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Friday, October 07, 2005

The Korea Times : Can Federalism Be Model for Korea?

The Korea Times : Can Federalism Be Model for Korea?Can Federalism Be Model for Korea?

By Seo Dong-shin
Staff Reporter

Korea certainly sees a long and winding path to reunification. The way to federalism, if it ever started, would be just as complicated, not least because the nation has had no such experience in its history. Therefore, it might even seem to border on absurdity to start a discussion on those two subjects right now.


Panels from various countries, including Germany, Switzerland, the United States and South Korea, have a discussion in a seminar, themed “Federalism as an Agent for Decentralization and Regional Integration,” at a Seoul hotel, Friday. The seminar was co-organized by the Center for Local Autonomy at Hanyang University and Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) and sponsored by The Korea Times. /Korea Times
But it is not, and in fact, the two can work out a synergy effect if they are planned appropriately, experts from home and abroad who yesterday gathered at the President Hotel in Seoul suggested.

The Center for Local Autonomy at Hanyang University and Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) organized the seminar under the title ``Federalism as an Agent for Decentralization and Regional Integration,’’ sponsored by The Korea Times.

Ulrich Niemann, resident representative of FNF Korea, opened the seminar criticizing centralism for uprooting the thought of liberty, hindering competition in politics, and threatening minorities and civil rights, and adding he feels encouraged by the commitment of the Korean government to promote decentralization and local autonomy.

German Failure, Swiss Success

The German federal system has been significantly eroded since the establishment of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, Christian Kirchner, professor at the school of law and school of business and economics of Humboldt University, Berlin, said during the seminar.

He described the German reunification and the integration process into the European Union (EU) as further blows to the already weakening federal system.

The vertical separation of powers in the EU system, for example, is designed for member countries with unitary rather than federalist systems, distancing federal states from the central decision-making process of the EU, Kirchner said.

He thinks the German reunification process, designed so that the federal system should be extended to the eastern part of Germany, also aggravated the situation.

``The vertical fiscal transfers from the central level to the `new’ states has strengthened the central level,’’ he said. The central level has also been bribing the poor states to vote in favor of the central government in Germany’s second chamber of states (Bundesrat), which runs parallel with the federal chamber (Bundestag), according to Kirchner.

In order for a reunified Korea not to experience the same problem, the German professor suggested introducing a system with regional tax autonomy, taking the example of Switzerland, of which he said tax autonomy of the states (cantons) has produced a vigorous tax competition with many innovative elements.

``But it has yet to be decided whether a tax competition should be confined to one between the northern and southern parts of a reunified Korea or whether in both parts of the country new entities on the regional level should be established, maybe cantons like in Switzerland,’’ he said.

That would make possible a differentiated tax competition not only in the more developed parts of the country, namely the South, but in the less developed as well, he added.

Robert Nef, director of the Liberal Institute, Zurich, Switzerland, who presented Swiss experiences in federalism, said in response that while the Swiss model has been also showing signs of erosion mainly due to the ``popular rhetorics of welfarization and redistributionism,’’ he still believes in the merits of decentralization.

``A system with small, competing units can commit a lot of different smaller errors and mistakes,’’ the liberal scholar said. ``But in this system, there is a chance for learning by comparing. The smaller the units are, the better the changes are to be successful and to avoid the big central mistakes.’’

Federalism for Korea

Bernard Rowan, professor of political science at Chicago State University, suggested an overlapping consensus between Confucianism and social democracy be first cultivated for a reunified Korea, as it could be a meeting point for different political cultures of South and North Korea.

Outlining the American federalist model, the professor, who is well-versed in general Korean affairs, also recommended the new government of Korea have a bi-cameral legislature based on the restructuring of administrative districts.

``Plans for unification indicate that the South wants legislative representation based on population, while North Korea wants it to be based on land size and to include representatives of people’s organizations and political parties,’’ Rowan pointed out.

Noting that this kind of difference was also a major issue for the American federal system, Rowan said, ``The American model sides with the former, together with a geographic basis for representing individuals, as seen in states and Congressional districts.

``Using newly-developed Northern and Southern provinces can gather diverse regional interests into the national legislative process.’’

In response, Kim Sang-kyum, professor of the law department, Dongguk University, noted possible difficulties in introducing the federal system in Korea, despite the current administration’s stress on local autonomy.

``As the introduction of federalism would mean changing the nation’s identity, we would need a thorough review of the Constitution with public approval,’’ he said. ``We have no experience of this issue in our history. And the key problem, namely fiscal independence of federal states, can only be solved by the central government’s power transfer.’’

But in light of effective governance after the reunification, the issue deserves reviewing, Kim added.

Park Eung-kyuk, director of the Center for Local Autonomy, pointed to another merit of federalism, as a measure for curing rooted regional antagonism within South Korea, notably between the southeastern Kyongsang Provinces and southwestern Cholla Provinces.

``While federalism is not a catch-all solution for all problems, it has been historically effective against regional and ethnic disputes in many countries,’’ Park said.


saltwall@koreatimes.co.kr
10-07-2005 18:50

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