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Dangerfield, Martin:

East/Central Europe and Regional Integration after the Cold War: Continuity and Change

The recent (January 2009) gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine left many new Central and East European (CEE) members of the European Union either cut off from or with serious shortfalls in their vital energy supplies. Despite some twenty years having passed since the end of socialist integration in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) and CEE states’ ‘defection’ to the West European integration framework, this was a strong reminder of the enduring resilience of certain components of regional integration structures established during the Cold War era. This paper focuses on continuity and change in regional integration arrangements involving the five CEE members of the CMEA (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania - henceforth referred to as ‘the five’) in the immediate early post-Cold War period. It focuses specifically on two parallel phenomena: the rapid and dramatic eastward reorientation of trade and economic integration the five experienced in the initial years and the concomitant collapse of what used to be known as intra-CMEA trade. In the early 1990s, the enthusiasm the five displayed for trade liberalisation with the European Community at breakneck speed was matched by the hostility towards any schemes to rescue losses in mutual trade. Rather than being a ‘massive break’ with the past both these developments accelerated trends established in the latter Cold War years. By the late 1980s, Poland and Hungary, for example, were already conducting almost half of their foreign trade with the West and therefore already had significant ‘de facto’ market integration with Western Europe. When it came to a strategy to reintegrate the five after the CMEA collapse, it was not just a triumph of the reorientation option and the negative influence of the ‘CMEA Syndrome’. There was in fact very little to reintegrate. Mutual trade of the five was under-developed during the Cold War period, partially because the five were all stricken by what Janos Kornai called an ‘export aversion’ towards each other. Thus when a regional trade framework eventually emerged in post-socialist CEE in the form of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) it was rather inaccurate to describe it as a reintegration exercise. Furthermore, it operated according to principles reformist economists inside the CMEA had been championing during the twilight years of communism.

Saturday 31 Oct 9.30 -11.30 SESSION 7
Panel: Constructing Post-Cold War Europe: "New Europe" and the EU