La volonté d’indépendance de l’Écosse vis-à-vis du Royaume-Uni, sans remettre en question son appartenance au Commonwealth, montre une certaine importance de l’organisation. Cependant la sortie de la Gambie en octobre 2013, sous prétexte de rejet institutionnel néo-colonial, impose une réflexion sur le modèle du Commonwealth. Mais qu’est-ce-que le Commonwealth et quel est son rôle aujourd’hui ? Enfin, quel avenir a-t-il ?
What is the Commonwealth, historically and diplomatically?
The Commonwealth replaced the British Empire after the independence of its former colonies and was established as an association of autonomous “freely associated” and equal countries, which swear allegiance to the British Crown. Ireland was a member but left the Commonwealth after the institution of the republic in 1949. The organization took on considerable momentum in the past few decades: composed of ten members in 1956, it now includes 53 since Gambia’s departure on October 4th. Although Queen Elisabeth II has been officially the Head of the Commonwealth since 1952, this title implies neither a domination on the other members nor their subjection to the crown.
What is the ideal of the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth is to promote democracy, good governance, human rights and prosperity. The Harare declaration in 1991 is billed as the Commonwealth’s core set of principles and values: world peace, economic development, the rule of law, a narrowing of the wealth gap, an end to racial discrimination, liberty regardless of race or creed and the “inalienable right to free democratic processes”.
One of the most important missions of the Commonwealth is to be a forum within which some of the richest nations in the globe can maintain diplomatic relations with some of the poorest nations in order to develop agreements on political, social and economic questions. With the Harare declaration, the Commonwealth guarantees that democratic principles and good governments are respected by its members at the risk of diverse types of penalties.
What is it in reality?
The major advantages of the Commonwealth are mainly economic. Indeed, member states have privileged access to the other members’ markets. Furthermore, a significant asset of the “Commonwealth Family” is the hundred non governmental organizations which promote their principles across the organization. Thus the “Commonwealth Family” includes the Games of the Commonwealth, the Council of the business and the “Commonwealth of Learning”. Every two years, the heads of state gather to discuss big political, economic and social issues, their incidences on their own countries and measures which have to be adopted.
To its supporters it is a British foreign policy success story that has come to encompass every region, religion and race on the planet, something no other organization apart from the UN can boast of. For some people, it enables otherwise isolated and impoverished nations to network with powerful allies. But those nations appreciate the organization precisely because they don’t have the power to enforce international norms and have to rely on a “constructive commitment”.
So, does the Commonwealth still matter?
Yes, it does! Because in the Commonwealth all nations can speak as equals. Moreover it’s a voluntary association and if it wasn’t performing properly there wouldn’t be a long line of candidates. It also encourages developing members to improve their economic power. Last but not least the organization has made it a priority to tackle the issue of public debt among its members: in practice, experts gather to discuss and offer guidance on the management of public debt.
Still, the legitimacy and the image of the Commonwealth are being questioned because of the gap between the ideals it supports and the means of action used to implement them.
Loïck BOINNARD & Léo BROTIN