This week marks a year to go until the next Commonwealth Heads’ of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Renamed the Commonwealth Summit, the gathering will be hosted by the UK. For the first time, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle will be among the Summit venues. Below we chart some of the possible trends that will shape this Summit.
The Malta CHOGM in 2015 set a new benchmark for revitalising Commonwealth leaders’ meetings, which the UK should seek to build upon. With a theme of ‘Adding Global Value’ the Malta CHOGM increased attendance from Heads of Government, launched new initiatives to benefit the Commonwealth, released a simplified summary of the debate and led a Commonwealth agreement on climate change just prior to the global COP21 Agreement. The UK needs to ensure that the trend of increased attendance from Heads’ of Governments continues. To do this, it needs to provide an attractive agenda for all Commonwealth member governments that results in significant initiatives and improved relationships.
One of the key challenges for the organisers is demonstrating the relevance of the modern Commonwealth for its diverse members, all of which bring different priorities. Crucial to doing this is to show how the use of common language, similar political and legal systems and shared aspirations and values make co-operation easier at every level. Among the diverse possible priorities of governments are a range of human rights issues, including: improving gender equality, supporting access to education and health, building economic empowerment and addressing and preparing for climate change. All of these issues can benefit from Commonwealth co-operation, as long as the Summit agenda gives a coherent set which offers something for everyone.
Recent success can be found in the Commonwealth Trade Minister’s Meeting held in March 2017. Drawing trade ministers from across 45 Commonwealth countries, the meeting set out an ambitious agenda for promoting greater trade links between Commonwealth countries. All of this takes place against the backdrop of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. While this should not dominate the Commonwealth’s agenda, it will have profound implications for all those that use the UK as an economic, diplomatic and transport gateway to the rest of Europe. The implications of disruption to these patterns will no doubt feature in Commonwealth discussions.
The Commonwealth Summit provides an opportunity for the UK government to live up to its ambition of being ‘Global Britain’. The Summit will allow the government to build stronger relationships with its Commonwealth friends, and related gatherings of business and civil society will build these bonds beyond government. Two main challenges face the government in this endeavour. Firstly, it will need to balance its role as an equal partner in the network with the need to show leadership, through contributing financial and political resources, at this important time. To do this it must act with diplomatic humility and prepare to incorporate priorities from across the Commonwealth into its agenda. Secondly, the UK government needs to ensure that the Summit is not just a one-off event but is accompanied by sustained engagement with the Commonwealth. This must happen with Commonwealth organisations, at the governmental level and through public education, particularly with young people.
With a year to go, preparation for the Commonwealth Summit is well underway, and it will undoubtedly be a time of renewed engagement with the Commonwealth. While there are challenges ahead to solidifying the Commonwealth as a relevant network in the international arena, with smart diplomacy, innovation and greater public engagement this is certainly achievable.
For more information about preparations for the Commonwealth Summit read the latest edition of Commonwealth Voices magazine.
Photo: Youth dialogue with Commonwealth Heads of Government Malta 2015. Photo credit: Commonwealth Secretariat.