Thursday, 17 March 2011

Why we should love the Commonwealth

Monday March 14th was Commonwealth Day. On the same day the Guardian newspaper began a month long “Europe Season” while the EU Referendum Campaign celebrated its official start.

It got me wondering who are our global allies? Who do we look to in times of trouble, who can we relate to and who do we feel we have an obligation to support?

For years we’ve talked about a “special relationship” with America, but a series of perceived snubs, such as the Queen not being invited to the 65th Anniversary of D-Day hosted by Sarkozy and Obama have largely been regarded as proof of the changing nature of our transatlantic kinship. In fact, this has been outlined in countless blogs and articles, so entrenched are we British in seaking approval from America. Here is a particularly good account.

Should we look to Europe? We are part of a Union powerful enough to make supra-national legislation, yet have not signed up to the Euro nor Schengen Acquis. We are by and large regarded as the most reluctant member state.

Are our natural allies the Commonwealth countries that share democratic values and with whom we are most likely to compete in this year’s rugby and cricket world cups?

I firmly believe in maintaining trade links with Europe and ensuring peace. But the EU trades freely with 60 non member countries and is unlikely to refute a trade deal with the UK should we revoke our membership.

However I believe it is the Commonwealth in whom we should invest more energy. The 54 member nations cover all four corners of the globe and boast a spread of ethnicities, languages and diverse cultures. Yet we share a common tongue and interconnected histories. The Commonwealth is not a political union but an intergovernmental organisation based upon culture, sport, literary heritage and shared legal practices. Members agree to human rights and democracy but are otherwise mutually independent. Sixteen members recognise the Queen as their Head of State, thirty three are Republics and five have monarchs of their own. Diplomatic missions between Commonwealth countries are High Commissions rather than embassies, reflecting the view that they do not consider one another “foreign”.

The Commonwealth could be regarded as the mother of modern Unions, and contributed to the creation of what is now the EU. When France was refused membership in the 1950s she instead signed the Treaty of Rome with the founding nations of the then Common Market. An argument for European integration is the geographical proximity of its members. Europe has a tumultuous history underscoring the importance of guaranteeing continental peace. Yet by working across the Commonwealth we do something more important. We spread a relationship further than a continent. Should Europe ever enter into war with another country in the Arab Maghreb Union, could we end up with two continents at war? I support the notion that Europe must work together to maintain peace. But creating a federal Union leaves member states little flexibility and is perhaps less desirable for future global harmony than perceived.

Our relationship with former colonies is mutually beneficial and respectful, despite the British Empire being borne out of bloodshed and exploitation. We maintain links and forge partnerships with countries including Australia, Brunei, India, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa and Singapore.

In these times of turmoil with the threat of a summer of uprisings, it is perhaps more important than ever to think bigger than Europe.

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