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Aleksanteri Conference







Suvi Kansikas

Room to manoeuvre? East European CMEA countries and the European Economic Community (1969-1976)

The paper analyses why and how some members of the CMEA, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, were forced to start reconsidering their policy of non-recognition towards the EEC, which they had adhered to since the establishment of the latter in 1957. The Common Commercial Policy that the EEC initialled at the turn of the 1970s foresaw economic hardship for the socialist countries: the traditional bilateral trade the socialist countries had so far been able to conduct was coming to its end. One solution for the economic impasse, supported especially by Hungary and Poland, was to push for economic integration and reform within the bloc. Various East European countries also resorted to establishing unofficial trade agreements with the European Communities, labelled as ‘technical contacts’.

The paper deals with questions relating to the functioning of the CMEA and the ability of the East European member states to pursue their national interests within the socialist bloc. Relying on archival material of the CMEA member states, the paper will explore what different policy options the smaller East European countries had and how successful they were in pursuing them. The paper takes as a starting point that while all members of the socialist system had a shared value system, the countries nevertheless sought opportunities to pursue their own goals within the bloc framework. The concept “power of the weak” is used to denote how well and to what extent the smaller allies of the Soviet Union could analyse and take advantage of the CMEA negotiation situation to enhance their own positions.

Thursday 29 Oct 13.45-15.45 Session 2
Panel: Breaching the Wall: Ostpolitik/Westpolitik and Trade

The USSR, the CMEA and the EEC challenge, 1969-1975

At the beginning of the 1970s, the CMEA, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, began talks on a common foreign trade policy against their western counterpart, the EEC. The CMEA negotiations were necessitated by two partly intertwined factors. The first one was an external factor related to the socialist countries’ Western trade partners: In 1969, the EEC began to implement a customs union that was to create restrictions in trade with third parties. The second factor was related to intra-CMEA relations and problems encountered in the performance of the planned economies. These two factors forced the socialist countries to look for a new framework for cooperation with the capitalist countries.
The paper discusses the characteristics of efficient international trade politics and the prerequisites for successful trade blocs. I analyse the abilities of the socialist countries to act as a united trade bloc vis-à-vis the EEC. The argument of the paper is that in international trade politics, the CMEA was no match to its western counterpart. The CMEA, due to its intra-governmental decision-making mechanism, was unable to reach a common policy that all member states would have adhered to. On the other hand, the EEC succeeded in undermining the Soviet position as a bloc leader through its divide-and-rule policy. It was able to take advantage of the socialist countries’ need for new trade agreements. The key question in this paper is why the Soviet Union failed to keep its bloc united against the EEC’s economic leverage.

Friday 30 Oct 16.15-18.15 SESSION 6
Panel: Fueling Change: Europe and Cold War Trade Blocs