A constituent state is a state entity that constitutes a part of a sovereign state. A constituent state holds regional jurisdiction over a defined administrative territory, within a sovereign state. Government of a constituent state is a form of regional government. Throughout history, and also in modern political practice, most constituent states are part of complex states, like federations or confederations. Constituent states can have republican or monarchical forms of government. Those of republican form are usually called states or autonomous states, republics or autonomous republics, or cantons. Those that have a monarchical form of government are often defined by traditional hierarchical rank of their ruler (usually a principality, or an emirate).
States existing in free association with another sovereign state can be considered constituent states of a constitutional entity, depending on circumstances. For example, the Cook Islands, New Zealand and Niue constitute the three constituent countries of the Realm of New Zealand, united under a single head of state: the King or Queen of New Zealand.
Constituent states united in a confederal union under a confederal government are more specifically known as confederated states. Some of the most notable historical examples of constituent states within a confederation are the United States under the Articles of Confederation, the States of the German Confederation and States of the Confederate States of America. In modern political practice, notable examples are Cantons of Switzerland or Entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Constituent states united in a federal union under a federal government are more specifically known as federated states. There are numerous historical examples for constituent states within various federations. In modern political practice, among the most notable examples are U.S. states and constituent entities of the Russian Federation.
Administrative units that are not federated or confederated but enjoy a greater degree of autonomy or self-government than other territories within the same country can be considered constituent states of that country. This relationship is by some authors called a federacy. Autonomous republics like Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan
The concept of a constituent state is also used in political processes and negotiations regarding the status of various breakaway states. It is often proposed as a compromise solution or an alternative to formal recognition of a secessionist state that has unilaterally declared independence, and whose de jure sovereignty remains in dispute.
The breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have effectively maintained independence since declaration, are considered constituent republics of Georgia by the majority of world governments. The Republic of Artsakh, which is also independent in effect, is considered by the United Nations to be a constituent entity of Azerbaijan.
The country of Cyprus is divided between two independent political entities: the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus in the south, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognised as a sovereign state only by Turkey. Both entities are given the title of constituent state of Cyprus by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the Annan Plan for reuniting Cyprus consistently used the term constituent state to refer to each entity.
The term constituent state has also been used to label both states in proposals for federal solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It can also describe the region of Palestine at present, which is divided between the governments of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The breakaway republic of Somaliland in the north, which maintains de facto independence over its territory, is still regarded by member states of the United Nations as a constituent state of Somalia despite its declaration of independence in 1991. The states of Puntland and Galmudug in central and northeastern Somalia retain control over their own territories with little to no oversight from the federal government, which is based in Mogadishu in the south. The administrations in these states have stated that, unlike Somaliland, they do not seek outright independence from Somalia, and are merely maintaining stability until such a time when the government can effectively implement a permanent constitution for the country.
In the south and in opposition to the central government are regions administered by various Islamic insurgent groups, most notably Hizbul Islam and al-Shabaab, both of which seek to establish Sharia law within the country.
Like Palau, the government of Myanmar, or Burma, presently operates as a unitary state, with sovereignty confined within the central government. Myanmar is divided into a number of regions, zones and states with constitutionally defined levels of autonomy. Both regions and states can be described as ethnically defined; while the Bamar are the dominant ethnic group within regions, the states are mostly dominated by various minority groups, such as the Shan (Shan State), the Rakhine (Rakhine State) and the Karen (Karen State), among others.
In terms of politics, the use of the term "state" in this context is largely historical, with a number of these states having been united in various federal unions during the British colonial period. At present, most states are afforded a greater degree of autonomy than other divisions. Political separatism in many states is rampant, and territory controlled by the central government in these cases is limited. In these cases, jurisdiction within a state is mostly confined to its respective regional government.
Palau is divided into sixteen administrative divisions termed "states", which were before 1984 called municipalities. The change in terminology reflects the fact that these divisions are afforded a larger degree of autonomy than before, with each state having its own constitution. As a unitary republic, however, the Government of Palau is centralised and these divisions exist solely to establish regional government; they are not united in a federal union.
The term "constituent state" is sometimes also used to refer to member states of an international organization.
Member states of the European Union are occasionally referred to as "constituent states" by pro-European politicians and activists within the European Union, especially those in favour of further internal integration and federalisation.
It is also used to refer to sovereign states in bilateral negotiations or agreements between two or more states.