On the 14th March 2014 a Conference called “Politics in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies”was held at the Institute of the Americas University College London (UCL), Westminster in the Caribbean Research Network. This event was organized in conjunction with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and convened by Dr Peter Clegg (University of the West of England) and David Killingray (Emeritus Professor, Goldsmiths).
The objective of this seminar was to consider recent developments in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, discuss their links with Britain and the European Union, and to evaluate whether each group of territories can learn lessons from the other.
The panel of speakers included Mr. Tim Colley, Head of Caribbean Territories and Strategy Department of the FCO’s Overseas Territories Directorate, Ms. Georgia Galati, EuropeAid’s Task Force for Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) of the European Commission, Mr. John Fuller, former Hertfordshire London 2012 Ambassador and private consultant, Mr. Kedrick Malone, Director/UK Representative of the BVIs Government London Office, Mr. Malachy Cornwell-Kelly, former Clerk of Tynwald (Isle of Man), David Kermode, Emeritus Professor of Politics, Liverpool John Moores University, Mr. Mike Mannin, Jean Monnet Chair in European Politics, University of Portsmouth and as Keynote speaker Mr. Emilio-Pantojas Garcia, University of Puerto Rico.
The first session of the Conference focused on the OCTs relations with the UK and the EU. In the first part of the session, the key focus was the 2012 White Paper entitled Security, Success and Sustainability. The document sets out the nature of the existing links between the UK and its OTs and the measures required to “renew and strengthen” the relationship, while supported by a “very strong positive vision”. The White Paper tries to strike a balance between the promotion of a positive agenda and the clarification of responsibilities and high standards of governance the territories must maintain. Overall, the important progresses made in implementing the White Paper were stressed. Finally, brief discussions dealt with the possibility for OCTs to match one-day the autonomy of the Crown Dependencies. In this second part of this session, discussions focused on the recently adopted OAD, its key provisions and the financial instruments linked to it. Some questions were also raised about the cooperation strengthening with the EU’s Outermost regions and the inclusion of Bermuda in the new OAD.
During the second session Mr. Fuller and Mr. Malone spoke on the case of the British Virgin Islands referring also to other OCTs. The accent was put on the significant impact that the global financial crisis is having on OCTs in terms of low growth rates, rising debts levels and higher unemployment. The OCTs economies vulnerability call for some diversification into sectors such as fisheries, ICT, renewable energies (e.g. Montserrat geothermal energy) which will anyway be difficult to achieve without UK and EU support.
The third session on Crown Dependencies focused on the Isle of Man and questioned the possibility of the OCTs engaging and collaborating more with the Crown Dependencies including the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey.
In the final session, the Keynote speaker, Emilio-Pantojas Garcia, Professor from the University of Puerto Rico, addressed the case of Puerto Rico chronicling the history of the debate and referendum on a possible new status. Currently, the territory is facing its worst economic crisis in modern history which is making its social conditions more difficult with consequent rising unemployment and increased levels of migration to the US. This all has sent the status issues back at the heart of the discussions with the prospect to hold a new ‘yes’ or ‘no’ referendum on Puerto Rico statehood.
This conference was the second event to be run under the umbrella of the Westminster in the Caribbean: History, Legacies, Challenges research network based at the UCL Institute of the Americas. The conference presentations and the resulting discussions highlighted the important work undertaken by both the UK and the OCTs to strengthen the latter’s political and economic position over the last few years. It is clear, nevertheless, that concerns remain over the often partisan nature of local politics and the weakness of the OCTs economies. In this context, cooperation with the EU reaffirmed through the signing of the new OAD will become more significant in facing economic and social issues.