Reinvigorating the Commonwealth? Lord Howell, diplomats and members of the Commonwealth family meet to exchange ideas
3 September, 2010
Commonwealth leaders agreed to examine how to strengthen the organisation to fulfil its potential in the 21st century, creating an Eminent Persons’ Group to propose recommendations. Our consultation aims to contribute to this process.
Reinvigorating the Commonwealth
Wednesday 1 September 2010 (WPS10/05)
At the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), leaders called for the “creation of an Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) to undertake an examination of options for reform in order to bring the Commonwealth’s many institutions into a stronger and more effective framework of co-operation and partnership.” Commonwealth reform will be on the agenda of the next CHOGM, taking place in Perth, Australia, in October 2011.
In co-operation with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), represented by the Rt Hon Lord Howell of Guildford, Minister of State, we convened an informal consultation of London-based High Commissioners, or their deputies, from more than a dozen Commonwealth member states in Asia, Africa, North America, the Caribbean and Australasia, Kamalesh Sharma, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, and representatives from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Commonwealth Foundation, the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.
The meeting was introduced by the Rt Hon Lord Howell of Guildford, FCO Minister of State with responsibility for the Commonwealth, and Sir Ronald Sanders, member of the EPG and former senior Caribbean diplomat.
Lord Howell underlined the vast change in the international landscape since the 20th century and the need for the Commonwealth to convey its potential in these different circumstances. Its membership spans all regions and faiths, and contains some of the fastest growing economies in the world, while sharing core values and principles, a common language, and similar legal and administrative systems. All are assets for operating in a new environment but must be backed by the political commitment of member states. The UK Coalition Government has renewed engagement in strengthening the Commonwealth as the ‘face of the future’.
Sir Ronald Sanders emphasised the establishment of the EPG represented a rare window of opportunity for reinvigorating the Commonwealth. The EPG recognises that the Commonwealth cannot do everything, but should concentrate on its strengths: democracy, governance, human rights, and rule of law, which all relate to poverty alleviation, development and empowerment. He floated the idea whether a Commonwealth Charter expressing the ethos of members’ commitments should be drafted. The role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was ‘a jewel in the crown’, needed to protect Commonwealth values. Should it be further empowered? The good offices of the Secretary-General are an important tool of prevention, yet there needs to be a means beyond inter-governmental machinery to alert the Secretary-General to emerging problems. Given the resources of the Commonwealth Secretariat are limited, strategic partnerships should be created with others, including the private sector. With a high concentration of youth in Commonwealth member states, youth exchange programmes could be considered, including a volunteer Commonwealth development corps. Intra-Commonwealth trade and investment should be promoted.
The EPG held its first meeting in mid-July 2010, and is scheduled to meet again in October. Its full membership comprises:
- Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Malaysia, Chairperson)
- Patricia Francis (Jamaica)
- Asma Jahangir (Pakistan)
- Samuel Kavuma (Uganda, Commonwealth Youth Caucus)
- Hon. Michael Kirby (Australia)
- Dr Graca Machel (Mozambique)
- Sir Michael Rifkind (UK)
- Sir Ronald Sanders (Guyana)
- Senator Hugh Segal (Canada)
- Sir Ieremia Tabai (Kiribati)
Further information on the EPG
17 August: EPG launches public consultation with questionnaire
Public invited to give their views on the future of the Commonwealth
Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group meets in London
Commonwealth announces Eminent Persons Group
What is the EPG?