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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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Soviet leaders confront pressure from within

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During the negotiations on the Comprehensive Programme – a plan for socialist economic integration – the question of establishing some kind of links to the European Community was included on the CMEA agenda. The problem's presence on the CMEA agenda had highlighted the fact that the member states had differing views on foreign trade policy. While some countries, the Soviet Union for example, preferred the status quo, other countries, such as Hungary, began to propagate a new, more active policy. The Soviet goal was that the question should be solved primarily on political and ideological grounds, which meant that the CMEA was to continue its policy of non-recognition. Those countries that were more dependent on foreign trade, and more sceptical about the possibility that their economic interests could be met through intra-bloc trade, proposed that the CMEA should revise its position vis-à-vis the European Community. Besides these two policy lines, the Romanian party created major disputes as it refused to join either position. Its policy was to obstruct every attempt by the CMEA to make a decision that might tie Romania’s hands and limit its ability to conduct a sovereign economic policy.

Polish-Hungarian manoeuvring, Romanian veto

In October 1971, the CMEA was confronted for the first time concerning its relations with the EC. The Hungarian authorities sent a request through the Secretariat to have the Executive Committee take the topic on its agenda. Its proposal can be seen as a continuation of the policy line...

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