Chapter 5 – Section 4 : The UK and International Institutions

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The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth is an association of countries that support each other and work together towards shared goals in democracy and development. Most member states were once part of the British Empire, although a few countries which were not have also joined.

The Queen is the ceremonial head of the Commonwealth, which currently has 54 member states (see table below). Membership is voluntary. The Commonwealth has no power over its members, although it can suspend membership. The Commonwealth is based on the core values of democracy, good government and the rule of law.

Commonwealth members
Antigua and Barbuda Australia The Bahamas
Bangladesh Barbados Belize
Botswana Brunei Darussalam Cameroon
Canada Cyprus Dominica
Fiji (currently suspended) The Gambia Ghana
Grenada Guyana India
Jamaica Kenya Kiribati
Lesotho Malawi Malaysia
Maldives Malta Mauritius
Mozambique Namibia Nauru
New Zealand Nigeria Pakistan
Papua New Guinea Rwanda Samoa
Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore
Solomon Islands South Africa Sri Lanka
St Kitts and Nevis St Lucia St Vincent and the Grenadines
Swaziland Tanzania Tonga
Trinidad and Tobago Tuvalu Uganda
UK Vanuatu Zambia

The European Union

The European Union (EU), originally called the European Economic Community (EEC), was set up by six western European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) who signed the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 1957. The UK originally decided not to join this group but it became a member in 1973. There are now 27 EU member states (see table below). Croatia will also become a member state in 2013.

EU member states

Austria Belgium Bulgaria
Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark
Estonia Finland France
Germany Greece Hungary
Ireland Italy Latvia
Lithuania Luxembourg Malta
Netherlands Poland Portugal
Romania Slovakia Slovenia
Spain Sweden UK

EU law is legally binding in the UK and all the other EU member states. European laws are called directives, regulations or framework decisions.

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is separate from the EU. It has 47 member countries, including the UK, and is responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights in those countries. It has no power to make laws but draws up conventions and charters, the most well-known of which is the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, usually called the European Convention on Human Rights.

The United Nations

The UK is part of the United Nations (UN), an international organisation with more than 190 countries as members. The UN was set up after the Second World War and aims to prevent war and promote international peace and security. There are 15 members on the UN Security Council, which recommends action when there are international crises and threats to peace. The UK is one of five permanent members of the Security Council.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

The UK is also a member of NATO. NATO is a group of European and North American countries that have agreed to help each other if they come under attack. It also aims to maintain peace between all of its members.

Check that you understand

  • What the Commonwealth is and its role
  • Other international organisations of which the UK is a member
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