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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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A frustrated start for CMEA integration


The year 1969 marked the beginning of a new phase of economic and political integration on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Both the CMEA and the EC strived to achieve economic growth, but an underpinning idea was strengthening the alliances and their unity. Integration was tightly connected to another political process in Europe during the Cold War: bloc building. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, followed by the formulation of the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine, provides a vivid example of an attempt to tighten bloc coherence.132

The EC began to negotiate its first enlargement at The Hague Summit in December 1969. It decided to start accepting membership applications from members of the other West European economic organization, European Free Trade Association, EFTA. Secondly, it embarked on economic and political consolidation, through the implementation of its Common Commercial Policy and the European Political Cooperation framework.

The EC was about to take charge of its members’ trade with third parties, raising at the same time its international authority. If the EC succeeded in its efforts, it would become a powerful attraction for some of the Soviet Union’s East European partners that were currently trading with EC member states. To start negotiations for a trade agreement, a non-member would need to acknowledge the EC competence over its members in trade policy. Countries that did not renegotiate their access to the EC market were about to be left outside the preferential trade area and behind a...

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