BIRMINGHAM, England -- The leaders of the 12 countries of the European Community wrestled all day yesterday with the slippery idea of "subsidiarity" and, in the end, got a weary draw.
The aim of the European summit here in the struggling city of Birmingham was to find a clear definition for the subsidiarity principle, which, it is hoped, will make the EC more "user friendly."
Subsidiarity is the term for reversing the flow of power to the EC center and sending it back to the member governments.
The leaders also sought to identify ways to implement subsidiarity in the daily lives of the nearly 330 million people of the community, stretching from Germany to Ireland.
All this was intended to stem a deepening disaffection with European integration, evident in the resistance in several EC countries to the Maastricht treaty on European union.
In the Declaration of Birmingham, the summit's product, the leaders affirmed that in the spirit of subsidiarity, "decisions must be taken as closely as possible to the citizen."
This, the declaration said, "is essential if the Community is to develop with the support of its citizens."
Subsidiarity was embedded in the Maastricht treaty, which was approved by the leaders last November, and the renewed emphasis on it is designed to make the treaty more appealing to those Europeans who still have to vote on it, among them the members of the British Parliament.
Its aim is to discourage the EC bureaucracy in Brussels, Belgium, from impinging on decisions that should be made at the national or even local levels, something that bureaucracy has shown a tendency to do.
The fears that these intrusions have generated have struck deeply, said British Prime Minister John Major, the EC's current president. "There are concerns around that national identities and cultures are at risk," he told the leaders.
To dispel these concerns, he said, "we must show them [the people] that the principle of subsidiarity is a living principle."
He also said Britain is not seeking to alter the "institutional relationship" of the EC, that is not trying to undercut or reduce the authority of the European Commission, which is headed by Jacques Delors, the EC's executive.
By the end of the day, the leaders had advanced a few suggestions on how to bring subsidiarity about, such as opening some Council of Ministers sessions to the public, trying to involve national parliaments in community plans, making European legislation clearer, trying to find ways to express "respect [for] the history, culture and traditions of individual nations."
But, having advanced these as possible areas of action, they put off until the December EC summit in Edinburgh, Scotland, any consideration of concrete proposals.
Even Mr. Delors, who runs the commission and whose interference subsidiarity is supposed to halt, got into the spirit of the day. People need subsidiarity, he said.
But, perhaps more than anyone, Mr. Delors appreciates how hard it is to define, let alone implement, such a principle. Just before coming here he promised a huge reward and a big job in xTC Brussels to anybody who could define subsidiarity clearly on one page. He had no takers.
Which may be why Paul Schluter used apples. The Danish foreign minister presented an apple to Mr. Major, on arriving here yesterday and waited for everybody to grasp the symbolism of it.
Bringing apples to friends is an old Danish custom. Mr. Schluter's apple was an Ingrid Marie, one the Danes say is especially tasty and some of which were recently rejected by the EC's apples inspectorate as too small for export.
Apples inspectorate? Finally, the point was grasped: that there should be such agencies measuring apples and bringing exasperation into the everyday lives of apple growers and others is why subsidiarity is needed.
The EC leaders also put an end to talk of a two-track Europe, with one group of countries moving more quickly to a single currency than others, talk that has alarmed the British, the Italians and others with weaker economies.
At the closing news conference, Mr. Major said of that idea, "The common theme here is to move together as a group of 12 -- no fast track, no slow track, no one left behind."
The leaders also discussed Yugoslavia and promised an increase in humanitarian assistance.