Federal Systems: The US, the EU and India in Comparison

Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

The course is designed to focus on the analysis of federalism using the cases of three rather different systems. Despite the continental dimension, the EU, the US and India have in common, the three systems differ greatly:

* The United States, together with Switzerland, is considered the most traditional federal system. US federalism is very much the case of a bottom-up development.

* India is a comparatively new state with a combination of Westminster (British style) democracy and symmetrical federalism. Indian federalism has been established top-down.

* The EU is not a state, but – perhaps – a federation in the making. European federalism is the perfect case of a long ongoing process based on nation (member) states as driving forces of integration.

In all cases, federalism has to be seen as an instrument to deal with national, ethnic, religious, social, and geographic diversity. Despite very different backgrounds, all three cases cannot be imagined as unitary (centralised) democratic states. In all three cases, federal structure seems to be the only way to establish democracy.

The focus will be especially on the following questions:

  • the structures of federal governments;
  • the functions of federal governments (e.g. dealing with diversity)
  • the compatibility of federalism on one side, presidentialism resp. parliamentary rule on the other;
  • the question of identity, resp.identities;
  • the balance between majority rule and minority protection;
  • the preconditions of democratic federalism;
  • party systems and federal structures;
  • decentralization and federal structures as a response to social fragmentation;
  • the response by specific political parties and movements to federal structures;
  • and the impact of federalism on foreign policy.
Learning Outcomes: 

The students will become familiar with the different varieties of diversity and the possibilities (and impossibilities) of federal structures to bridge social gaps. The different “mix” of democratic instruments (like specific aspects of electoral systems, the impact of Westminster Democracy vs. Presidentialism, and the role historical experiences (like the US Civil War, World War I and II, the Holocaust, the Indian struggle for independence) played in shaping the three federal systems. By the end of the term, the students will be aware of similarities (like the logic of “enlargement” in the case of the US and the EU) and differences (like the specific Indian phenomenon of castes).


The students are expected to

  • Participate actively in all classes. This requires preparation by reading the designed texts;
  • Give (at least) one presentation. The presentations schedule (who, what, and when) will be decided in the second week;
  • Write a term paper (approximately 3500 words) to be delivered at the end of the term.

The course will strengthen the students’ ability to synthesize information, determine a focus point, and discern the main line of an argumentation in their final term paper – as well as the ability to communicate clearly and using the appropriate media in their presentations and their oral participation in class. The students will improve their ability to analyze contemporary developments in a broader political, social, and economic context, always in a comparative perspective. In discussing different arguments and positions, the students will acquire tools expected from active citizens in any democracy. In writing a term paper, the students have to apply the acquired approaches and methods on specific research questions – an academic technique they can use in their further careers within a specific region and beyond.

50 percent of grading will be based on the term paper; 25 percent on participation, and 25 percent on the presentations. Students are invited to communicate with me via e-mail any time they think I can be of help.

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