Queen Elizabeth II addressed the Commonwealth Heads of Government Friday morning, during the opening ceremony for the CHOGM meeting.
She declared that Malta is a reminder that a nation’s size is not representative of its moral strength, or willingness to affect the global agenda.
The opening ceremony kicked off with a brief introduction of every leader, and a small gaffe must be pointed out. The representatives of India and Pakistan were seated next to each other, yet tensions between the two countries has been present for many years. This was followed by the singing of Malta’s national anthem. Throughout the event, performances by famous local stars, most notably of whom was Joseph Calleja as well as dancers in colourful and unique costumes.
“This is the second time in a decade that Commonwealth flags have flown in Malta,” the Queen said.
“It is rightly said that the Commonwealth is an association underscored by values. But meaningful progress demands that those values be put into practice, mobilizing the vast network of civil society groups who work to strengthen health, laws and governance across all our countries.The reservoir of energy, talent and knowledge encompassed by the Commonwealth's network is prodigious”.
“Malta is one of the Commonwealth’s small states; a group that constitutes more than half of its membership. These countries have an equal voice in the Commonwealth, and none more so than Malta”.
Her Majesty mentioned that she lived in Malta back in 1949 “the same year as the founding of the Commonwealth”. She spoke of advances made since then, such as the rise of independent nations, and how many people sprung out of poverty.
She spoke of ways the Commonwealth could bring about change, and one such example was through the ‘Commonwealth Canopy’, (which will create a network of forest conservation initiatives throughout the 53 nations of the Commonwealth). “This is an example, of how the Commonwealth works together as a group to affect real change”.
“Next year, the Commonwealth Study Conference, founded by him as what he once described as an 'extraordinary experiment' dedicated to equipping Commonwealth leaders, will itself celebrate its sixtieth anniversary. To that, and to his many other Commonwealth associations, Prince Philip has brought boundless energy and commitment, for which I am indebted. Nor could I wish to have been better supported and represented in the Commonwealth than by The Prince of Wales who continues to give so much to it with great distinction”.
The Queen then officially declared this Heads of Government meeting, open.
“The best way to pay tribute to the past is to work for the future” – Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat also addressed the opening ceremony, and emphasised the importance of looking forward, rather than just reminiscing on the past.
“One of the few things one cannot choose in life is one’s parents. Not only we cannot choose them, but we are their product, and most of the times, their choice. Parents are like the history of generations past. We have no say about the choices that have been made before our time, but we are their result,” he said.
“We achieve our aspirations in life not by shackling ourselves with the past but by working hard for the future. That is how social mobility takes place. That is how society progresses. That is how children achieve more in a short span of time than their parents managed in their whole lifetime. In doing so, they also fulfil the legitimate aspirations of previous generations”.
“In other words, the best way to pay tribute to the past is by focusing firmly on the future”.
He quipped that Malta prides itself with 300 days of sunshine each year, “but sadly this meeting did not land on one of them”.
Dr Muscat feels proud to be a member of the Commonwealth, with the Queen as the inspirational head. “I know that our organisation needs to change in order to be a part of the future”.
He called for the need to be more relevant, and close to the commonwealth citizens’ aspirations. To do this, he said, countries must speak honestly. “Silence doesn’t help anyone. The most glorious days of the Commonwealth was when it spoke out. Our focus should be firmly on values and not membership numbers”
The Prime Minister highlighted the importance of setting a standard, that two billion citizens could directly relate to. “We should have an agenda with clear priorities, an agenda that helps add global value”.
He spoke of the fight against radicalisation, stating that terror groups are attracting youths. ”Education and employment are powerful weapons against radicalisation. Terrorists are terrified of good jobs, more so than an armies”.
He said that tackling education and work would also tackle the migration situation.
“The statement of intent to assist business in small countries is a great example of what we could do together”. He mentioned good governance, and said political leaders must be willing to subject themselves to scrutiny from free media.
“It is within this context that the small states centre of excellence was created that will help in capacity building in a number of areas”.
The time is ripe for self-assessment on equality
He mentioned the need to work on equality. “The time is ripe for a self-assessment by Commonwealth countries on equality, be it racial, gender or sexual identity”. Dr Muscat mentioned equality for the LGBTIQ community, and said that debate in today’s day and age should be about equality, yet the Commonwealth still debates decriminalisation.
He said that the Commonwealth has the ability to affect climate change.
The Prime Minister mentioned the challenges related to the Sustainable Development Goals, and the upcoming Paris Summit.
“The Prince of Wales and I discussed climate change last year, and said I am glad that the Commonwealth is working on the concept of a commonwealth green finance facility that will apply cost effective guarantees for environment and maritime related projects around the Commonwealth. The aim is for it to become operational in 2017”. He said that €1bn will be allocated.
He mentioned that Roosevelt and Churchill met in Malta 70 years ago to discuss the liberalisation of Europe. 26 years ago, the Bush- Gorbachev Summit Occurred, he said. Dr Muscat hopes this meeting would be a watershed moment that would help turn the organisation into a Commonwealth of the future.
A feeling of mutual belonging
For his part, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma expressed his appreciation for the support of the Royal Family.
He highlighted the fact that this is the second time in 10 years this meeting took part in Malta, and complimented the commitment of Malta towards the Commonwealth.
He said that the greatest commonwealth asset is a feeling of mutual belonging and goodwill, which is nurtured “whenever we work together”.
The Secretary General attributed the Commonwealth’s success to diversity. “By meeting on shared ground we share the global good”.
He said that now, there is greater acknowledgement of the ideas the Commonwealth brings to the world at large. He spoke of their insistence of equitable outcomes for all communities.
“Malta 2015 will be recalled for championing on the principle of action and justice in global affairs”.
“It will also be remembered for addressing three great challenges ; how to shape a future of dignity for all, how communities can prosper together in harmony, and how to nurture connected and mutually supportive human communities that are free from radicalisation”.
He spoke of tragedies emerging from violent extremism and migration. “Sharing solutions is part of a true Commonwealth”.
He said that Commonwealth nurtures diversity and strengthens public institutions, adding that it is clear about the core values that must be safeguarded as written in the Charter.
The Secretary General explained that young people seize the opportunities the Commonwealth offers to converse together with one another.
“The Commonwealth is in robust good health, and grows in stature, relevance, respect and influence. CHOGM is always an opportunity to take the pulse of global trends and adapt creatively to the times. The Secretariat has led the drive to reform with unwavering practical intent”.
He addressed the Queen directly, and said that her example of service has personally inspired him over the past eight years.
Young people and a better tomorrow
Outgoing Commonwealth Chairperson Maithripala Sirisena recognised that young people are the foundation of a more prosperous tomorrow.
He said Sri Lanka is a founding member of the Commonwealth, and mentioned that the influence of the Commonwealth has helped guide the social and political behaviour of their neighbours.
“Two years ago when we met in Sri Lanka, we noted that sustainable development through an international intensified effort is important”.
“We recognise that young people are the foundation for a prosperous tomorrow”.
He recognised that trade and investment plays an important role in employment and enhancing economic prosperity.
He thanked all heads of government for their support and help during his term in office.