Suvi Kansikas: Socialist Countries Face the European Community. Soviet Bloc Controversies over the East-West Trade

Suvi's book

My friend and former colleague from the University of Helsinki recently published her first author-book, based on her PhD thesis.

Socialist Countries Face the European Community. Soviet Bloc Controversies over the East-West Trade, Peter Lang Edition, 2014, 226 pages, ISBN: 978-3-631-64802-5 (print), E-ISBN: 978-3-653-03669-5 (e-book).

For decades upon their creation, the European Economic Community (EEC) and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) did not officially recognize one another, and refused to settle inter-organization trade relations. When the EEC was established in 1957, a Common Commercial Policy (CCP) was agreed upon as well, but serious discussions on its actual implementation were delayed until the1960s, and only towards the beginning of the 1970s the EEC began to gain a more important role in the conduct of its members’ trade relations. In the meantime, the socialist countries and the EEC countries had conducted trade with each other through bilateral inter-governmental agreements.

However, as the CCP’s implementation improved in the 1970s, the socialist countries saw their trade options seriously threatened, which is one of the factors that forced them to consider negotiations with its western counterpart. But how did the EEC attempt to implement the CCP in its trade relations with the socialist countries? How did the CMEA respond to such a policy? And how were the EEC-CMEA negotiations carried and with what results?

Suvi Kansikas’s book, Socialist Countries Face the European Community. Soviet Bloc Controversies over the East-West Trade, provides the answers. Focusing on the period between 1969 and 1976, her study analyses the CMEA’s functioning principles and performance in relations to its members’ efforts to cope with the EEC’s economic challenge, and addresses the CMEA’s attempt to act as a foreign policy Cold War actor, without neglecting though the intra-CMEA relations and negotiations, or the EEC policy towards the CMEA.

Theoretically, the study drowns on the concept of ‘the power of the weak’, and confirms the findings of previous studies as far as the Soviet Union’s hegemonic position within its own bloc is concerned. More specifically, according to Suvi Kansikas too, the Soviet control over its so-called satellites was less tight than previously thought.

The analysis starts with the year 1969, when both organizations entered a new phase of integration – the CMEA launched its Comprehensive Program, while the EEC began to negotiate its first enlargement (at the Hague Summit), and embarked on economic and political consolidation through the implementation of its CCP and the European Political Cooperation Framework. Kansikas discusses how the socialist countries put on the CMEA’s agenda the problem of the common trade policy in response to the EEC’s new approaches. She argues that the reached outcome (the Comprehensive Program) was a compromise whose aim was to formally keep the socialist bloc united.

Suvi Kansikas addresses as well the problem of how the EEC attempted to put the CMEA’s relations with the EEC on the CMEA’s agenda, as well as the USSR’s reaction in this respect, or Leonid Brezhnev’s decision to publicly (albeit indirectly) acknowledge the existence of the EEC, in early 1972. Further, the author vividly analyses how the CMEA approached the EEC, the bloc-to-bloc discussions as initiated in September 1973, or the – ‘disappointing’ – first CMEA-EEC meeting from 1975. Kansikas argues that there are political as well as structural reasons explaining the failure of the CMEA-EEC negotiations in the 1970s.

However, despite this failure, the members of the two economic organizations continued to carry trade relations with one another, although it was at an unofficial level – i.e. in the form of bilateral agreements, which did not force the CMEA members to acknowledge the EEC as a de jure organization.

In her analysis, Suvi Kansikas used a multi-archival approach, conducting research for this study in archives from Russia, Germany, Finland,  Sweden and the UK – i.e. the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian State Archive of the Economy, the Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, the Central Archive of Socio-Political History of Moscow, the Political Archive of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Archive of the Parties and Mass Organizations of the GDR Foundation, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office National Archive, etc.

Note: Suvi Kansikas’s book is available for online purchase.

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