LONDON -- Prime Minister John Major flew to Rome last night for a European summit at which he plans to change the style, if not the substance, of Britain's objections to European unity.
Before leaving London, he told the House of Commons that he would not only protect British interests but would also consider "community interests as a whole."
This signaled a shift from the confrontational style of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and showed Mr. Major's determination to play a more cooperative role in developing economic and political union among the 12 members of the European Community.
"The rhetoric will be different. The style will be different. But the strength with which we defend British interests will be no less," one of his top aides said.
At the top of Mr. Major's agenda for the summit is the community's agricultural support policy. The community wound up in a stalemate with the United States at the recent General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks in Brussels, Belgium.
Mr. Major, who will meet with President Bush at Camp David next week, is seeking to break the deadlock. Mr. Major said yesterday that he wanted a "very positive statement" from the summit on European determination to achieve success in the GATT negotiations.
His aide said that Mr. Major would try to "push for greater flexibility within the community across the board" on trade and agricultural issues. The community has so far rejected U.S. demands for major reductions in farm supports.
The aide described Britain as being "at the edge closest to the American position" and added, "If there is anything we can do to help to bring the [European and American] sides together, it will be one of the areas where all can win."
The Major team in Downing Street believes that the collapse of the GATT talks last week can be blamed partly on the failure of the last summit in Rome to respond to Mrs. Thatcher's demand for full consideration of the European negotiating position.
Instead, at the insistence of the Italian hosts, the summit concentrated on plans for European economic unity, isolating Mrs. Thatcher and helping set the scene for her eventual downfall.
At the conference, Mr. Major is expected to pressure the other Europeans into endorsing the principle of "subsidiarity" -- the notion that the community should only do what individual countries cannot do better.
On the negative side, Mr. Major will:
* Reject any deadlines for introduction of economic and monetary union, a prospect Britain sees as a threat to its economic sovereignty.
* Oppose any move to extend European decision-making by majority vote rather than unanimity, a development that would undermine Britain's veto over major developments.
* Argue against extension of European involvement in national social and medical policies.