April 19, 2019

A verily global institution, the Commonwealth at 70

An interview with VI Secretary-General of the Commonwealth

Diplomat Magazine had the honour of speaking to Her Excellency The Right Honourable The Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal, VI Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations in the framework of the 37th ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly held at Bucureşti, Romania (Romanian Presidency of the EU Council/ https://www.romania2019.eu/home/)

  • DM: Excellency, you are a speaker at ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly. Can you provide an overview of the manner wherein three major multilateral organisations collaborate? What are the key interests shared by the Commonwealth of Nations (53 member states), the EU (28 member states) as well as the ACP Group (79 member states)?

In fact, there is some overlapping as three EU member states (i.e. the UK, Malta, Cyprus) belong to the Commonwealth of Nations, and a myriad of Commonwealth states are likewise ACP Group members, 40 in total. Therefore, there is an overall interaction that guarantees a constant dialogue, cooperation and useful interactions. A goal for the organisations is to bring us all to the table to discuss and hopefully find viable solutions to global issues. All three organisations are multilateral in nature, nonetheless, the overlapping in membership guarantees that topics of pivotal importance are brought to the table many times to ensure that global solutions are sought after for them.

Post-Brexit, the Commonwealth will still have two members within the European Union – Malta and Cyprus. Both have expressed strong interest in working together on behalf of the Commonwealth. Cyprus currently chairs the Board of Governors of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and Malta is a member of the Troika of Commonwealth Chairs-in-Office, as the immediate past-Chair having hosted CHOGM in 2015. Malta also hosts our Commonwealth Small State Centre of Excellence and the Commonwealth Trade Finance Facility.

H.E. Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal, VI Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations.
  • What are in your view the most pressing issues at hand?

Climate change is a pressing matter, for me it is never far from reality as the Commonwealth represents so many islands nations directly threatened by it. My own country of birth of Dominica is struggling with the issue, and Kiribati may even vanish from the world map owing to climate change. Hence the Commonwealth is so proactive in pressing forward tangible measures to safeguard security, trade, peace and stability worldwide. Our Commonwealth Chapter prefigures the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and inculcates the Paris Agreement on Climate Change – and that our member countries work towards collectively and through mutual support. Counting with the UN, EU, ACP Group of states support is crucial for the colossal tasks ahead.

Altogether we have 43 implementation toolkits, and through our online law and climate change toolkit we are addressing the issue of resilience and disaster risk reduction from a legal perspective.

  • Recently Pakistan and India, both Commonwealth member states, became belligerent and some feared an armed conflict between them. How does the Commonwealth, and you yourself -if at all- play your diplomatic cards to harmonise relations, and ensure peace amongst the Commonwealth member states?

As a respected institution the Commonwealth Secretariat is often asked to mediate simmering conflicts behind the scenes. We pride ourselves in a “quite mediation” role that facilitates for parties to feel at ease in engaging with us as well as our ability to deal with so many cultures and leaders.

  • On the contrary the EU is considered to be by itself a peace project owing to progressive economic and political integration, and the fact that there has not been a war or armed conflict amongst its member states. How does the Commonwealth compare itself to the EU in the latter regard? Can it become an even larger, and more globalised guarantor of peace? How far do you see the Commonwealth integrating?

The Commonwealth is home to a third of the world’s population – 60 per cent under 30 years, many of its fastest growing economies, and half of the globe’s top 20 emerging cities. Hence it is for us paramount to maintain peace amongst our members, and promote prosperity. I cannot say how much the Commonwealth as a multilateral institution shall integrate, however, by promoting wellbeing, trade, sports, cultural exchanges, we are able to contribute to global peace.

H.E. Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal.
  • The ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly convenes some of the world’s most industrialised and well-off states as well as many that are developing or even in a status of poverty. Whilst bringing them all into a common setting is relevant, the economical, political, and social realities are so multifaceted; what is verily accomplished?

There is an extraordinary contribution of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly in promoting greater dialogue, cooperation and partnership amongst the ACP Group of States, the Commonwealth and EU member states under the Cotonou Agreement. As work proceeds towards renewing collaboration post-2020, it is important that such a broad and diverse range of voices, views and vision should continue to be brought together as new partnerships are forged to deliver peace, prosperity and sustainability for our people and planet, and towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Supported by organisations such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, the nations and territories of the Commonwealth collaborate to strengthen parliamentary democracy; and to enhance active political participation by all our citizens, especially women and young people.

  • Under your tenure The Gambia has re-joined the Commonwealth, Zimbabwe as well as the Maldives have applied to be re-admitted. Do you see it as a personal accomplishment? How diverse can be the Commonwealth, or rather do you think there is a limit on how many states can become members? Within the EU for instance there is a lot of reluctance to admit new members for the time being. Might you welcome Arab states to join? Perhaps those erstwhile British protectorates?

There is no limit as to how many member states we may hold within our family, however, we do require aspiring states to share in our values, a protection of the rule of law and respect for human rights as entrenched in our Commonwealth Chapter are fundamental for membership. Finally, who joins or not is based upon a unanimous decision by all Commonwealth states. There is no requirement -as often misunderstood- to have a connection to a British colonial past yet as I emphasised our common values, aspirations, and respect for human rights must be respected.

For further information:

The Commonwealth: http://thecommonwealth.org/media/news/commonwealth-offers-closer-cooperation-help-acp-group-realise-‘full-potential

ACP Group of states: http://www.acp.int/content/secretariat-acp

ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/intcoop/acp/2019_bucharest/default_en.htm

Images by Commonwealth Secretariat.

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