Unitary state

  Unitary states
The pathway of regional integration or separation

A unitary state is a state governed as a single power in which the central government is ultimately supreme and any administrative divisions (sub-national units) exercise only powers that the central government chooses to delegate. The majority of states in the world have a unitary system of government. Of the 193 UN member states, 165 of them are governed as unitary states.

Unitary states are contrasted with federal states (federations).

In a unitary state, sub-national units are created and abolished, and their powers may be broadened and narrowed, by the central government. Although political power may be delegated through devolution to local governments by statute, the central government remains supreme; it may abrogate the acts of devolved governments or curtail their powers.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is an example of a unitary state. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a degree of autonomous devolved power, but such power is delegated by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which may enact laws unilaterally altering or abolishing devolution (England does not have any devolved power).[1] Many unitary states have no areas possessing a degree of autonomy. In such countries, sub-national regions cannot decide their own laws. Examples are the Republic of Ireland and the Kingdom of Norway.[2] In federal states, the sub-national governments share powers with the central government as equal actors through a written constitution, to which the consent of both is required to make amendments. This means that the sub-national units have a right of existence and powers that cannot be unilaterally changed by the central government.

The United States of America is an example of a federal state. Under the U.S. Constitution, powers are shared between the federal government and the states. Its Article V states that the approval of three-quarters of the states, in either their legislatures or state ratifying conventions, must be attained for an amendment to take effect, giving the states a strong degree of protection from domination by the centre.[3]

List of unitary states

Italics: States with limited recognition

Unitary republics

Unitary monarchies

5 largest unitary states by nominal GDP

5 largest unitary states by population

5 largest unitary states by area

See also


  1. Devolution within a unitary state, like federalism, may be symmetrical, with all sub-national units having the same powers and status, or asymmetric, with sub-national units varying in their powers and status.
  2. Svalbard has even less autonomy than the mainland. It is directly controlled by the government and has no local rule.
  3. Many federal states also have unitary lower levels of government; while the United States is federal, the states themselves are unitary under Dillon's Rule counties and municipalities have only the authority granted to them by the state governments under their state constitution or by legislative acts. For example, in the state of Connecticut, county government was abolished in 1960.
  4. Roy Bin Wong. China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience. Cornell University Press.
  5. "Story: Nation and government – From colony to nation". The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 29 August 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  6. "Social policy in the UK". An introduction to Social Policy. Robert Gordon University - Aberdeen Business School. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
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