IN approving nearly $2.5 billion in emergency and technical assistance for the Soviet Union, and by setting broad goals for their own political integration, European Community leaders have taken two steps that go hand in hand at their weekend summit here. By taking part in a substantial international effort to keep Mikhail Gorbachev at the helm in Moscow, European leaders hope to buy themselves the time - and relative tranquillity - they need to concentrate on such internal matters as Community constitutional reform and closer economic and monetary integration.
At the same time, tumultuous events in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union are part of the reason the 12-nation EC is pushing toward a more efficient political structure.
Despite disparate visions of the Community's future, EC leaders all say they want quicker and more united intervention in international affairs.
``Certainly this aid to Moscow is not purely altruistic, we have to do it if we aren't to look like the Europe of plenty building up its own club while the Europe of lack risks collapse,'' says an EC Commission source. ``But in the long run a stronger Community will serve all of Europe better.''
The EC assistance to Moscow brings to nearly $30 billion the total short- and medium-term assistance approved by Western nations. The EC package includes $1 billion in food aid, about one-third of which will be in the form of grants, with the rest in guaranteed credits.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose country leads all others with more than a third of Western assistance to the Soviets, told his European colleagues that the aid package was in their own interest.
John Major, attending his first EC summit as British prime minister, advocated more aid grants over credits, arguing it makes no sense to add to Moscow's debt.
The EC aid includes about $1.25 billion over the next two years to help improve management skills in the Soviet public and private sectors. Also to be targeted are food distribution, transportation, financial services, and the energy sector.
The EC leaders also approved $125 million in emergency food aid for Bulgaria and Romania, and discussed ways of building support for Eastern Europe's economic reforms.
Meeting just before the weekend kickoff of two constitutional reform conferences - one on political union and the other on economic and monetary union - the EC leaders drew up a list of priorities to guide the political union conference. But the list did not go nearly as far as did a summit here in October on economic reform. At that summit, all countries but Britain approved a target date of 1994 for operation of a European central bank, with a decision on a single EC currency to come some time after 1997.
At this summit, however, the leaders simply directed the conference on political reform to ``give particular attention to'' a seven-page list of suggestions.
On this latter point, the leaders remained much less committed than some observers had expected, saying the ``gradual extension'' of the EC's role into security ``should be considered,'' as should the prospect of some future role in defense matters.
Various EC leaders said the guidelines on political reform remained general so as not to limit the discussion in the political union conference.
Privately, however, a number of their aides said the pointers remained general to reflect a wide range of interests - and some very specific worries concerning political integration - among the 12 countries.
In other matters, the EC leaders decided to lift a ban on new investments in South Africa and included in their final communiqu'e a conciliatory note on stalled international trade talks.
Saying they ``regret'' the recent suspension of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations, the leaders called for ``balanced concessions made by all participants'' in order to conclude the 107-nation talks.
The listing of investment sanctions against South Africa and the GATT language are both viewed as feathers in Mr. Major's very new prime minister's cap.
The GATT talks collapsed over United States-EC differences on farm subsidies. Major, who favors European agricultural reform, visits President Bush in Washington this week and wanted to take a fresh EC pronouncement on the issue with him.
Still, the fact that EC leaders spent more time wrangling over GATT than they did discussing the Gulf crisis, may indicate the Community is still torn on the issue.
Signaling an unwavering and tough position, EC Commission President Jacques Delors said the US is ``responsible for [GATT's] failure for asking for too much too soon.''
``It's not for Americans to decide how we organize our agriculture and whether or not we maintain our rural life.''