"My position is there are two ways of building Europe", José Manuel Durão Barroso said in a conference room in Brussels last December.
Barroso, then the Portuguese prime minister and now the nominated president of the European Commission, came to the point with almost bracing abruptness.
You could construct Europe, he said, either as a "counterpart or a counterweight" to the United States.
"It's stupid to see it as a counterweight. In some European countries, there's the idea we'll be independent if we're a counterweight. This is silly. It's counterpart, not contrepouvoir," Barroso insisted, reaching from his fluent English for the French word for a balancing force.
… he recoiled from the kind of vocabulary and approach that characterize the relations of some of Portugal's European partners to America and were at the heart of the profound dispute among the Allies surrounding the war in Iraq.
"Emancipation?" Barroso asked, pronouncing the word with the seeming disdain of a leader of a country he defined as Euro-Atlantic in sentiment and geography.
"And to talk of the United States on a confrontational basis?", he continued, in his carom-shot style. It is this straight-ahead manner that could well make Barroso an able EU president. If he is consensual as well as determined, he might also emerge as the strongest holder of the post since Jacques Delors. To do this, Barroso would have to gather and harness behind him the potential new strength of smaller countries in the EU's new membership of 25, while artfully managing what is now frequently described in both France and Germany as their diminishing influence within the institution.
When Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, the candidate sponsored by the French and Germans for the commission presidency, was rejected late last month at another Brussels summit meeting — Verhofstadt talked of Europe's "emancipation" from the Americans, and later suggested friends of the Yanks had done him in — Barroso seemed unexpectedly attractive and available. One explanation for why the Germans and French went along with his choice came in a report that Barroso had agreed to appoint a German to a new post as a super European commissioner for economics, and a Frenchman to either of the important jobs of competition or internal markets commissioner. Barroso's response to this speculation was, ''The selection of commissioners is the president's job, and I'm not about to give up my responsibilities." A second explanation for the selection of the host of the Azores meeting, which grouped the United States, Britain, Spain and Portugal just before the outbreak of the war in Iraq, was provided by Antonio Vilar, a Lisbon political scientist quoted by Le Figaro. He told the French newspaper that Barroso"was pardoned for this because he is not a convinced Atlanticist in the manner of an Aznar," a reference to José Maria Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister.
Barroso's views seemed hardly ambiguous in Brussels in December 2003. He criticized the Bush administration for making remarks that in no way helped the United States' friends. And as a European who actually knew the United States from teaching there, described American diplomacy as weak in presentation.
With this view, he said he spoke more often during the run-up to the war with President Bush than "other leaders of Europe."
Barroso explained that, excepting France, whose leadership is nominally right-of-center, he believed much of the opposition to the war in Europe had "an ideological basis" in the left.
"If it were Clinton or the liberals in power" in the United States, he said, "we wouldn't have had the same criticism.
"There was an ideological construction in this crisis," he said. "Unfortunately, ideology came before strategic thinking, long-term considerations."
Bush, he said, told him that his particular anger with some European leaders involved their attempts at blocking the situation in the run-up to the war. Barroso recalled he replied that the allies had to have their own opinions.
"But," Barroso went on, "you cannot block or instigate. During this crisis, there was not only a difference of opinion, but a cleavage with some people trying to mobilize opinion."
Just as he saw a strong Europe in America's interest, Barroso said, so it was to the United States' advantage to seek multilateral solutions.
"We think it's very important to give high value to the relationship between Europe and the United States. We share the same values — there are differences of sensitivity and style, but the values are the same. Besides, it's in the world's interest. Global terrorism, development, environment. All these challenges can't be approached without the U.S. and Europe working together."
Better European-American relations could come from education and discussion, Barroso said. This was necessary, he insisted, because there were prejudiced notions of one another on each side of the Atlantic in a post Cold War climate where an unacknowledged search for adversaries might exist.
"Is it in Europe's interest to place the United States as our competitor?" Barroso asked, moving again into his pointed interrogative mode.
This time, he answered his own question himself. "It's nonsense," he said.