A confederation (also known as a confederacy or league) is a union of sovereign groups or states united for purposes of common action. Usually created by a treaty, confederations of states tend to be established for dealing with critical issues, such as defence, foreign relations, internal trade or currency, with the central government being required to provide support for all its members. Confederalism represents a main form of intergovernmentalism, defined as any form of interaction around states that takes place on the basis of sovereign independence or government.
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The nature of the relationship among the member states constituting a confederation varies considerably. Likewise, the relationship between the member states and the general government and their distribution of powers varies. Some looser confederations are similar to international organisations. Other confederations with stricter rules may resemble federal systems.
Since the member states of a confederation retain their sovereignty, they have an implicit right of secession. The political philosopher Emmerich de Vattel said: "Several sovereign and independent states may unite themselves together by a perpetual confederacy without each, in particular, ceasing to be a perfect state.... The deliberations in common will offer no violence to the sovereignty of each member".
Under a confederation, compared to a federal state, the central authority is relatively weak. Decisions made by the general government in a unicameral legislature, a council of the member states, require subsequent implementation by the member states to take effect; they are not laws acting directly upon the individual but have more the character of interstate agreements. Also, decision-making in the general government usually proceeds by consensus (unanimity), not by the majority. Historically, those features limit the union's effectiveness. Hence, political pressure tends to build over time for the transition to a federal system of government, as in the American, Swiss and German cases of regional integration.