What is the Commonwealth? When was it established, what is its purpose, nations, and what is the Queen’s role

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The Platinum Jubilee celebrated 70 years of service to the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Games have arrived in Birmingham

The Platinum Jubilee took place earlier this year, celebrating 70 years of the Queen on the throne. The Queen’s Baton relay began in London over the Jubilee weekend on 6 June 2022.

It also came the same year that the Commonwealth Games are being held in Birmingham.

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Sometimes called the Commonwealth of Nations, the union is a free association of sovereign states including the United Kingdom and a number of other countries who have chosen to maintain ties of friendship and practical cooperation.

Home to almost one third of the world’s population, here is everything you need to know.

What is the Commonwealth?

Founded in 1931, the Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific, with around 2.6 billion people as members.

Commonwealth nation flags in London (Pic: SOPA/Getty)Commonwealth nation flags in London (Pic: SOPA/Getty)
Commonwealth nation flags in London (Pic: SOPA/Getty) | SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

It is one of the oldest political unions with roots going back to the British Empire, however since 1949 when allegiance to the Crown was removed for memberships, any country can join the modern Commonwealth. The last country to join was Rwanda in 2009.

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The Commonwealth differs from other international bodies like the World Trade Organisation or United Nations as it has no formal obligations or bylaws, the members do not have any legal ties to one another, but are held together by common interests.

What is its purpose and who is a part of it?

The 54 nations work with the purpose to achieve the shared goals of prosperity, democracy and peace, which are all expressed in the Commonwealth Charter - a charter that sets out the values of the association.

Since its adoption in 2012, the Charter also expresses the values of gender equality, sustainable development and international security for each of its members.

The Commonwealth has been criticised in the past for having little influence, however members have stated that benefits include developmental support and cooperation on international goals.

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The founding Commonwealth members were Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom who joined together with the purpose of strengthening governance, building inclusive institutions and promoting justice and human rights.

What is the Queen’s role?

The Queen is head of state in only 15 of the member countries - 5 countries have their own monarch and 34 are republics.

It was a role that her father King George VI adopted when all countries were under his rule, and although the job was not hereditary upon her coronation, it was a position Her Majesty assumed.

Each Commonwealth country functions independently from the Queen, with its own elected laws and governors, therefore as head of state Her Majesty plays a rather neutral role; although she is recognised as the ceremonial ruler of the association.

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The Queen often takes trips to many of the Commonwealth countries and despite a neutral position, it was reported that she feared a Commonwealth split when tougher measures were not taken against apartheid in South Africa.

In 2018, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, was appointed the Queen’s designated successor for head of state in the Commonwealth.

Prince Edward and Her Majesty at Commonwealth Games Relay (Pic:Getty)Prince Edward and Her Majesty at Commonwealth Games Relay (Pic:Getty)
Prince Edward and Her Majesty at Commonwealth Games Relay (Pic:Getty) | Samir Hussein/WireImage

What are the Commonwealth Games?

The Commonwealth Games is an international multi-sporting event involving members from the association.

Similar to the Olympics, the event has been held every four years since its inception in 1930, excluding those in 1942 and 1946.

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The aim of the Games is to unite the Commonwealth family through “a glorious festival of sport.”

The 2022 Games are being held in Birmingham from 28 July - 8 August, with the ceremonious Queen’s Baton relay currently taking place around the Commonwealth nations - an event that leads to the start of the Games.

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