A federal capital is a political entity, often a municipality or capital city, that serves as the seat of the federal government. A federal capital is typically a city that physically encompasses the offices and meeting places of its respective government, where its location and relationship to subnational states are fixed by law or federal constitution. Federal capitals may or may not be considered states in themselves, and either exercise significant political autonomy from the federation or are directly ruled by the national government located within their premises, as federal districts.
Federal capitals are often new creations. That is, they are not established in one of the existing state capitals (but they may well be a pre-existing city). They have not grown organically as capitals tend to do in unitary states. This is because the creation of a federation is a new political entity and it is usually necessary not to favour any one of the constituent state capitals by making it the federation capital. This is also the motivation behind the creation of federal capital territories as districts governed apart from the constituent state governments. It is especially important that the choice of federal capital be neutral in multi-ethnic states such as Nigeria.
Examples of well-known federal capitals include Washington, D.C., which is not part of any U.S. state but borders Maryland and Virginia; Berlin, which is a state of Germany in its own right and forms an enclave within the much larger state of Brandenburg; and the Australian Capital Territory, a territory of Australia which includes the capital city of Australia, Canberra.
Canada is the only federation in the world not to accord a special administrative subdivision to its capital. Rather, Ottawa is merely another municipality in the Province of Ontario. The Canadian government does designate the Ottawa area as the National Capital Region, although this term merely represents the jurisdictional area of the government agency that administers federally owned lands and buildings, and is not an actual political unit. The City of Ottawa is governed as any other city in Ontario would be.
List of federal capitals
- Argentina: Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, formerly Capital Federal
- Austria: Vienna
- Australia: Australian Capital Territory of Canberra
- Belgium: Brussels-Capital Region
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Sarajevo
- Brazil: Federal District of Brasília
- Canada: Ottawa
- Comoros: Moroni
- Ethiopia: Addis Ababa
- Germany: Berlin
- India: New Delhi
- Iraq: Baghdad
- Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya
- Mexico: Mexico City
- Micronesia, Federated States of: Palikir
- Nepal: Kathmandu
- Nigeria: Federal Capital Territory of Abuja
- Pakistan: Islamabad
- Russia: Moscow
- Saint Kitts and Nevis: Basseterre
- Somalia: Mogadishu
- South Sudan: Juba (proposed future federal capital: Ramciel)
- Spain: Madrid
- Sudan: Khartoum
- Switzerland: Bern
- United Arab Emirates: Abu Dhabi
- United States: Washington, D.C.
- Venezuela: Caracas
Former and historical
- Brazil: Rio de Janeiro
- Federal Republic of Central America: Guatemala City, then San Salvador
- Confederate States: Richmond, Virginia
- Czechoslovakia (1969–1992): Prague
- United Kingdom of Libya: Tripoli and Benghazi
- Mali Federation: Dakar
- Nigeria: Lagos
- Rhodesia and Nyasaland: Salisbury
- Soviet Union: Moscow
- West Germany: Bonn
- West Indies Federation: Chaguaramas
- Yugoslavia: Belgrade
- Donald C. Rowat, "Ways of governing federal capitals", in John H. Taylor, Jean G. Lengellé, Caroline Andrew (eds), Capital Cities/Les Capitales: International Perspectives/Perspectives Internationales, McGill-Queen's Press, 1993 ISBN 0886291798.
- Donald C. Rowat, The Government of Federal Capitals, University of Toronto Press, 1973 ISBN 0802018157.
- Enid Slack, Rupak Chattopadhyay (eds), Finance and Governance of Capital Cities in Federal Systems, McGill-Queen's Press, 2009 ISBN 0773576177.