BRUSSELS, Belgium — After provoking the wrath of United Intl. Pictures by urging the end of its privileged position in Europe, the European Union’s audiovisual chief Thursday spoke softly and carried a smaller stick.Joao de Deus Pinheiro, a member of the union’s executive commission, had described UIP, the foreign distrib arm of Paramount, Universal and MGM/UA, as having a near-monopoly over the distribution of American films in the 12-nation trade bloc (Daily Variety, Feb. 24). That status, he said, should not be continued. The words prompted UIP to accuse Pinheiro of “an act of gratuitous, damaging and apparently willful irresponsibility.” Speaking to reporters Thursday,Pinheiro did not repeat his earlier statement that UIP controlled 80% of that distribution, but said 80% of fiction movies shown in Europe were American. A statement from UIP’s London office said its share of the European market for foreign films was only 18% in 1992, lower than it was in 1989 when the commission granted it an exemption from EU antitrust rules. UIP said it applied last June for an extension of its exemption from the group’s competition rules, which expired in July. Pinheiro said Thursday the decision on renewing the exemption was not his to make. But earlier he had said he would oppose a renewal. “If they say they want to keep their exemption, I’d say flatly no,” he told reporters Tuesday. The decision falls under the jurisdiction of EU Competition commissioner Karel van Miert. However, the 17-member commission must vote on whether to allow the distribution monopoly to continue. There, Deus Pinheiro will have a vote. Pinheiro, former Portuguese foreign minister, said he expected the commission to take a position on UIP by July. UIP is a joint venture between Hollywood companies Paramount, MGM and Universal. If the venture loses its special status, the three partners would have to operate independently, competing for rights to distribute American films.