Magazine article Newsweek International

Hard Nose; Incoming European Commission President Jose Manuel Duro Barroso Has Stared Down Soldiers and Tamed Portugal's Budget. His Greatest Challenge Lies Ahead

Magazine article Newsweek International

Hard Nose; Incoming European Commission President Jose Manuel Duro Barroso Has Stared Down Soldiers and Tamed Portugal's Budget. His Greatest Challenge Lies Ahead

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Lowry Miller (With Stefan Theil in Berlin, Stryker Mcguire in London and Tracy McNicoll in Paris)

Chaos reigned in Portugal through the summer of 1975, when Jose Manuel Duro Barroso was 19 years old. An oppressive dictatorship had been overthrown the previous year, and now Soviet-backed communists were trying to control the country. Barroso belonged to a Maoist group that had resisted the fascist regime, and he continued to fight what he saw as a new dictatorship of the left. A student leader in the University of Lisbon's law school, he knew there was a warrant for his arrest, so for most of 1975 he never slept in the same house two nights in a row. Yet one day communist students recognized Barroso distributing pamphlets on the street, and called the military police. When soldiers arrived they tossed him in a jeep and drove off. Suddenly he turned to his captors. "I don't think you have the courage to shoot a man in the back," he taunted, and jumped out the door. They didn't shoot.

It was daring, to be sure. But this long-haired radical wasn't taking any chances. He first provoked the soldiers to make sure they were not trigger-happy. Moreover, the jeep was slowly chugging up a steep hill. "I am not completely a fool," laughs Barroso, 48, in the Lisbon office of the European Commission. Barroso has long since left Mao behind to embrace free markets, but it is that balance between conviction and pragmatism that has powered the former rebel's career as scholar, diplomat and politician. Above all, Barroso is not a man who is easily intimidated. That quality in particular may prove to be indispensable as he takes on the job of president of the European Commission on Nov. 1.

Next week he could face a showdown over Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian nominee for Justice commissioner, who provoked a fury for saying homosexuality is a "sin" and women belong in the home. This is a critical test for a leader who has staked his presidency on making Europe's economy more competitive, and casts himself as an "honest broker" among warring factions. Parliament cannot reject individual nominees, but could vote down the entire Commission. "He is looking for ways and means to accommodate Parliament's concerns," said a source close to Barroso over the weekend, which could include realigning portions of the Justice portfolio without changing commissioners. On Thursday he will meet with party leaders, and he will address the entire Parliament on Oct. 26, the day before the vote. "The president is quite confident they will be able to reach a compromise."

This is sure to be only the first of many challenges for Barroso. The new European constitution will soon face a contentious referendum in many countries, even as the polls show extraordinary ignorance about the EU. The balance of power in an enlarged Union is about to shift in ways as yet unknown. With the presidency comes formidable official powers, from introducing legislation to safeguarding treaties. In the right hands, there is intangible power as well. And as prime minister of Portugal, Barroso established himself as a uniquely hard-nosed European reformer by bringing a runaway budget under control in a political war that left him with many enemies at home. Whether his gifts are adequate to the task of reforming Europe, though, remains to be seen.

Barroso has staked his presidency on the thorniest problem: transforming the European economy. The Lisbon Agenda, born in March 2000 when Europe was almost desperate to catch the American free-market juggernaut, famously aims to make Europe the world's most competitive economy by 2010. Less famously, it gives equal priority to defending Europe's commitment to the environment and social welfare. Not surprisingly, the plan soon suffered from what Barroso calls the "rhetoric-delivery gap." Growth still languishes, welfare states still thrive. Barroso says every Commission proposal, welfare included, must now pass a "competitiveness test. …

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