A political union is a type of state which is composed of or created out of smaller states. The process is called unification. Unifications of states that used to be together and are reuniting is referred to as reunification. Unlike a personal union, the individual states share a central government and the union is recognized internationally as a single political entity. A political union may also be called a legislative union or state union.

A union may be effected in a number of forms, broadly categorized as:

  • Incorporating union
  • Incorporating annexation
  • Federal (or confederal) union
  • Federative annexation
  • Mixed unions.

Incorporating union

In an incorporating union a new state is created, the former states being entirely dissolved into the new state (albeit that some aspects may be preserved; see below "Preservation of interestsi>").

Examples of incorporating union

  • South Africa (1910)
  • Spain (process from 1037 to 1479) â€" however the realms of the Crown of Aragon were formally separate from the Crown of Castile were not administratively unified with Castile until 1716 and 1833 respectively.
  • Yemen (1990)

Preservation of interests

Nevertheless a full incorporating union may preserve the laws and institutions of the former states, as happened in the creating of the United Kingdom. This may be simply a matter of practice or to comply with a guarantee given in the terms of the union. For example:

  • In the annexation of Brittany to France in 1532 (Union of Brittany and France), a guarantee was given as to the continuance of laws and of the Estates of Brittany (a guarantee revoked in 1789 at the French Revolution).
  • The Treaty of Union for creating the united Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 contained a guarantee of the continuance of the civil laws and the existing courts in Scotland (a continuing guarantee).
  • In the Union creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, no such guarantee was given for the laws and courts of Ireland, though they were continued as a matter of practice.
  • Tyrol was guaranteed that its Freischütz companies would not be posted to fight outside Tyrol without their consent (a guarantee revoked by the Austrian republic).

Incorporating annexation

In an incorporating annexation a state or states is united to and dissolved in an existing state, whose legal existence continues.

Annexation may be voluntary or, which is more frequent, by conquest.

Examples of incorporating annexation

  • England formally annexed Wales under the two Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542
  • Haiti with Santo Domingo (Spanish Haiti) in 1822
  • Prussia/Germany (1864, 1866 and 1870â€"71)
  • Italian unification (1860â€"1861)
  • India annexed Jammu and Kashmir in 1957
  • Serbia annexed Montenegro in 1918

Federal or confederal union

In a federal or confederal union the states continue in existence but place themselves under a new federal authority. The federal state alone will be the state in international law though the federated states retain an existence in domestic law.

Examples of federal or confederal union

  • Australia (1901)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (federal union from 1995)
  • Cameroon (1961â€"1970)
  • Canada (1867)
  • European Union (The EU is more similar to a federal/supranational union but still has confederal/intergovernmental elements)
  • Federal Republic of Central America (1823â€"circa 1838)
  • German Empire (1871â€"1919)
  • India (1950)
  • West Pakistan and East Pakistan (1947-1971)
  • Peruâ€"Bolivian Confederation (1836â€"1839)
  • Polishâ€"Lithuanian union (1569â€"1791)
  • Serbia and Montenegro (2003â€"2006)
  • Switzerland (confederation from 1291, later evolving into federation)
  • Tanzania (1964)
  • The United Arab Emirates (1971)
  • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1922â€"1991)
  • The United States of America (in confederal union under the Articles of Confederation from 1781, later becoming a federal union under the United States Constitution in 1788)

Federal or confederal annexation

If a state becomes a federated unit of another existing state, the former continuing its legal existence, then that is a federal annexation. The new federated state thus ceases to be a state in international law but retains its legal existence in domestic law, subsidiary to the federal authority.

Examples of federal annexation

  • British Columbia with Canada (1871)
  • Eritrea with Ethiopia (1951 to 1962)
  • Geneva with Switzerland (1815)
  • Newfoundland with Canada (1949)
  • Prince Edward Island with Canada (1873)
  • Vermont (1791), Texas (1846), and California (1848) with the United States of America
  • Crimea with the Russian Federation (2014)

(Arguably Hawaii with the United States of America is an example, but Hawaii was first annexed without statehood in 1898.)

Mixed unions

The unification of Italy involved a mixture of unions. The kingdom consolidated around the Kingdom of Sardinia. Several states voluntarily united with Sardinia to create the Kingdom of Italy. Others, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Papal States, were conquered and annexed. Formally the union in each territory was sanctioned by a popular referendum, formally asking the people to agree to have as new ruler Vittorio Emanuele II (the King of Sardinia) and his legitimate heirs.

The unification of Germany was ultimately a confederal union, but it began in earnest by Prussia's annexation of numerous petty states in 1866.

Historical unions

  • Bulgarian unification in 1885, after the 1396 Ottoman conquest.
  • Ukrainian unification in 1919
  • Chinese reunification (1928) or "Northeast Flag Replacement" proclaimed victory of Guangzhou/Nanjing government over Beiyang government after the 1912 division.
  • German reunification in 1990, divided since the 1949 division decided at the Potsdam Conference in August 1945.
    • German unification in 1866â€"71, divided since 9th century by the formation of the Holy Roman Empire and the division of Eastern Francia
    • Anschluss (1938 Nazi reunification of "Lesser Germany" and Austria into "Greater Germany")
  • Italian unification 1815â€"71, divided since the 6th century Ostrogoths.
  • Polish reunification in 1918â€"22, divided since 24 October 1795.
  • Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War in 1976, divided since 1954.
  • Yemenite reunification in 1990, divided since the acquisition of South Yemen by Britain by 1867 and the secession of Lahj in 1728.
  • Denmark and the northern part of Southern Jutland in 1920. See Schleswig Plebiscites.

Unification movements

At various times, various nationalist and irredentist movements promoted ideas of restoration or unification in various places

Supranational and continental unions

In addition to regional movements, supranational organizations that promote progressive integration between its members started appearing in the second half of the 20th century. Most of these organization were inspired by the European Union, and while member states are often reluctant to form more centralized unions, the concept of unionism if often present in public debate.

Current supranational unions:

  • African Union (AU)
  • European Union (EU)
  • Union of South American Nations (UNASUR)

Proposed supranational unions:

  • Arab Union, from Arab League
  • Central Asian Union
  • Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, from Rio Group and CARICOM
  • North American Union, from North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
  • Pacific Union, from Pacific Islands Forum

Organizations that plan to evolve into supranational unions:

  • Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
  • Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
  • Central American Integration System (SICA)
  • Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG)
  • Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC)
  • Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)
  • South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)
  • Union State (Russia and Belarus)
  • Eurasian Union (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus)

Academic analysis

The political position of the United Kingdom is often discussed; and former states like Serbia and Montenegro (2003â€"2006), the Soviet Union (1922â€"1991) and the United Arab Republic (1958â€"1961).

Lord Durham was widely regarded as one of the most important thinkers in the history of the British Empire's constitutional evolution. He articulated clearly the difference between a full legislative union and a federation. In his 1839 Report, in discussing the proposed union of Upper and Lower Canada, he says:

Two kinds of union have been proposed â€" federal and legislative. By the first, the separate legislature of each province would be preserved in its present form and retain almost all its present attributes of internal legislation, the federal legislature exercising no power save in those matters which may have been expressly ceded to it by the constituent provinces. A legislative union would imply a complete incorporation of the provinces included in it under one legislature, exercising universal and sole legislative authority over all of them in exactly the same manner as the Parliament legislates alone for the whole of the British Isles.


See also

  • Union (disambiguation)
  • Constituent countries
  • Confederation
  • Federation
  • Real union
  • List of proposed state mergers

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