How did the British Empire affect Australia?

Background current

After the Scottish referendum, everything stays the same: Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of the Scots. But it would probably have stayed that way anyway, thanks to the Commonwealth.

Queen Elizabeth II with representatives of the Commonwealth after a joint lunch in June 2012. (& copy picture-alliance)

The Scots decided on September 18, 2014: They want to continue to belong to Great Britain. Even if the result of the referendum had resulted in independence for Scotland, the country would probably have remained linked to the United Kingdom through membership of the Commonwealth.

A loose alliance?

The term "Commonwealth" literally means "community" and describes a voluntary association of independent states that pursue common goals. The Commonwealth of Nations sees itself as just such a voluntary alliance.

The forerunners of the Commonwealth date back to the mid-19th century, when the British government was confronted with aspirations for autonomy in its overseas colonies. In order to ensure the continued existence of the "British Empire", it granted the settlers partial self-government. Further concessions eventually led to the establishment of the first so-called Dominion (Canada; 1867). During this phase of upheaval, the future Prime Minister Lord Rosebery first used the term “Commonwealth of Nations” for the British Empire during a trip to Australia in 1884.

In the period that followed, other colonies were acquired, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland, following the Canadian model, the status of Dominion. At the "Imperial Conference" in 1926 the "British Commonwealth of Nations" was founded. In the so-called Balfour Declaration, the Dominions were guaranteed complete equality among each other and autonomy in all internal and external affairs. In 1931 the London Parliament also recognized the resolutions in the "Statute of Westminster" and thus released the Dominions into independence.

Entries and exits

The federation was initially intended as a union of the colonies that had become independent and were only linked to Great Britain through the crown.

In order to gain membership in the Commonwealth, the acceding countries had to initially recognize the British King as head of state. In view of the development after the end of World War II, this condition was changed in the course of decolonization
A world map shows the British Empire in 1937. (& copy picture alliance / CPA Media)
Abolished at the "London Conference" of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in 1949. From then on, republics and monarchies with their own sovereign could also join the alliance. Today, the Commonwealth's tasks and strengths lie primarily in the fields of culture and development. Many of the former colonies benefit from it , most of them remained in the Commonwealth after their independence.

The prospect of development aid and support in the fight against extreme poverty was also the reason why, in 1995, Mozambique became the first country to join the Commonwealth, which had not previously been part of the "British Empire", but a Portuguese colony. The Secretary General of the Commonwealth justified the admission of Mozambique with the close ties between the two partners since Mozambique gained independence in 1975 in the fight against apartheid in the neighboring states of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa.

Only a few countries made use of the possibility of leaving the alliance - an option that is open to every member at any time. Only Ireland, which, like every country after independence, was excluded from the Commonwealth in 1949 and never applied for re-entry, Zimbabwe, which left the alliance in 2003 in protest against a temporary suspension of the country, and Gambia, which left the country in 2013, have left the country. because the community of states of the Commonwealth had criticized the human rights situation in the country. Some countries have been temporarily suspended for violations of the Community Charter (including Nigeria 1995 and Fiji 2009).

Loyalty to the Royal Family

Today Queen Elizabeth II is only in the minority of all Commonwealth countries, including the head of state: This applies to the 16 so-called Commonwealth Realms, which are linked to the British Crown in personal union. Nevertheless, all member states must continue to declare their loyalty to the English crown. The monarch is also the head of the Commonwealth, an office that has only symbolic functions.

As part of her diamond jubilee in 2012, Elizabeth II - partly herself, partly represented by family members - toured Commonwealth countries. These trips were also designed to instill loyalty to the British royal family. The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, had such an impact in 2014, a sporting event that takes place every four years and is open to athletes from all Member States. Every year in March, hundreds of millions of people around the world celebrate Commonwealth Day with celebrations as diverse as the nations in the confederation.

Goals: Peace and Equal Opportunities

Currently, 53 member states belong to the association - in addition to the United Kingdom, large territorial countries such as India, Canada and Australia, but also small island states such as Tuvalu or St. Kitts and Nevis.

The Commonwealth has no constitution. The relationship between the member states and towards Great Britain was initially established in the Westminster Statute of 1931. In 1971, in the “Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles”, the member states agreed on a number of general principles (securing peace, freedom of the individual, equal rights for all citizens, combating racial discrimination) and agreed on cooperation, consultation and mutual aid. These principles were reaffirmed in a revised charter in 2013 and supplemented by further goals such as equal opportunities for women and sustainable development.

Source text

Declaration of Commonwealth Principles, Singapore 1971

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of independent sovereign states [...] consulting and cooperating in the common interests of their peoples and in the promotion of international understanding and world peace.

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of independent, sovereign states [...] that work together and advise each other in the interests of their people in order to advance international understanding and world peace.



Exchange and development come first

Commonwealth countries benefit economically and politically from their membership. They support each other, for example through trade agreements. However, there is no free trade zone. The "Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation", founded in 1971, provides funds for the exchange of technical expertise. The aim is to convey the technical know-how of the industrialized countries to countries in need of development. The long tradition of the Empire as a sea power justifies the pride of the Commonwealth on its pioneering role in questions of border defense and "governance" at sea. This knowledge is also passed on especially from the large, rich to the small member states.

In 1965, the Commonwealth Secretariat was established in London. It is led by a Secretary General, has several departments and coordinates joint activities. This includes the planning and implementation of conferences, summits and ministerial meetings. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting takes place every two years. In addition to international issues, it mostly deals with economic, political and social issues of the community. In addition, numerous private and public organizations work for the Secretariat, which promote exchange within the Commonwealth in the fields of science, technology, health care or even sport and provide financial means. The Commonwealth is funded through compulsory and voluntary contributions from Member States.


The member states of the Commonwealth

Commonwealth Realms: Antigua and Barbuda (joined: 1981), Australia (1931), Bahamas (1973), Barbados (1966), Belize (1981), Grenada (1974), Jamaica (1962), Canada (1931), New Zealand (1931), Papua -New Guinea (1975), Solomon Islands (1978), St. Kitts and Nevis (1983), St. Lucia (1979), St. Vincent and the Grenadines (1979), Tuvalu (1978) and the United Kingdom.

Republics: Bangladesh (1972), Botswana (1966), Dominica (1978), Fiji (1970; 1997), Ghana (1957), Guyana (1966), India (1947), Cameroon (1995), Kenya (1963), Kiribati (1979 ), Malawi (1964), Maldives (1982), Malta (1964), Mauritius (1968), Mozambique (1995), Namibia (1990), Nauru (1968), Nigeria (1960), Pakistan (1947; 1989), Rwanda (2009), Zambia (1964), Samoa (1970), Seychelles (1976), Sierra Leone (1961) Singapore (1965), Sri Lanka (1948), South Africa (1931; 1994), Tanzania (1961), Trinidad and Tobago (1962), Uganda (1962), Vanuatu (1980), Republic of Cyprus (1961).

Monarchies with their own sovereign: Brunei (1984), Lesotho (1966), Malaysia (1957), Swaziland (1968), Tonga (1970).

The largest land state is Canada, with approximately 10 million square kilometers. The most populous country is India with more than 1.2 billion inhabitants. The smallest members are Nauru and Tuvalu, about 10,000 people each live there.

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