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A political union is a type of state which is composed of or created out of smaller states. Unlike a personal union, the individual states share a common 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 interests").

Examples of incorporating union

  • Spainmarker (process from 1037 to 1479)

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 Francemarker in 1532, 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 Britainmarker 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 Irelandmarker in 1801, no such guarantee was given for the laws and courts of Irelandmarker, 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 (as with Montenegro's union into Serbia in 1918) or, which is more frequent, by conquest.

Examples of incorporating annexation

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

Federal or Confederal annexation

If a state becomes a federated unit of another existing state, the latter 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

  • Genevamarker with Switzerland (1815)

  • Texas with the United States of America

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

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 Statesmarker, were conquered and annexed.

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

Reunification movements

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

Reunification Divided since Areas affected
(at maximum extent)
European unification Never United

Albanian reunification 1943
(Albanian lands)
(Albanian lands)
(Albanian lands)
(Albanian lands)

Anglo-Irish reunificationmarker 1922

Armenian reunification 1915

Bulgarian reunification 1913
Chinese reunification 1949 (China)
Colombian reunification 1831

Cypriot reunification 1974

Denmark-Norway reunification 1814

Danish reunification 1864 (1920)

Dutch reunification 1830 / 1839 (Flanders)

(Nord-Pas de Calaismarker)

Finnish reunification 1940-44
German and Austrian unification 1945

(Silesia, Pommerania)
(East Prussia)

Greek reunification Medieval period

(Eastern Thrace, Asia Minormarker, Pontus)
(Eastern Rumelia)
(Northern Epirus)
(Monastiri areamarker)

Hungarian reunificationmarker 1944


(Zakarpattia Oblast)

Indochinese reunification [180896] 1954

Kashmir-Pakistani reunification 1947
Iranian reunification 1800s

Irish reunification 1920-22
(Northern Irelandmarker)
Korean reunification 1945

Macedonian Reunification 1913 (Blagoevgradmarker)
(Aegean Macedonia)

Malaya reunification 1965

Mongolian reunification Medieval period (Inner Mongolia)

Netherlandic reunification 1839
(Nord-Pas de Calaismarker)

Polish reunification 1939 (Vilnius Countymarker)

(Western Ukraine)

Portuguese reunificationmarker 1170-1801
(Galiciamarker, Olivenzamarker)
Romanian reunification 1944

Union of Russia and Belarus 1991

Scandinavian reunification 1536

Serbian reunification 1992 (Republika Srpska)
(Serbian Krajina)
(Serbia doesn't recognize the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo and regards it as its province)

Somali unification Never united

Transcaucasian reunificationmarker 1918-1936

Turkish reunification (Turan) 1922

Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprusmarker
see Ottoman Empire and Turkic languages

Yugoslavian reunification 1992

Filipino reunification 1878
Austro-Hungarian reunification 1918

(Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, small portions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia)
(West Galicia)

(Zakarpattia Oblast, East Galicia)

Academic analysis

The political position of the United Kingdommarker is often discussed; and former states like Serbia and Montenegro (2003-2006), the Soviet Unionmarker (1922-1991) and the United Arab Republic (1958-1961).

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 – 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

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