Is the worst of the euro-zone debt crisis behind us?
I believe it is behind, but we are not yet over the crisis.
Were there moments during the past two to three years when you thought, 'This is it, the euro's going to break up'?
Never. I was fully confident that there was political will of the euro-area member states and leaders to overcome the crisis. It is true that it is an unprecedented crisis. But it is also true, and sometimes some of our partners underestimate it, there is a very strong interdependence in the euro area, and there is a real commitment of the leadership to do everything necessary to sustain the currency.
What concerns you most about Europe today?
Probably the rise of some populist movements in the extremes of the political spectrum. That is why it is important that European leaders at the national level and mainstream parties have the courage to explain why we need a stronger Europe and why we need high levels of integration.
Was it a mistake to let Greece join the euro?
I don't think we should now think retrospectively. We have to find solutions for today. And certainly it was a good decision, together with our Greek friends, to do everything possible to avoid a disorderly default of Greece.
European leaders this year agreed to strict new budget rules. Is there a risk that if spending is cut too sharply it might deepen the recession?
We need fiscal consolidation and growth. It would be frankly irresponsible for countries that have no fiscal space to try to have artificial support for the economy by increasing their deficits. But some have the room to support European efforts by increasing demand.
You were Portuguese Prime Minister for two years before going to the commission. In all this turmoil, did you sometimes wish you had stayed in your old job?
I accepted this. I am a very committed European. I am now in my eighth year in the European Commission and determined to do my best for Europe. I think this is also a way of serving my country.
Europe has been described as Venus to the Mars of America. Do you accept that Europe's soft power will never have the same global reach and influence as the U.S.'s?
I would not say that. In terms of its power of attraction, I think it has been quite impressive. The reunification of the continent was to a large extent the result of this European soft power and the inspiration, for instance, for what is happening now in the Arab Spring. Those young people, they watch what is happening in Europe, and they want what is called a "European model" free societies, with levels of welfare and social cohesion.
Do you think the idea of Europe can ever mean as much to today's generation as it did to the E.U.'s founding fathers half a century ago?
Indeed, I think it means much more today. It is true that today's generation and I see that with my sons takes it for granted, because there is not the immediate shadow of the war. Let us not forget that the European Community started as a project for peace after the terrible Second World War. And today people take for granted the freedom to travel, to study, to work abroad. And the citizens of one country have almost exactly the same rights as another country.
Europe has so many countries and different languages, cultures and histories. What does it mean to talk of a European community with such variety?
The E.U.'s motto is "unity in diversity." I think diversity can also be a resource, an asset, especially in a world that is becoming globalized, to deal with difference, to deal with variety, to deal with complexity.
What can Europe teach us about coexistence and compromise in an increasingly globalized world?
We are proud in Europe of the fact that we were able, after terrible moments in history, including centuries of war, to be able to find a community based on principles and peace. This can be an inspiration for other parts of the world.