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The Commonwealth of Nations is an association of independent sovereign countries from around the world, most of whom are former members of the British Empire . It is also known as The Commonwealth , the British Commonwealth of Nations and the British Commons . The association is of a loose character; members, who currently number 53 nation states, can leave the Commonwealth whenever they want.
Traditionally the head of the Commonwealth is the British monarch , currently queen Elizabeth II . The Queen is a symbol of the unity of the Commonwealth states and has no essential executive power. Most members have their own heads of state, while 15 of them recognize the British monarch as the figurative leader of their state. These States are called Commonwealth realms, and are the descendants of the British Empire's system of Dominions. Although the Commonwealth Headquarters are located in Westminster , London, the United Kingdom has no power to influence the policies and internal affairs of the member states through the structures of the Commonwealth. The organization focuses on building trade and social links between members, and operates on a consensual basis.
Member States Of The Commonwealth
Although numerous conventions have strictly emphasized that the Commonwealth has no similarities to the former British Empire , the fact remains that the Commonwealth is an unofficial successor of said empire.
By the end of the 19th century, in the British overseas possessions and colonies, there were strong national movements aimed at freeing themselves from the colonial authorities. The collapse of the empire was gradual and although a number of colonial conflicts erupted, it was not overly turbulent. A series of colonies received self-government, forming Dominions within the British empire. British politicians from the beginning of the 20th century tried to emphasize that the Dominions were not subordinate to Britain, but were part of a union that shared common allegiance to the English monarch. This formulation was the basis of the Westminster Statute of 1931, which formed the British Commonwealth, or the Commonwealth of Nations. This union was limited to the United Kingdom and the self-governing Dominions, while colonies remained subordinate the the crown and were governed through the colonial office from the United Kingdom.
However, by the end of the Second World War, an exhausted British Empire no longer had the power to preserve the status quo, especially in Asia. The independence of former protectorates and colonies meant the end of the traditional Empire, starting with the Asian colonies in the late 1940's (India, Burma, etc) and culminating with the independence of African colonies in the late 1950's and early 1960's.
Because the head of the Commonwealth of Nations is the British monarch, dominions and colonies that declared themselves republics were automatically excluded from the organization. This is the case of Ireland, although an exception was made for India, which is a republic, but acknowledges the monarch as the "symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth". Traditionally limited to ex-British colonies and dominions, in recent times membership was opened to non ex-British colonies, resulting in the accession of Mozambique, and ex-Portuguese colony and Rwanda, an ex-Belgian colony.
Old Commonwealth Propaganda Poster
Principles And Values Of The Commonwealth
The principles and values of the Commonwealth in which members believe are embodied in the declaration published in Harare, Zimbabwe during the meeting of the heads of government of the member states. They are, as stated in the Declaration (Article 4), the following:
- "We believe that international order and peace, global economic progress and the rule of international law are decisive for the security and progress of humanity;
- We believe in the freedom of the individual by law, equal rights for all citizens irrespective of sex, race, color, origin or political commitment, and in the inalienable right of individuals to participate in the organization of the society in which he or she lives through free and democratic political processes;
- We see racial prejudice and intolerance as a dangerous disease and a threat to healthy development, and racial discrimination as absolute evil;
- We oppose all forms of racial oppression, and we are committed to the principles of human dignity and equality;
- We understand the importance and urgency of economic and social development in order to meet the basic needs and aspirations of the vast majority of the peoples of the world, and we want to progressively remove wide differences in the standards of life between our members. "
Members of the Commonwealth initially had far more benefits than are evident today. Namely, after the founding of the Commonwealth, it was a significant economic block in which members, under favorable conditions, traded with each other. However, the United Kingdom's accession to the European Union has left many analysts are wondering whether the existence of an organization whose core linking factor is a historical link to Britain is justified. The fact that the major countries of Western Europe and North America are not members of the Commonwealth greatly affects the reputation and global standing of the group. It is believed that at the global level, the Commonwealth has no overwhelming influence and that in general it is a remnant of the past and a guardian of traditional links. The only fields on which the Commonwealth is particularly active is the spread of human rights and freedoms, as well as democracy in general. The cultural aspect of cooperation among members is also important, and the citizens of vulnerable members have certain privileges when it comes to education and immigration in the UK.
It remains to seen whether or not the Commonwealth of Nations will experience a rebirth once the British exit from the European Union (Brexit) is finalized.
Marlborough House, London- The Secretariat Of The Commonwealth
As mentioned earlier, the English monarch serves as the symbolic head of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has its own secretariat, which organizes Commonwealth summits, meetings of ministers, consultative meetings and technical discussions; assists policy development and provides policy advice, and facilitates multilateral communication among the member governments. It also provides technical assistance to help governments in the social and economic development of their countries and in support of the Commonwealth's fundamental political values.
The most important decision-making places are the Summit of Heads of Government of the Commonwealth countries where issues of common interest are considered. These meetings seek to reach compromise and consensus among members rather than imposing a majority-supported solution. As such, the ability of the Commonwealth to put forward proposals and address issues can be hampered by the intransigence of a few members, which helps promote the idea that it is largely an informal group, and not a coherent international bloc.
The official language of the organization is English .
While the Commonwealth of Nations has a long history of association going back to the British Empire, its future is uncertain. The Commonwealth was formed during a time of European predominance, while rapid global changes point to Asia and Africa as being the future centers of world power. As such, the Commonwealth remains mostly an informal organization, and individual member states continue to pursue their own policies on the international stage, which can often be contrary to each others interests.
Following the historic 2016 United Kingdom referendum to leave the European Union, British politicians have been placing more emphasis on the Commonwealth links of the former British Empire. Following the firm decision to pursue Brexit, the UK could place additional emphasis on the Commonwealth, which could serve to rejuvenate cooperation and trade throughout the bloc.
© 2017 nomenklatura