Visas are polarising conversation and public debate in an increasingly wired world that struggles to balance hopes and fears of globalisation. Aspiring international business students, as well as tourists, business people, officials and diplomats, are one large category affected by visa policy decisions.
Now the Commonwealth has stepped into the arena, flagging up the issue in its communique from its heads of government meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Sunday.
The Commonwealth strives to promote improved trade and industry links among its members. Within its loose assembly, the often quixotic organisation of 53 developed and developing countries sees great gains for all the member countries from bona fide travel, including educational exchanges. Rapid digitalisation of passports and other identity documents has made it easier to satisfy security concerns.
True, easier cross-border travel for Commonwealth citizens was not exactly top of the list of the meeting's priorities. But point 84 of the 98-point missive runs 'heads (of government) requested that a working group of officials be created by the Secretary-General to consider (a) report's recommendations in the lead up to 2015 CHOGM (scheduled to be held in Malta) and to provide detailed proposals, including any other regimes that better facilitate free movement of Commonwealth citizens.'
The report in question - Facilitating Border Crossings: A Commonwealth of People - was prepared by the Ramphal Institute, a Commonwealth policy think-tank, from which it was commissioned.
Richard Bourne, Ramphal Institute secretary, who drafted the report, was disappointed that the institute's original proposal for a group of ministers to address this problem had been downgraded in the recommendation to mere 'officials'.
The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) is another international ensemble with broadly similar goals and it has already addressed this issue very practically. The APEC business travel card substantially reduces immigration formalities, and is recognised by 18 member states.
APEC leaders reckoned such a card could be a small but important step en route to an overarching free trade area of the Asia Pacific.
Bourne is encouraged by the fact that the next summit is to be held in Malta and that the expertise of Michael Frendo, Malta's former foreign minister, was drawn upon for the report. "Michael Frendo felt there was a very strong interest in Malta itself in bringing the Commonwealth visa arrangements into sync with (those of) the European Union."
Bourne also accepts that there have been many false dawns for Commonwealth initiatives. Who now remembers the proposal for a dedicated Commonwealth communications satellite, for example, or the ambitious e-business portal for Commonwealth countries, to name only two?
Is the Commonwealth Card only another well-intentioned, impractical proposal of the kind so often rehearsed by Commonwealth think-tanks, fatally flawed because involving coordination of too many international players with cross-motives.
"I've been involved in some quite different types of thing, like for instance the Commonwealth teacher recruitment protocol which ... has been taken up by some countries but not by others," he says.
A compromise solution for some Commonwealth countries which would allow them to participate in APEC's already up and running scheme was also suggested by the Ramphal Institutes report.
All well and good, but economic and financial considerations will be uppermost in the minds of officials of member governments tasked to implement any Commonwealth Card scheme, and that at a time of austerity.
Bourne recognises this. "This is very much to do with inward investment and the expansion of trade and from that point of view there might be some costs involved in pre-clearing people, like those given the APEC card, but the benefits would hugely outweigh any costs to the governments concerned."
The Indian Ocean Rim association, he says, is also considering an APEC-type card, "which brings in some additional Commonwealth member states." He added: "Among the 10 out of 15 Commonwealth countries that we spoke to, the desire to make some progress is very strong."
Piece written by Martin Mulligan of the Financial Times and member of the Commonwealth Journalists Association.
Willy Brandt is known for his East-West dialogue, but his dedication to development policy is nearly forgotten. Sir Shridat Ramphal, a member of Brandt's North-South-Commission, remembers a great cosmopolitan.
From 1977 on Willy Brandt directed the North-South Commission of Robert McNamara, then World Bank President. The commission was founded to break the ice between the industrialized countries in the Northern hemisphere and the developing countries in the South. The commission was made up of representatives from 18 countries. Among them were well-known politicians like Olof Palme (Sweden), Katharine Graham (US) or Sir Shridat Ramphal (Guyana), who was the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations at the time.
Mister Ramphal, we are celebrating Willy Brandt's 100th birthday. What is your memory of Willy Brandt?
I first heard of him in the context of Europe, of East and West. But I met him when he turned to me to help him in developing the North-South-Commission. He was part of my life for nearly 10 years. He taught me a great deal about being a human being in our world. He was the greatest internationalist that I have ever known.
In Germany and in Europe we mostly see Brandt as the person who built a bridge from East to West. Would you say that he achieved something comparable in a dialogue between North and South?
He was trusted. Brandt was trying to explore the practical tools with which poverty could be ended and the South would have a better chance. Robert McNamara had turned to Willy Brandt because he believed that people would listen to Brandt and to a commission lead by him. He knew that Brandt was a man with compassion. And that he was accepted by the developing world, by Africa, by Asia, as a man of sincerity and honor. But it remained an unfinished part of his life. I think he was very unhappy that he could not move the Americans, could not move the Europeans as quickly as he would have liked in the direction of a new economic order which would heal the wounds of poverty.
I could imagine that even within the Commission there must have been some tensions between the industrialized countries and the developing countries. How did Brandt act when these tensions flared up?
He made people understand that it was a mutual interest that these divisions in the world cease. There wasn't any annoyance and anger when he tried to get us to agree. And he was very pleased when in the end the Brandt-Commission was able to produce this report which made a great impact in the world with international institutions and countries. It changed the whole mood of the North-South debate. It didn't lead to instant success, but it placed a global debate in a new context.
But why didn't the Brandt-Commission achieve much more – even until now? What were the obstacles to make this vision of a better world become true?
It calls for a great deal of enlightenment of the world's leadership. Enlightenment which Brandt had, but which I am afraid was not and is not shared by many leaders. The clash between national interests and creating a global society - which he saw in line with national interests - that clash has never been effectively resolved. So his legacy is very important.
Are the main questions about a new economy, about the gap between rich and poor, still relevant today?
Every word of the Brandt-Commission's report is still relevant and acutely relevant if we are talking about humanitarian intervention. His contributions to Europe are great, of course. He won the Nobel Prize. The contributions he made subsequently through these commissions I think were just as substantial. You can't win the Nobel Peace Prize twice – but he deserved it.
Nelson Mandela recently died at age 95, he was the same generation as Brandt. Would it be exaggerated to compare these two men?
Both of them came out of suffering, both of them came out of exile, Mandela 27 years of imprisonment. They suffered and they overcame. Not as a physical but as a mental process of peace and reconciliation. God forbid that we have to have the suffering before we can have the enlightenment, but it is a fact that this is a process which lead to Brandt and to Mandela. I had the privilege to know both. I don't see that there are equals today. The world needs men of that quality, women of that quality. But perhaps they will come. Willy Brandt and Nelson Mandela "I am prepared to die for my ideal" are blessings of our generation. I hope that the generation that follows us looks back and remembers them to the point where they follow them.
We, as Germans, see Brandt mostly as a German and great European, you called him “the greatest internationalist” in the beginning of our interview. What made Brandt a world citizen?
He rose above nationalism, above race, above religion, he was a world citizen. I think he genuinely believed that his country was the globe. And that his duty as a global citizen was to make the whole world better. I wish that the whole of Germany would have given him the credit he deserves for his life and his ideas when he was alive. Germany tended to treat him as someone engaged with partisan politics. For many years and a big part of his life, he had risen beyond German politics and become a world statesman. I hope that we remember him that way. I would certainly be thinking of him as the world citizen of the 20th century.
The interview was conducted by Sarah Judith Hofmann on behalf of Deutsche Welle.
Tomorrow’s children will not be able to say, as we can with pride and a deep sense of privilege, that we lived in the time of Nelson Mandela, a unique and memorable human being. ‘Madiba’ has gone from us; but he is part of eternity and will always belong to the entire world. His indomitable spirit will forever inspire people in pursuit of freedom and justice; his humanity will be a beacon for all who are wronged. He made our troubled age less shameful by his own nobility.
He enriched my own life by the small part I played, as Commonwealth Secretary-General, in restoring him to freedom - even though he showed that truly “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage”.
That my official Commonwealth residence was the one he came to when first he came to London, after his release from prison, to meet those who fought with him against apartheid and the injustices of the apartheid regime, will forever be a badge of honour for the Commonwealth.
Migration was a key issue discussed at the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka from 11 to 14 November 2013, thanks to the work of the Ramphal Commission on Migration and Development. The Commission was represented at the Forum by Dr Alan Gamlen, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Migration Studies published by Oxford University Press, and author of the Commission’s First Report, published in 2011.
Dr Gamlen’s presentation, entitled ‘Re-connecting the Commonwealth: Managing Migration for Development’, began by underlining the ongoing importance of the Commonwealth as an enduring migration 'arena'.
Dr Gamlen argued that, at a time when the organization’s relevance and identity are often questioned, migration is a clear issue defining the Commonwealth. He said, “if it is true that Commonwealth countries are not foreign to each other, or that the organization is not only an organization of states but also an organization of peoples, then it is partly because Commonwealth countries are full of each other’s migrants.”
Citing United Nations data, Dr Gamlen pointed out that half of all migration to and from Commonwealth countries is from or to other Commonwealth countries, noting that the Commonwealth contains a fifth of all migrants in the world today, and demonstrating how the legacies of Commonwealth migration remain at the top of the political agenda in many Commonwealth countries.
The presentation also noted that migration is intrinsically linked to human development, although debates about whether the link is positive or negative remain contentious. Many development issues related to migration – such as brain drain, remittances, emigration from small island states, and environmental migration – are particularly acute in many Commonwealth countries.
Dr Gamlen concluded by summarizing the Ramphal Commission’s recommendations on how Commonwealth countries should respond to the challenges and opportunities of migration – by building migration management capacity, streamlining migration policies, helping migrants to share their successes, and enhancing international cooperation over migration.
Questions from the floor covered topics including the possibility of free movement as a solution to Commonwealth development problems, and how to deal with the issue of irregular migration. Dr Gamlen responded that Commission had found a general consensus amongst experts that migration policies need to balance the individual right to move against the right of groups to determine their own members.
He also noted that there was consensus that, so long as there was both demand and supply for it, migration would occur in spite of obstacles and restrictions, and that most experts therefore recommend ensuring adequate legal channels exist to allow migration to happen in an orderly fashion, and cooperating to regulate the international recruitment industry so that migrants are not vulnerable to smuggling and trafficking.
Dr Gamlen was joined by migration experts from the International Organization for Migration and civil society groups from Tonga and the UK-Somalian community. The session was attended by 40-50 leaders of civil society organizations from around the Commonwealth. Migration was mentioned in the final communique of the Forum.
The Commonwealth summit in Colombo was controversial for leaders who stayed away, and for rows about human rights abuse. But much of the work of the Commonwealth is designed to assist the development of its poorer nations, and to reduce poverty among its peoples. This is the special concern of the Ramphal Institute. Looked at in this light the summit saw the Commonwealth make some progress.
Leaders’ most important decision was to constitute an open-ended working group of heads of government to steer progress on the post-2015 development goals. There are several overlapping processes at work here in which many Commonwealth governments are involved – not least the five which belong to the Group of 20. The Ramphal Institute strongly welcomes this decision at Colombo. It should create an agreed focus for Commonwealth advocacy at a time of competing priorities.
Less satisfactory was the statement on green issues, where a Commonwealth expert group chaired by former President Jagdeo of Guyana had recommended more climate finance for developing countries. However the governments of Australia and Canada, where current prime ministers are sceptical about efforts to combat climate change, said they were unwilling to back a green climate fund.
The Ramphal Institute has, for the last eighteen months, been exploring ways to assist those small island states of the Commonwealth at most risk from sea level rise. The head of the government of Kiribati has warned that so much of his atoll state might be submerged that it might not be viable by 2050, and the Institute argues that if Commonwealth solidarity is to mean anything around ten such countries need practical policy and financial support now.
The Institute was delighted that, in paragraph 85 of the communiqué, the Heads decided to take forward its proposals for the Secretary-General to ease visa restrictions between Commonwealth states. The Secretary-General had requested proposals for business travellers, tourists and those moving around the Commonwealth on official business ( see elsewhere on this site for the full report ). Leaders have now set up a working party of officials, which the Institute stands ready to support.
The summit confirmed its backing for a number of international processes, including UN work on migration and development where the Institute’s Ramphal Commission on Migration and Development, 2009-2011, pioneered the Commonwealth perspective. Three reports from that commission, chaired by P.J.Patterson, the former Prime Minister of Jamaica, have set out the significance of migration for the Commonwealth. On the one hand highly trained personnel have been emigrating; on the other the resulting diasporas in more developed countries are a major resource for many states. The author of the first of the commission’s reports, Dr Alan Gamlen, presented his findings at a session of the Peoples Forum in Sri Lanka.
Finally the Institute was delighted to see paragraph 48 of the communiqué on tax policy, where Heads noted “the importance of payment of taxes and collection of revenue.” The Institute is currently in discussion with the Commonwealth Association of Tax Administrators about the serious “tax gap” affecting many states where the rich do not pay tax, and huge numbers work in an informal economy. The result is that public services rest on a very narrow funding base, and the Institute believes that better revenue collection would make better services affordable.
Richard Bourne, Secretary