Josť Manuel Barroso, the outgoing Portuguese prime minister who has been nominated as president of the European Commission, on Tuesday criticized the US for its occasional "arrogance" and sought to distance himself from some of his recent domestic policies by underlining his social and environmental credentials.
Questioned on Portugal's involvement in the US-led war coalition in Iraq, on the first day of hearings before the European parliament, Mr Barroso said that, while he was a long-standing admirer of the US, he also hated what he described as American "arrogance" and "unilateralism". He added: "I think there are magnificent things that exist in the US as well as some fairly horrific things."
While he would not be drawn, for example, into taking sides on the contentious issue of providing European passenger name records to Washington, he said he would fight for reciprocity in this kind of agreement and ensure the EU was not considered "second-class" in international negotiations.
Mr Barroso said he would run the Commission as a politician rather than a technocrat, but also as a "reformist of the center" able to bridge the gap between Europe's different political families and between Brussels and often apathetic or skeptical voters across the continent.
In particular, Mr Barroso offered an olive branch to Socialist members of the parliament by insisting that "in my scale of values, social policy comes way above economics". He added: "It will not be acceptable, as we push for more competitiveness, to change the social spirit of Europe."
He also sought to appease concerns among MEPs that, having emerged last month as a last-minute consensus candidate for the Commission presidency, he might be more willing to accommodate the views of powerful member states than the concerns of MEPs. He said: "We need a strong, credible and independent Commission. The only way to say sometimes No to member states is to have the strong backing of the European parliament."
Mr Barroso yesterday also rejected calls for sharp cuts in the proposed European Union budget, as advocated by the six biggest net contributors. Following the EU's enlargement to 25 member states, he said cuts would send the wrong signal to the 10 newcomers.
© 2004 Financial Times Ltd