[These two excerpts are from the special edition of The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs.]
The Republic of Cyprus (RoC) became the 12th member to join the Commonwealth on 13 March 1961. The smallest member of the Commonwealth at the time was New Zealand with a population of 2.5 million. The Federation of Malaya (6.3 million), Ghana (6.7 million), and Ceylon (9.2 million) were the only other members with fewer than 10 million inhabitants. The newly independent RoC, with a population of 572,000 was comparatively extremely small, and its Constitution provided for rights of guarantee to two non-Commonwealth countries, i.e., Greece and Turkey. Did the Commonwealth even want such a state to become a member? In 2021, with the Commonwealth comprising 54 members, out of which 32 members are classified as small states, and with some members having no links to the former British Empire, or even other Commonwealth members, the RoC seems like a perfect fit. However, admitting a small state was an extremely controversial question when the RoC applied for membership.
The entry of the RoC as a Commonwealth member in March 1961 was accordingly a landmark in the history of the organisation, as the RoC was the first small state to join the Commonwealth. Furthermore, although a number of Commonwealth members had adopted republican constitutions in the years following their independence, the RoC was the first member to achieve independence and join the Commonwealth as a republic. The current majority of Commonwealth members are republics. The accession of the RoC was at the time controversial. Senior government officials in London questioned whether it was in Britain’s interests, and doubts were expressed by some other Commonwealth members. Many of those in the RoC who had fought for independence were reluctant to see their country join an organisation so closely associated with the British Empire. Yet the RoC has since established itself as an active and enthusiastic member. It hosted the 1993 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Limassol and simultaneously the first meeting of the Ministerial Group of Small States. Its Foreign Minister has chaired the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, and parliamentary and governmental officials regularly participate actively in all Commonwealth meetings.
Despite the above, research output regarding RoC-Commonwealth relations has so far been rather limited compared to other Commonwealth countries. This special issue seeks to present original contributions exploring how the RoC has both shaped and been shaped by the Commonwealth, and at the same time to establish a framework for further research on the subject matter. These contributions originated from a conference held in Nicosia, Cyprus, on May 20–21, 2021. The Conference was organised by the University of Nicosia, School of Law, and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, with the support of the Royal Commonwealth Society Cyprus Branch. The Commonwealth’s Secretary-General Patricia Scotland delivered the keynote address to the Conference.
The papers included herewith cover different aspects of the relations between the RoC and the Commonwealth. A common theme of all papers is that they focus on official perceptions by the RoC and/or the Greek Cypriot majority vis-à-vis the Commonwealth, drawing on a variety of sources, including Greek-speaking ones that, due to linguistic barriers, have often been absent from discussion regarding the RoC in international literature.
The Commonwealth is a valuable network, but it needs more tangible results and projects, a more concrete diffusion of values, more interaction with the daily problems of citizens, more identity-building. We argue for the promotion of an all-encompassing notion of ‘Commonwealthisation’, in the sense of the transformation of the common values of the Commonwealth into concrete proposals for a change in the logic of political behaviour and policy-making, as well as identity and processes of the construction, diffusion, and institutionalisation of formal and informal rules, shared beliefs and norms (to use the respective definition of ‘Europeanisation’ used by Radaelli, 2003).
The Commonwealth has grown significantly, and the set of values that the Commonwealth has already agreed upon requires no substantial changes. The main question is how to further deepen the integration of its members, and this pre-supposes significant financial and political investment. Intergovernmentalist analyses of European integration could shed light on the deepening of Commonwealth integration, as they emphasise the centrality of the nation state in the process of integration. Intergovernmentalist theories stress that power is in the hands of member states, and it is their national governments which essentially control the degree and speed of integration. The focus is on state actors and the dominant concept of national sovereignty and security in interstate relations. Intergovernmentalism maintains that the potential strengthening of the supranational level – through more delegations of power to that level – is the result of decisions that are taken at the national governmental level. The diversity between members can then lead to a ‘spill-over’ process that could limit the freedom of governments, because losses would be compensated by gains on other issues.
Achilles C. Emilianides, Dimitrios Kourtis & Christina Ioannou are with the School of Law, University of Nicosia, Nicosia, Cyprus.