Leaders convene to debate future of federalism

St Gallen cathedral; Switzerland is seen as an ideal venue for such a conference RTS

World leaders and intellectuals are gathering in St Gallen for the second International Conference on Federalism, which opens on Tuesday.

This content was published on August 27, 2002 - 15:53

Some 500 politicians, technocrats and business people are discussing how federal systems should respond to new problems and challenges.

The event is a joint project between the Swiss Confederation and the Swiss cantonal governments, who consider Switzerland - one of the oldest federal states in the world - an ideal place for an international forum on the topic.

Discussions between government representative from countries as diverse as Belgium, Mali and Canada will focus on a handful of core themes: federalism and foreign relations, decentralisation and conflict management in multicultural societies, responsibilities in a federal system, and fiscal and taxation issues.

Among the political heavyweights in St Gallen are Canadian prime minister, Jean Chrétien, Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, German president, Johannes Rau and India's defence minister, George Fernandes.

Switzerland will be represented by four cabinet members including the current president, Kaspar Villiger.

Conflict resolution

Delegates will discuss how to resolve conflicts in multicultural societies given that individual rights and minority protections are seldom effective without adequate political representation.

Another major topic - foreign policy - will focus on how decision making is moving away from national (and federal) frameworks into international organisations.

A key issue will be whether and how supranational organisations can become more like federal states themselves, with all members playing a role in the decision-making process.

Fiscal and tax issues are also on the agenda, in particular the growing clamour of communities in federal states to be given more freedom to collect and spend their own tax revenues.

Systems like Switzerland, where cantons and communities levy and spend the lion's share of taxes, will be compared with those of other federal states, where the central government keeps tight control of public revenues.

New models

Organisers say they hope that the conference will help to develop new models of federalism taking into account worldwide change and issues such as ethnic conflicts.

A special youth programme targeting younger delegates attending the conference is also on offer. Around 50 young people - aged between 20 and 30 - are due to take part in the programme, which will analyse the role of federalism in society.

This year's event follows on from the first International Conference on Federalism, which took place in Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Canada, in October 1999.

Switzerland has been a federal state since 1848 and is widely regarded to have successfully combined linguistic, cultural and religious diversity.

swissinfo

Key facts

500 delegates expected to attend the conference.
The event is a joint project between the Swiss federal government and the cantonal governments.
Topics under discussion include: foreign relations, decentralisation, conflict management and tax issues.
Events include a Youth Programme for younger delegates.

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