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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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The turn of the 1990s witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and its bloc. The final CMEA Council Session convened in Budapest on June 28, 1991, where it decided to disband itself within 90 days.479 During the last years of its existence, the CMEA had been under constant threat that its mechanisms would be reformed by Gorbachev's policies, which seriously undermined decades-old practices.480 The CMEA was ultimately wiped off the map a few months prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While history writing has the tendency to concentrate on winners, it is necessary to also discuss the contribution to the Cold War and the history of European integration that the CMEA, an organization on the losing end, made.

The time period of the study was a crucial turning point in the history of the Cold War. With hindsight, it has been argued that détente was the beginning of the end for the socialist bloc. This argument refers for example to the CSCE process, during which the socialist leadership was confronted with human rights issues. As Andreas Wenger and Vojtech Mastny argue, “the Helsinki process created the external conditions for the internal legitimization of democratic reform movements in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe”.481

This historical context is crucial for understanding how the CMEA and the EC responded to one another: The convening of the security conference and its possible results were important goals for the socialist bloc and particularly...

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