The uncertain future of the Commonwealth without Elizabeth II

The image of Elizabeth II is reflected in the iconic building of the Sydney Opera House / ef

The governments of the international commonwealth, whose development as an institution cannot be understood without the strong support given by the sovereign, proclaim Carlos III as their king

It has been one of the achievements of which she has been most proud. The Commonwealth cannot be understood without Elizabeth II and, now that her long reign has come to an end, the big question is whether she will survive her death.

Australia and New Zealand have held ceremonies this Sunday to officially proclaim Charles III as their new king. The ceremony has been repeated this weekend in the rest of the Commonwealth territories that also have him as head of state. “Today we commemorate the death of Queen Elizabeth II and recognize her son, King Charles III, as our sovereign,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, who thanked the new sovereign for the “affection” he has always shown for your country.

His Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese, has declared September 22 a national holiday to “allow people to pay their respects on the queen’s passing.” Albanese, a politician in favor of republicanism, has avoided commenting on the growing debate in Australia to modify the current government model towards a republic and has indicated that “my opinions on the matter are more than well known. But now is not the time to speak” on this issue but to “pay tribute to the life of Queen Elizabeth. A life of dedication and loyalty, even to the Australian people », he has stated.

The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, has been the only one who has so far referred to a political reform by announcing that he will call a referendum within three years to find out if the citizens want to turn the State into a republic. “This is not an act of hostility or any difference between Antigua and Barbuda and the monarchy, but it is the final step in completing that circle of independence and ensuring that we are truly a sovereign nation,” said Browne, who signed the document on Saturday. confirming the status of Carlos III as the new king.

“Without her I wouldn’t exist”

The commonwealth of states that emerged from the dismantling of the British Empire was barely three years old when Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952. The two have grown up together and theirs has been, at least from the queen’s point of view, a love story.

The relationship is more complex from the other side, with the ghost of colonization always hovering over people’s minds. But very few deny that, without Elizabeth II’s efforts, the Commonwealth would have foundered long ago. “I suspect that it would never have taken off in the way that she did without the queen as a driving force,” admits former Prime Minister David Cameron in Robert Hardman’s biography of Elizabeth II ‘Queen of the World’. “She guaranteed her birth, her growth and development at every stage. Without her, I wouldn’t exist.”

“The queen may have inherited the Crown, the (Anglican) Church and the Armed Forces,” Hardman writes, “but with her ‘family of nations’ it was different. She had to earn her approval.” For the biographer, “this process would help transform the United Kingdom into the multicultural society it is today, a process in which the queen has played a fundamental role.”

The queen, in the family photo with the heads of government and Commonwealth leaders at the last summit in which she participated in 2018

The Commonwealth was formally created with the London Declaration in 1949. Today it is made up of 54 very diverse States: from rich nations like Canada or Australia, highly populated like India or tiny like Tuvalu or Brunei. They all joined voluntarily and add up to a population of 2,500 million inhabitants, almost one in three people in the world.

Its purpose and even its usefulness are still up for debate and depend on who you ask. The Commonwealth promotes cooperation and trade and friendship ties between these very different countries, in addition to promoting causes such as the fight against climate change. Elizabeth II (and now Carlos) has been the head of state for 15 of them.

But, will he be able to survive without his great defender? It’s hard to tell. In 2021, Barbados decided to become a republic and freely elect its presidents. Six other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, have also hinted that they want to make the same transition. The last two royal visits to the region in 2022 were a disaster. Both the now Princes of Wales, William and Catherine, as well as the youngest son of Elizabeth II, Edward, and his wife, were met with protests at each of the scales, where the protesters demanded an official apology from the monarchy for having benefited in the past of the slave trade and demanded reparations.

Australia has also been preparing for the conversion for years. Sydney Harbor may have been lit up purple to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, when her 70th year on her throne was celebrated. The day before, however, the Australian government had appointed its first “minister for the Republic” for the first time, in charge of organizing the transition. Although he recognized “the fabulous job that” Elizabeth II has done, Matt Thiselthwaite said then, “it is time to start a serious conversation about what awaits Australia once Elizabeth II’s reign ends.”

Deciding to become a republic does not mean that they want to leave the Commonwealth. Barbados, in fact, remains a member. For many small states like the fledgling republic, with little clout on the international scene, the Commonwealth offers a platform to advocate for issues that concern them, such as climate change for the tiny nations of Micronesia. It is for this reason that some countries that were not part of the British Empire, such as Rwanda or Mozambique, have joined the group over the years.

The 2018 Summit

The body also serves to resolve disputes, and Isabel II has exercised that role for decades, in which she has put great effort. Sometimes even discreetly but firmly siding with the Commonwealth and against her own government.

It happened at least in 1986, when he managed to put behind-the-scenes pressure on Margaret Thatcher, the only head of government in the Commonwealth who opposed imposing economic sanctions on the racist regime in South Africa.

The last time the sovereign participated in a summit of Commonwealth heads of government was in 2018, when she welcomed their leaders at Buckingham Palace. Perhaps knowing that she would be the last, the monarch allowed herself one last intrusion. She then said that it was her “sincere wish” that her son, Carlos, succeeded her as head of the institution. The leadership of the commonwealth is not hereditary, but no one opposed it.

Was it a sincere agreement or a desire not to upset a nonagenarian Elizabeth II? It is not clear. Just in case, William, now Prince of Wales, already stated at the time that he was not worried about who could lead the future Commonwealth, perhaps aware that he would never be his head. Her commitment, he said this afternoon, was “to serve and support her as best we can.”

In its more than seven decades, the Commonwealth has managed to survive political turbulence, changes in blocs and systems, and even in the world order. The only constant so far had been the queen. Time will tell if there is a future beyond Elizabeth II.

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