Deficit’?

Multinational Federalism: How to Measure A ‘Federal Deficit’?


Multinational (quasi)federations are polities that hold together at least two constituent national partners. Unlike sovereign or majoritarian nations, minority nations that evolve in such federations usually cannot fully empower their societal cultures exclusively with their own autonomous will and institutions. We argue that such inability can lead to a more or less prominent multinational federalism deficit. Indeed, the less a multinational (quasi)federation enables its minority nation(s) to develop and consolidate their respective societal culture, the more likely it is to display such deficit, and vice-versa. But how can we measure such a deficit? We identify six legally oriented pillars that are central for a minority nation to sustain its societal culture. Those pillars, which we operationalise through twelve indicators, form the building blocks of the Societal Culture Index. The Index allows measuring and comparing minority nations by combining normative studies and empirical research.


Multinational (quasi)federations[1] are polities that hold together at least two constituent national partners. In such context, minority nations usually cannot fully empower their societal cultures exclusively with their own autonomous institutions, and the state in which they evolve may thus suffer from a more or less prominent multinational federalism deficit. In this contribution, we first define multinational federalism and consider what are the key normative principles driving it. In a nutshell, we argue that a multinational conception of federalism aims at providing every constituent national partner of the political association with the necessary constitutional powers to develop and consolidate their respective societal culture. Second, we identify six legally oriented pillars that are central for a minority nation to sustain its societal culture. Those pillars, and the twelve indicators that operationalise them, form the building blocks of the Societal Culture Index, which allows measuring and comparing minority nations with regards to their capacity to develop and strengthen their respective societal culture. Third, we briefly introduce the multiple cases that may fit this analytical framework, and discuss of the relevance of the Index.

Multinational Federalism and Minority Nations’ Societal Culture

Just like majoritarian nations, minority nations possess their own “societal culture” (Kymlicka 1995: 53), i.e. they usually have access to legal, political, cultural, and economic institutions making it possible for a given political community to emancipate itself both politically and culturally. A societal culture is usually bound by a specific language and confined within a delimited territory. As Kymlicka (1995) articulates it, a societal culture offers citizens a “context of choice” in order for them to enjoy individual autonomy and liberty. However, contrary to majoritarian nations governing sovereign states, minority nations living within multinational (quasi)federations usually cannot fully empower their societal cultures exclusively by their own will because they are evolving within a larger political state and a more comprehensive legal order.

Majoritarian nations evolving within a sovereign state, if and when they feel threatened or concerned by a given political force – whether it is related to immigration, language or cultural issues, self-determination, etc. – may strengthen and consolidate their societal culture so they can (try to) manage and overcome the identified threat. However, minority nations may only have limited, or even no real legal authority to develop and consolidate their societal culture when confronted with similar struggles. Minority nations living within a multinational state thus tend to express a greater sense of “fragility” or “insecurity” (Gagnon 2014). In turn, if the (minority) partners in such a political association are not considered as equals and cannot develop their respective societal culture, this may lead to a serious deficit in matters of multinational federalism.

To be clear, a federation refers to a political organisation where at least two orders of government “combine elements of shared-rule through common institutions and regional self-rule for the governments of the constituent units” (Watts, 1996: 7). As for federalism, it refers expressly to the normative and theoretical account that justifies the desirability of federations over unitary political systems. As a complex set of ideas underpinning a network of specific institutions and principles, federalism is about finding a balance between centripetal and centrifugal political forces to ensure the fair coexistence of multiple and sometimes conflicting loyalties and (national) identities. Therefore, it is important to bear in mind that federalism is not the same as (political) decentralisation, nor the same as devolution. Indeed, decentralisation and devolution are ways to distribute power in a given state, whereas federalism is a universal and normative principle justifying how such distribution should be done.

Consequently, federalism suggests that a polity must be understood as a form of political association made of multiple partners, in which none shall rule them all. When applied to multinational federalism, we suggest this specifically means that every national partner must enjoy the necessary constitutional abilities to develop and strengthen its societal culture. Otherwise, the federation develops a more or less prominent deficit with regards to the core principles that drive multinational federalism. But how can we measure and compare such a deficit?

A Societal Culture Index for the Study of Multinational Federations

We propose a standardised composite Index for the study and comparison of minority nations’ legal capacity to institutionalise their societal culture within multinational (quasi)federations. In particular, we identify six legally oriented pillars and twelve indicators that are central for a minority nation to exercise a significant degree of autonomy through self-governance by sustaining a dynamic societal culture. Thus, the higher a minority nation scores on the Societal Culture Index, the less the (quasi)federation within which it evolves expresses a multinational federalism deficit, and vice-versa.

On a methodological scale, every institutional pillar – which are of absolute equal value – is combined with two specific indicators to empirically observe its value within the constitutional order (Mathieu and Guénette 2017). Those twelve indicators represent conditions that, if adopted, would greatly contribute to the deepening of the democratic life and the federal ideal in multinational states (Gagnon, 2010: 6), where tensions between the majority and the minorities – as equal partners – would be managed in a constructive manner. Below, we briefly present those six pillars and twelve indicators:

a. National recognition

Following Taylor (1992: 33), we argue that the expression of national identity critically depends on dialogical relations, and that the absence of formal recognition by a “significant other” constitutes a serious moral and political wrong. Within the constitutional order, we focus on:

  1. Mention of recognition
  2. Presence of constitutional asymmetries

b. Linguistic rights

In a neo-Herderian fashion, we argue that language must be understood as a formal “mind-set” that reflects and empowers specific cultural identities. If every partner within the (quasi)federation is to be equal, then the polity should make it possible for multiple cultural identities to flourish. Within the constitutional order, we focus on:

  1. Capacity to declare an official language
  2. Capacity to select the predominant language of its educational system

c. Immigration and integration powers

It is of primary importance for a minority nation to exercise a certain control over immigration rates within its territory, so the national community can provide fair integration for all (Kymlicka, 1995: 285). Within the constitutional order, we focus on:

  1. Capacity to establish its own immigration policy
  2. Capacity to enforce its own selection and integration criteria

d. Fiscal autonomy

For a minority nation “to be autonomous, it is not sufficient to enjoy self-government. The federated state must be fiscally and politically autonomous” (Seymour and Gagnon 2012: 4). Within the constitutional order, we focus on:

  1. Power to raise taxes
  2. Presence of an internal wealth redistribution system within the encompassing state

e. Internal self-determination

If the minority nation is to be considered an equal partner within a multinational (quasi)federation, it must be empowered with the capacity to initiate negotiations and discussions regarding the current constitutional order. The minority nation must also be empowered with the capacity to block a revision that would be against its interests. Within the constitutional order, we focus on:

  1. Capacity to initiate a constitutional revision
  2. Possession of a veto right

f. External self-determination

Within the logic of the right to self-determination (Gagnon 2014, 6), we argue that a minority nation should have the right to initiate a democratic process that may lead to secession, when it lacks formal recognition and if it legally cannot empower nor consolidate its societal culture. Within the constitutional order, we focus on:

  1. Capacity to organise a referendum on its territory
  2. Right to secede

Conclusion: The Societal Culture Index and its Application

The scope of the analytical framework presented here is limited to democratic multinational (quasi)federations in the Western world. Nonetheless, one of its benefits for further research is that comparing the legal capacity of various minority nations to develop their societal culture within the context of a multinational (quasi)federation “may help to identify options that might otherwise be overlooked [and] allow us to foresee more clearly the consequences of particular arrangements advocated” (Watts, 1996: 2).

Consequently, many (quasi)federations and minority nations can be analysed using the Societal Culture Index, such as Québec in Canada, Scotland or Wales in the United Kingdom, Catalonia, Basque Country, Galicia or Navarra in Spain, Alsace, Brittany or Corsica in France, Flanders in Belgium, Jura in Switzerland, Puerto Rico in the United States, South Tyrol or Sardinia in Italy, etc. Indeed, we have already used the Index to study the cases of Catalonia, Québec and South Tyrol. The results we obtained – i.e. Catalonia 4/12, Québec 9.5/12 and South Tyrol 6/12 (see Mathieu and Guénette 2017) – then enabled us to formulate some normative conclusions.

Thus, considering and comparing how minority nations can legally develop their societal culture – so they get to stress less their relative feeling of fragility or insecurity – may precisely help to find and promote better cohabitation frameworks for the prosperity of hospitable multinational (quasi)federations. Therefore, one clear benefit of putting forward a constitutional order that helps minority nations to score as high as possible on the Index, is that governance and democracy would be globally improved in multinational (quasi)federations (Mathieu and Guénette 2017).

Given the fact that a multinational (quasi)federation is made of multiple national partners, pursuing the federal ideal is a wise choice “for achieving the principle of equality in a highly diverse state” (Burgess and Gagnon, 2010: 17). Indeed, for such political associations, being comfortable with the expression of diversity must mean that “the equality of the constituent member states does not necessarily imply sameness of treatment, because this could conceivably contribute to the maintenance of an unjust predicament for a given community in a federal setting” (Ibid: 18). Hence, we argue that a multinational (quasi)federation’s commitment to democracy and federalism is strengthened to the extent that its internal minority nation(s) maximise their score on the Societal Culture Index. As a result, the democratic expression of the political association would emerge both from the central state and the constituent member states.



Burgess, M. and A.-G. Gagnon (2010), ‘Introduction: Federalism and Democracy’, in M. Burgess and A.-G. Gagnon (eds.). Federal Democracies. New York: Routledge, pp. 1-26.

Gagnon, A.-G. (2010), The Case for Multinational Federalism. Beyond the All-Encompassing Nation. New York: Routledge.

Gagnon, A.-G. (2014), Minority nations in the age of uncertainty: new paths to national emancipation and empowerment. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Kymlicka, W. (1995), Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mathieu, F. and D. Guénette (2017), ‘Introducing a Societal Culture Index to Compare Minority Nations’, Publius: The Journal of Federalism, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/publius/pjx043

Seymour, M. and A.-G. Gagnon (2012), ‘Introduction. Multinational Federalism: Questions and Queries’, in M. Seymour and A.-G. Gagnon (eds.). Multinational Federalism. Problems and Prospects. New York: Palgrave macmillan, pp. 1-22.

Taylor, C. (1992), ‘The Politics of Recognition’, in A. Gutmann (ed.). Multiculturalism and “The Politics of Recognition”. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 25-74

Watts, R. (1996), Comparing Federal Systems in the 1990s. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.


Further Reading

Gagnon, A.-G. and J. Tully (eds.), 2001, Multinational Democracies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grégoire, J-F. & Jewkes M. (eds.), 2015, Recognition and Redistribution in Multinational Federations, Leuven, Leuven University Press.

Laforest, G. (2014), Interpreting Quebec’s Exile Within the Federation. Selected Political Essays. Bruxelles: Peter Lang.

Mathieu, F. (2017), Les défis du pluralisme à l’ère des sociétés complexes. Montréal: Presses de l’Université du Québec.

Norman, W. (2006), Negotiating Nationalism: Nation-Building, Federalism, and Secession in the Multinational State. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[1] By quasi-federations, we refer broadly to states that, although they might not formally be federations in their political and legal order, have introduced in their constitutional architecture some significant elements of regional self-rule, and sometimes shared-rule (cf. Watts, 1996: 8). The U.K., Spain, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Indonesia, etc., are few examples of such quasi-federations.

Posted by Félix Mathieu and Dave Guénette in Diversity management, 0 comments
‘The whole is other than the sum of its parts’: Cases of Centrifugal Citizenship

‘The whole is other than the sum of its parts’: Cases of Centrifugal Citizenship


This piece looks at what happens to citizenship when multilevel polities fall apart. Introducing the notion of ‘centrifugal citizenship’ to describe such cases, it uses the experience of the former Yugoslav republics to show all the possible consequences for individuals from the loss of status and the associated rights. The last section of the piece briefly contextualises such centrifugal citizenship in the debates related to the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.



Citizenship is a structured relationship between an individual and their polity, be it a city, sub-state entity, state, or a supranational organisation (Miller 2000).  It entails reciprocity of rights and obligations. Citizens ensure the legitimacy and intergenerational continuity of the polity. They also sustain its day-to-day functioning by paying taxes and deciding on its political future. In return, they receive protection inside and outside of its borders and a bundle of socio-political

rights, including the right to vote and welfare protection. Against this background, the objective of this contribution is to look at how citizenship issues play out in disintegrating multilevel polities. The experience of the former Yugoslav republics offers insights helpful for understanding the debates related to the United Kingdom’s (UK) departure from the European Union (EU). Both in the domain of the status and of the rights of citizenship, the relationship between the polities that were once in a ‘citizenship constellation’ defines the rules for inclusion and exclusion.

Citizenship in Multilevel Polities

Citizenship is particularly complex in multilevel polities as it regulates the position of individuals in two or more overlapping political communities. Rainer Bauböck (2010: 848) has described such a circumstance as a ‘citizenship constellation’. A ‘citizenship constellation’, can either be horizontal (individuals linked to two or more polities through migration) or vertical  (in states formed by subnational polities, such as federations, confederations, unions of states; or in supranational polities established by states, including the European Union, the Union of South American Nations). In vertical ‘citizenship constellations’, matters of status and rights are determined by the relationship between the encompassing polity (e.g., the EU) and its constituent parts (e.g., Member States).

This structure opens up avenues for the individual to navigate in the new political space crafted out of rights and obligations beyond the borders of his or her ‘original’ polity. That is, while ‘the whole’ exists, it is ‘other than the sum of its parts’. Not greater, but different in nature. As the Gestalt psychologists from whom this phrase originates argued, the relationship between the ‘whole’ and its ‘parts’ is binary and concentric. On the one hand, the composition of the parts determines how we will see and experience the whole; on the other hand, the way in which the whole is seen will determine the interpretation of its constituent parts. As a consequence, individuals are at the centre of political structures containing several layers of legal statuses that determine rights within and beyond their borders. If their core polity (i.e. the polity that determines all of their other statuses) detaches from the nested polity, or the latter falls apart completely, the questions of status and rights become highly salient. Hence I refer to ‘centrifugal citizenship’ as processes of attribution of status and determination of rights in cases of secession or disintegration of multilevel polities.

Individuals confined to the borders of their core polity at the time of its departure from ‘the whole’ continue to exercise their rights in the core polity and commonly have a secure a status after secession. Their position is reasonably straightforward. By contrast, individuals who have established themselves outside the borders of their core polity owing to the rights of multilevel citizenship are in a more complex position. As will be illustrated by the case of the former Yugoslavia, status and rights of these people are commonly malleable and determined by the relationship between the rump and the seceded polity.

Centrifugal Citizenship in the Former Yugoslavia

The former Yugoslavia had two-tiered citizenship, consisting of the federal and republican levels. As in most federal states, the republican citizenship was derived from the federal level, which had primacy in the hierarchy of citizenships. This had two practical implications. First, a simultaneous acquisition of the status of citizenship at both levels was necessary and automatic. That is, any holder of the federal Yugoslav citizenship would at the same time be a citizen of one of its republics. In many cases, but not always, the republican citizenship would be linked to the place where the person had settled. Dual citizenship among republics was not allowed. Second, the rights of citizenship originated from the federal level, but their implementation depended on the republics. This implies that the two levels of citizenship were tightly coupled.

As a consequence, experiences and legacies of the ‘citizenship constellation’ of the former Yugoslavia have shaped the citizenship of its successor states. This ‘centripetal citizenship’ was most manifest during the Yugoslav break-up in the early 1990s, when the initial determination of the status depended on the republican citizenship (Stiks 2006). This approach differentiated the post-Yugoslav states from the countries carved out of the Soviet Union, since the latter applied the ‘zero option’ for citizenship. The ‘zero option’ for citizenship meant that all persons legally residing in a country at the time of its independence would automatically receive its citizenship. Yet driven by nationalism that underpinned the Yugoslav break-up, the first wave of the post-Yugoslav states (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) granted citizenship automatically to those who were registered as citizens of the respective republics, but not to those who were residents. For example, a person who was a registered citizen of Macedonia but resided in Croatia would be granted a Macedonian citizenship. This approach proved to be highly exclusionary, due to high intra-republican migration in the socialist Yugoslavia, which was not adequately recorded by the republics’ authorities. Thus, those people most at risk were those who spent decades in a republic other than that of their citizenship but never registered residency there, or changed their republican citizenship. In fact, registration was not key to the exercise of individual rights in cases of free movement among republics, as many rights could be enforced in the space covered by the ‘citizenship constellation’.

Perhaps the most famous such case was that of the ‘Erased’ in Slovenia. These were citizens of the other former Yugoslav republics who had long term factual residence in Slovenia and another republic’s citizenship at the time of independence. Under Article 40 of the 1991 Citizenship Act of Slovenia, they were granted six months to apply for Slovenian citizenship. If they failed to do so, they were removed from the Register of Permanent Residents with long-term consequences on the exercise of their rights, including the franchise, welfare, and education.[1]

Citizenship issues also featured prominently in the disintegration of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (successor to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between 2003 and 2006). Unlike in the former Yugoslavia, multilevel citizenship in this state was not federal. The State Union of Serbia and Montenegro never formally established its second tier of citizenship, but relied on citizenship regimes of the constituent states (Article 7 of the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro). That is, each of the two constituent states had its own citizenship legislation, and decided on its membership. As noted by Dzankic (2010) and Rava (2010), the citizenship laws of Serbia and Montenegro diverged significantly (e.g., while Serbia is open to dual citizenship, Montenegro is not). This is similar to the structure of the nested EU citizenship, whereby membership in the encompassing polity is conditional upon membership in the differently regulated national polities.

The 2006 independence of Montenegro resulted in difficult circumstances for a number of people who lived in Montenegro with the citizenship of Serbia. To gain citizenship in the newly established state, most were required to renounce their Serbian citizenship, or re-register as permanent residents. In some cases, such as the Roma or refugees from Kosovo, this registration process was cumbersome. Having sought refuge in Montenegro in the late 1990s, these people did not possess the documents necessary to cross the (newly international) border between Montenegro and Serbia. As they were unable to obtain physical evidence of citizenship renunciation, they could not register as citizens and access the related rights.

EU Citizenship and the Departure of the UK

Citizenship of the European Union (EU Citizenship) is a multilevel citizenship. It was established in 1992 through provisions of the Maastricht Treaty which codified the rights of citizens of the Member States across the Union. These rights include, among others, the freedom of movement and residence, the right to non-discrimination on grounds of nationality, voting rights in municipal and European Parliament elections, consular protection by another EU country, etc. They are exclusive to individuals possessing the nationality of one of the Member States. That is, EU Citizenship is additional to and dependent on national citizenship (Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU).

In June 2016, a majority of citizens in the UK voted in favour of the UK withdrawing from the EU. Given the dependence of the status of EU Citizenship on the country’s membership of the Union, the departure of the UK inevitably raises the question of what will happen to individuals who have exercised their freedom of movement to or from the UK while the country was still a Member State. According to the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2015), there are 3.3 million EU citizens living in the UK and 1.2 million UK citizens living in other EU Member States. Negotiating what status and rights these 4.5 million people will have after the decoupling of national and EU Citizenship, therefore, will be an important aspect of the two-year negotiations foreseen under Article 50 of the TFEU.

As in other cases of centrifugal citizenship, it is unlikely that the negotiated statuses will apply to those who decide to exercise freedom of movement past a certain date (presumably the day when the UK ceases to be an EU Member State). While there have been initiatives and petitions to secure a personal associate EU Citizen status for all UK nationals, such a motion would require a proportionate action by the UK government. Hence the transitory provisions that will be negotiated are most likely to apply to individuals who have acquired rights in the UK or in the EU through free movement of persons. These will include rights related to the prospect of residence or citizenship rights, as well as participation in local and European political processes.

In Lieu of a Conclusion

Secession and state disintegration raise a number of conceptual and legal questions. Citizenship is the core one, not the least because it is at the heart of a democratic polity, but also because it affects lives of individuals. The experience of the disintegration and secession in the post-Yugoslav space provides a valuable lesson in this respect. That is, that centrifugal citizenship might result in marginalisation or exposure to statelessness. Therefore, avoiding adverse consequences for UK citizens in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK, needs to be an important concern (rather than a bargaining chip) for both UK and EU policymakers negotiating the former’s exit from the Union.



Bauböck, R. (2010). Studying citizenship constellations. Journal of ethnic and migration studies, 36(5), 847-859.

Džankic, J. A. (2010). Transformations of Citizenship in Montenegro: a context-generated evolution of citizenship policies. CITSEE Working Paper 2010/03. University of Edinburgh.

Miller, D. (2000). ‘Citizenship and national identity’. In Democracy: A Reader edited by Ricardo Blaug, John Schwarzmantel. Polity Press: Cambridge.

Rava, N. (2010). Serbia: elusive citizenship in an elusive nation-state. CITSEE Working Paper 2010/08. University of Edinburgh.

Stiks, I. (2006). Nationality and citizenship in the Former Yugoslavia: from disintegration to European integration. Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, 6(4), 483-500.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2015). Trends in International Migrant Stock: Migrants by Destination and Origin, http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/data/estimates2/estimates15.shtml

Further reading

Henderson, A., Jeffery, C., & Wincott, D. (eds.). (2013). Citizenship after the nation state: Regionalism, nationalism and public attitudes in Europe. Springer.

Maas, W. (ed.). (2013). Multilevel citizenship. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Shaw, J., & Štiks, I. (2012). Citizenship in the new states of South Eastern Europe. Citizenship studies, 16(3-4), 309-321.




[1] In the 2010 judgment Kuric and others v. Slovenia (26828/06), the European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the removal of applicants from the register constituted a violation of the right to private and family life and the right to an effective remedy (articles 8 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms).

Posted by Jelena Dzankic in Policies, 0 comments
Is Spain a Federal Country?

Is Spain a Federal Country?


In this contribution we examine the federal characteristics of the Spanish case. Having initiated a process of political decentralisation as an integral pillar of the democratic transition, it is often posited that Spain is a federation, or quasi-federal country. Employing a comparative perspective this article argues that while Spain shares some federal features, many core elements are absent in the Spanish case.

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Posted by Ferran Requejo in Case studies, 0 comments