FRANCE and Germany unveiled a project Wednesday designed to bring the concept of a defense and security role for the European Community (EC) from the theoretical to the concrete.The Franco-German initiative, which would create "European corps" of soldiers based on an existing French-German brigade, received immediate support from several of the countries' EC partners. But it raised questions and concerns among others, including the British, who questioned how a European defense structure would interact with NATO. Debate over European defense and security will remain intense during the next few weeks. NATO will hold a summit in Rome early in November. The EC will decide at a December summit in Maastricht, Netherlands to what extent it can deepen its economic and monetary union, as well as its common approach to foreign policy, security, and defense. Recognizing that the next few weeks present a critical opportunity to set Europe's course that will not be repeated soon, French President Francois Mitterand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl called on the EC to "develop a common foreign and security policy to include over time a common defense." The initiative, which includes a ready-made project for the foreign policy segment of a revised EC treaty, is to accomplish three things. First, the leaders' letter is meant to put the Franco-German axis back in the driver's seat of the EC. Strained Franco-German relations since the fall of the Berlin wall left other EC countries wondering if the Community's traditional "motor" was still running. A recent Anglo-Italian proposal for strengthening the Western European Union (WEU), a defense organization comprising nine of the EC's 12 members, as a European pillar under NATO led to more questioning. Second, the letter intends to give a "new impetus" to the Maastricht summit, in view of growing concerns across the EC that a lack of consensus among members about the Community's direction, and at such a late date, could doom the summit to develop only minor accords. "A success in Maastricht - everything else depends on that," said Mr. Mitterrand in an interview published Wednesday. Third, the plan is designed to give the project for a European defense the appearance of already existing, if only in an embryonic stage. The plan calls for expanding the existing Franco-German brigade from the corps of 4,200 soldiers based in Germany to a corps of perhaps 30,000 headquartered in Strasbourg, France. The corps "could become the nucleus of a European corps that could include the forces of other WEU members," the letter says. It emphasizes that the Community's defense structure would "complement" NATO operations. Yet while the recent Anglo-Italian defense proposal envisages the WEU with a force for operating outside the NATO field of operations, the Franco-German proposal does not specify where the European corps would be called on to intervene. This caused the swiftest reaction from pro-NATO Britain. "We don't believe there is any point - and indeed some danger - in duplicating what NATO does," said British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd. Another British official said the proposal was primarily an attempt to "force the pace of negotiations" before Maastricht. "If ... this European force is meant for action outside the NATO area, that's fine," the official added, "but then the Germans run into problems from their constitution." Germany's constitution prohibits its Army from operating outside the NATO area, although some officials say the prohibition could be overturned in court. The Franco-German initiative received strong support from Spain, Belgium, and Greece. Italian Foreign Minister Gianni de Michelis, said the proposal would help the EC "reach agreement on a European defense."