What is the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of independent and equal sovereign states.
Our member governments have agreed to pursue shared goals such as development, democracy and peace. These values and principles are expressed in the Commonwealth Charter.
The Commonwealth spans the globe, including both advanced economies and developing countries, in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, Europe and the Pacific.
Our combined population is 2.4 billion, of which more than 60 per cent is aged under 30. Thirty members are small states, with a population under two million, and 25 are island nations.
The Commonwealth celebrates diversity and is made up of many faiths, races, languages, cultures and traditions. Most countries have similar legal and governance systems and, in English, a shared language.
A network of more than 80 intergovernmental, civil society, cultural and professional organisations help member countries to put Commonwealth values and principles into action.
What are the benefits of membership?
Commonwealth member countries benefit from being part of a mutually supportive community of independent and sovereign states, aided by more than 80 Commonwealth organisations.
The Commonwealth Secretariat, established in 1965, supports Commonwealth member countries to achieve development, democracy and peace. We are a voice for small and vulnerable states and a champion for young people.
We help to strengthen governance, build inclusive institutions and promote justice and human rights. Our work helps to grow economies and boost trade, empower young people, and address threats such as climate change, debt and inequality.
We provide training and technical assistance and support decision-makers to draw up legislation and deliver policies. We deploy experts and observers who offer impartial advice and solutions to national problems. We also provide systems, software and research for managing resources.
At Commonwealth summits, we bring together government leaders whose decisions will have an enduring impact on all citizens. By uniting our member countries in this way, we help to amplify their voices and achieve collective action on global challenges.
Our work supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
What are the eligibility criteria for membership?
Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed the following core criteria for membership at their meeting in Uganda in November 2007.
a) an applicant country should, as a general rule, have had a historic constitutional association with an existing Commonwealth member, save in exceptional circumstances;
b) in exceptional circumstances, applications should be considered on a case-by case basis;
c) an applicant country should accept and comply with Commonwealth fundamental values, principles, and priorities as set out in the 1971 declaration of Commonwealth Principles and contained in other subsequent Declarations;
d) an applicant country must demonstrate commitment to: democracy and democratic processes, including free and fair elections and representative legislatures; the rule of law and independence of the judiciary; good governance, including a well-trained public service and transparent public accounts; and protection of human rights, freedom of expression, and equality of opportunity;
e) an applicant country should accept Commonwealth norms and conventions, such as the use of the English language as the medium of inter-Commonwealth relations, and acknowledge Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of the Commonwealth; and
f) new members should be encouraged to join the Commonwealth Foundation, and to promote vigorous civil society and business organisations within their countries, and to foster participatory democracy through regular civil society consultations.
What is the process for obtaining membership?
For eligible countries, there is a membership process which has to be followed once the formal expression of interest to join is triggered. This entails the following:
- An informal assessment undertaken by the Secretary-General following an expression of interest by an aspirant country;
- Consultation by the Secretary-General with member states;
- Extending an invitation to the interested country to make a formal application;
- The interested country then lodging a formal application, which should present evidence of the functioning of democratic processes and popular support in that country for joining the Commonwealth.
Heads of Government would then consider the application of a prospective member at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). If leaders reach consensus about accepting the application, the applicant country would then join the Commonwealth and be invited to subsequent meetings.
Can a former Commonwealth member state re-join?
A Commonwealth member state that has withdrawn or was expelled from the Commonwealth would need to reapply for membership. Although Commonwealth Heads have not set out any re-joining criteria, it is expected that a country would demonstrate that it continues to uphold the principles and values of the Commonwealth that it espoused when it first joined.