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Socialist Countries Face the European Community

Soviet-Bloc Controversies over East-West Trade

Suvi Kansikas

In the early 1970s, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) began to revise its trade policy towards the outside world. It needed to counter the European Community’s bid to implement its Common Commercial Policy and thereby change East-West trade practices. Foreign trade priorities became at once a crucial issue on the socialist countries’ political agenda. The key question was whether they would have to open their system to the global economy – and bear the consequent pressures and competition that this decision entailed. Based on newly declassified archival sources, this study shows how the East European states were able to lobby their positions towards the USSR within the CMEA. The pressure from its allies forced the Soviet leadership to accept the CMEA’s opening towards the EC.
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Europe is divided into two blocs

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At the beginning of the Cold War, Europe was divided into two antagonistic camps. The Iron Curtain was epitomized by the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. An ideological, systemic, and mental division line separated the capitalist West and the socialist East. Both sides of the conflict embarked on an alliance-building process and proceeded with economic integration. In the socialist camp, the process led as early as January 1949 to the establishment of the CMEA. In Western Europe, the integration process culminated in the establishment of the European Economic Community, the EEC, in 1957. The two alliances had military pillars as well, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established in April 1949, and the Warsaw Pact in May 1955.

The CMEA is established to coordinate trade flows

The Soviet Union came out of World War II victorious but shattered. Among the main tasks for its post-war recovery was the institutionalising of its newly-gained empire. It needed to come up with measures to implement its own system within the new alliance and to find tools to control these mechanisms.

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