05.11.2007 - Article
Fourth International Conference on Federalism in Delhi: Unity in diversity – Learning from each other
From 5 to 7 November, Delhi is hosting the 4th International Conference on Federalism with its thousand or so participants, many of them heads of State and senior government officials, including the President of the Swiss Confederation and Walter Fust, SDC Director-General. Micheline Calmy-Rey took the floor at the beginning of the Conference with its theme of unity in diversity for which India is a fertile breeding ground in terms of federalism.
Switzerland and India are two countries with much to exchange and demonstrate when it comes to federalism. Despite their considerable differences, both these nations are the living proof of the dynamism developed by a political system which bases its unity on respect for diversity.
Bringing government closer to the grass roots
In her Conference address, Micheline Calmy-Rey stressed the similarities, saying that when it came to federalism, both India and Switzerland have placed the intermediate level of the State at the heart of their political system and have instituted instruments of direct democracy – the referendum or right of citizens to initiate legislation in Switzerland, and the participative budget in certain Indian States, such as Kerala. The President of the Confederation went on to state that one of the virtues of federalism was to bring government closer to its citizens and to meet their demands more effectively and in a more targeted way.
A community of federal practice
At this 4th Conference which brings together male and female politicians from national, regional or local governments, as well as academics and activists representing about one hundred countries, swapping experiences will be high on the agenda. Above all, this international assembly sees itself as the crucible for a genuine community of federal practice. That is why the SDC is financing the Conference attendance of about twenty participants from countries of the South and East, most of which are also “new States” for which governance and democracy are processes still in progress.
Four topics are on the agenda: federalism and diversity, fiscal federalism, interaction in a federal system and local government and federal systems.
Southward opening encouraged by Switzerland
In 1998, the 1st International Conference on Federalism saw the launch of the Forum of Federations (FOF), an international NGO with nine member countries to date: Australia, Austria, Canada, Ethiopia, Germany (which joined recently), India, Mexico, Nigeria and Switzerland. This Forum serves as a clearing house for information and resources on the practice of federalism and is attracting a growing number of partner countries from the South. Switzerland is very pleased at this development and is encouraging the FOF to pursue this opening-up approach, as Walter Fust reiterated in Delhi in his remarks on the SDC’s behalf.