In October 2001, a conference was convened in Madrid on the general topic of transition to democracy, which was attended by Presidents and Prime Ministers of countries that were still in the process of consolidating newly democratic institutions, or who had more or less recently participated in such momentous changes in their respective countries.
The exchange of views at that conference made it abundantly clear that democracy was not just an idealistic goal, but a very real, tangible and practical reality, as shown by the success of those countries that had adopted it. Democracy was not something exclusive, reserved for a small number of privileged countries, but could be realized in the governance of any country that was determined to take the steps necessary to achieve it. What was needed to implement democracy was certainly political will on the part of those elected to high office, but also broad-based support from populations at large, whose assent to any major changes had to be secured through free and fair elections.
The participants at that historical conference in Madrid came from different parts of the world and from a wide range of political convictions, covering many nuances of positions between what is commonly designated as the “left” and the “right” in political circles, not to mention those, like myself, who had been “independent” throughout their lives. What was truly remarkable was their fundamental agreement on the basic principles of what does or does not constitute democracy in the broadest sense of that word. In spite of very different concrete challenges that each of these leaders had faced during their time in office, the fruit of their accumulated experience was a commonly held conviction that democracy, while far from perfect as a system, was also by far the best system of governance that had until now been developed.
One of the aspects of democracy is that, in a great many countries, the terms of office of Presidents have time limits set on them in the Constitution, and that Prime Ministers have very variable lengths of office, according to local election results. Once retired from office, however, the former incumbents of these positions carry with them a wealth of accumulated experience that they are happy to share with the world at large, not just the people of their own country. They constitute a human resource that they are ready to put at the service of the whole of humanity.
The Club de Madrid was created with the aim of pooling these resources and giving them a permanent structure. Over the past few years, the Club de Madrid has grown in size, co-opting new members as they leave active politics, but remain involved in a variety of pro bono publico activities. It has been ably led by distinguished leaders as Presidents and Vice-presidents of the organization, as well as a capable professional staff in the home office in Madrid. It has carried out a broad range of projects in many parts of the world, the details of which may be found on our web page. It has worked together with internationally known institutions and foundations as well as benefiting from the generous support of individual philanthropists.
Quite recently our organization has joined forces in a World Leadership Alliance, which provides Club de Madrid with a more stable financial position and brings us closer to business leaders through the World Economic Council. As I take over the responsibilities of President of the Club of Madrid, I express my deep felt gratitude to all who have contributed to the success of our organization ever since its creation. Club of Madrid is the world’s largest forum of democratic former Heads of State and Government and should be the most significant organization working on Democracy and Leadership.
I look forward to fruitful collaboration with both members and supporters to ensure that the unique role that CdeM plays in the world continues to be fulfilled with dedication and conviction, allowing us to develop further projects within a national, regional and global context.
President of Latvia (1999-2007) and President of the Club de Madrid