STEPS taken at the European Community summit in Dublin this week express a new level of coordinated action by European leaders. Three of the two-day summit's principal topics - intensified economic and monetary union for the 12-nation EC, a parallel project for enhancing political integration within the Community, and Western aid to the Soviet Union - are all being pushed along by prospects for a political and economic German giant among smaller European states.
The 12 European leaders agreed on the idea of substantial economic assistance to help support the reforms being pursued by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. They asked the EC's executive arm in Brussels, the Commission, to study the needs and most effective applications for two types of aid, short-term credits and a more long-term reform-assistance package.
The position on Soviet aid is intended in part as a message to next month's G-7 summit in Houston of the West's major industrial nations, and particularly to the United States.
But the decision is also viewed by EC observers as a reflection of the European leaders' determination to keep Germany's assertive action within a European context.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was not alone with her concern that substantial assistance now might only put off the further Soviet reforms Western leaders believe they must undertake, EC analysts say. But there is also a broad desire not to leave Germany going off in that direction on its own.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl already announced last week that the German government will guarantee $3 billion in bank loans to the Soviets. Although the European leaders did not go beyond their request for a study of Soviet needs, their discussions included references to a long-term need for more than $15 billion in economic assistance, several government spokesmen said.
The European Commission is sending a delegation, including President Jacques Delors, to the Soviet Union July 18-20. It appears likely an initial decision of EC short-term assistance will be taken in the fall. The Italian government, which assumes the European Council presidency from the Irish next month, has scheduled a summit for October 27.
``We would expect some action to be taken by winter time, which would correspond to the next crucial period of need,'' says a spokesman for Chancellor Kohl.
The summit's action on Soviet aid demonstrates the kind of integrated political steps the EC increasingly has been led to take since last year's events in Eastern Europe, and especially since German reunification became clear.
In step with this evolution, the leaders agreed on a conference in December to begin writing a new treaty to institutionalize the EC's move toward heightened political integration. The conference is expected to develop proposals to enhance joint political action, especially in foreign affairs, with perhaps initial steps into the area of European security.
That conference is set to start one day after a parallel conference on economic and monetary union. With the EC moving towards completion of its internal market by December 1992, the leaders want to put into treaty form further steps the Community will take toward economic integration, including possibly creating a single currency.
Noting that the 12 leaders had for the first time set a target date of December 1992 for ratification of treaty reforms on economic and political union, Kohl said the EC now has an ``ambitious schedule'' for evolving toward ``the United States of Europe.''
Echoing that sentiment, French President Fran,cois Mitterrand said reforms the Community now contemplates imply a ``federation'' as the EC's ultimate goal. The EC ``has just entered a new phase of its existence.''
The summit's discussions of poltical union and the decision to move in that direction, coupled with the practical example of the leaders taking up the issue of aid to the Soviet Union, demonstrated, according to Mr. Delors, ``a coherence that I hadn't expected at this summit and which deserves to be emphasized.''
Accustomed to being tagged the reliable nay-sayer at these summits, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was muted in her doubts on further economic and political integration - reflecting both fatigue at home with her ``anti-Europe'' image and a British conviction that it is in Europe's interest to secure Germany in a Western European framework.
``Our concern to see national identity and institutions preserved has been taken on board,'' she said in reference to the coming negotiations on political union. In effect, the EC leaders agreed reforms should avoid transferring to the Community functions best filled by nations.
Yet even moves toward tighter economic integration are promoted in part as a means for Western Europe to deal with German economic power. Development of a European central bank with governors from 12 EC nations, plus creation of a European currency, would distribute influence over a European economy many analysts believe is already becoming a deutsche mark zone.