Asymmetry as an Element of Federalism: A Theoretical Speculation Fifty Years Later—Readdress the Spanish Case

  • Esther Seijas Villadangos


Two essential and complementary parts are integrated in this article: a theoretical reflection about asymmetrical federalism and a pragmatic approach to the situation in Spain.

The former has sought to consolidate the key defining elements of asymmetry. Asymmetry for Constitutional Law is a form of state organization where territorial units with political autonomy enjoy a differentiated constitutional treatment, legitimized for the positive recognition of having different types of singularities (linguistic, juridical, fiscal) with respect to the other units of the State. Linked to asymmetry, we had proposed a neologism, dissymmetry, in an attempt to refine the concept. Dissymmetry will be applied to those situations where a proportional or symmetrical situation was broken in an anomalous or faulty way.

The latter has tried to cast some light on the Spanish situation through a series of dilemmas: We have paid attention to the transition from autonomism to federalism and the cohabitation between two types of federalism, a functional federalism and a nationalist federalism, that would result in an asymmetric federalism.

The tension between equality and asymmetry has put on the table the main problem of asymmetric federalism: not considering the differences as grievances. For that, our policies must distinguish what is really essential for citizens.

The last dilemma refers to the risk of emulating asymmetries by other territories, which united with a warning of avoiding a form of autistic federalism could illuminate our future—a future necessarily based on unity and solidarity.


Autonomous Community Constitutional Level Federal System Territorial Unit Constitutional Reform 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Agranoff, R. (ed) (1999). Accommodating diversity. Asymmetry in Federal States. Nomos. Baden-Baden.Google Scholar
  2. Beramendi, P., Máiz, R. (2004). Spain. Unfulfilled federalism (1978–1996). In: Amoretti, U., Bermeo, N. (eds.) Federalism and territorial cleavages. John Hokins University Press. Baltimore and London.Google Scholar
  3. Elazar, D. (1994). Federal Systems of the world. A handbook of Federal, Confederal and Autonomy Arrangements, Longman, London.Google Scholar
  4. Gagnon, A. (2009). The case for Multinational Federalism: beyond the all encompassing Nation, Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  5. Keating, M. (1998). What´s wrong with asymmetrical government? Regional & Federal Studies 8: 195–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Palermo, F., Zwilling, C., Kössler, K. (2010). Asymmetries in Constitutional Law. Recent developments in Federal and Regional systems. Eurac. Bolzano.Google Scholar
  7. Seijas Villadangos, E. (2003). Configuración asimétrica del sistema de Comunidades Autónomas. Universidad de León, León.Google Scholar
  8. Tarlton, Ch. D. (1965). Symmetry and asymmetry as elements of federalism: a theoretical speculation. The Journal of Politics 27.4: 861–874.Google Scholar
  9. Tarlton, Ch. D. (1967). Federalism, political energy and entropy: implications of an analogy. W.P.Q. vol. XX, n.° 4: 866–874.Google Scholar
  10. Tarlton, Ch. D. (1971). The study of federalism: a skeptical note. In Riedel, A., (Ed.), New Perspectives in State and local government. Xerox College Publishing, Waltham: 97–100.Google Scholar
  11. Watts, R. (1999). Comparing Federal Systems. McGill-Queen´s University Press, 1999.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Facultad de Derecho, Departamento de Derecho PúblicoUniversidad de LeónLeónSpain

Personalised recommendations