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Harmonizing EEC–CMEA Relations: Never the Twain Shall Meet?

Robert M. Cutler

The article reviews Soviet perspectives on the European Economic Community (as the European Union was then called) in the early 1970s and then covers subsequent developments between the two European blocs later in that decade and through the early and mid-1980s. This review culminates in an assessment, consecutively, of the legal, economic, and political aspects of EEC–CMEA relations as these stood in early 1987. The article then establishes four possibilities for future relations between the organizations and evaluates these possibilities. It concludes with an attempt to see into the more distant future. Key Eurocrats in Brussels aver that this analysis strongly influenced EEC policy towards East Central Europe in the late 1980s, while the Soviet empire in East Europe was dissolving but the USSR had not yet begun to disintegrate. It includes 23 explanatory and bibliographical notes incorporating sources and studies in English, French, Russian, and Polish.

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  1. The 1970s
  2. EEC–CMEA Relations Today
  3. EEC–CMEA Relations in the Future
  4. Conclusion
Suggested citation for this webpage:

Robert M. Cutler, “Harmonizing EEC–CMEA Relations: Never the Twain Shall Meet?” International Affairs 63, no. 2 (Spring 1987): 259–70; reprinted at pp. 365–381 in The Politics of International Organizations, ed. Paul F. Diehl (Chicago: Dorsey, 1989); available at <http://www.robertcutler.org/ar87aff.htm>, accessed 23 February 2018.

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Harmonizing EEC–CMEA Relations: Never the Twain Shall Meet?

Robert M. Cutler


[ page 264 ]

To summarize, on the West European side, three parallel phenomena were increasingly manifest during the 1970s: (1) the development of European Political Cooperation (EPC); (2) the development of CSCE, which had a strong component relating to the expansion of international trade; and (3) the E.C. Commission’s assumption of responsibility for foreign trade policy.[13] Moreover, the origin and development of these three phenomena were largely autonomous of any American coaxing. Indeed, in the early 1970s, U.S. and Japanese competition motivated the EEC member-states to harmonize their trade policies with one another. During this period, EEC protectionism directed against Eastern Europe declined, but it grew stronger again during and after the 1975 recession. …

The Soviet position during the 1970s, that there should be an overarching framework regulating relations between the two organizations, was undermined both by the East Europeans and by events. Today there are all manner of EEC agreements with CMEA member-countries over such individual issues as agriculture and steel. Moreover, the very extension of bilateral economic cooperation between the two blocs over the course of the 1970s—e.g., Franco- Polish economic relations, Bulgaro-German economic relations, etc.—has created a self-sustaining structure of cooperation that does not depend on formal coordination between the two integration organizations. Indeed, it seems now that such formal coordination would be as likely to restrict as to promote

[ page 265 ]

further economic cooperation. As for the USSR, it no longer has a policy concerning the matter: having sought unsuccessfully to construct a policy without giving in on principles, the Soviet Union’s moves over the last ten years have become essentially reactive and directed toward damage limitation. …

[ page 268 ]

In the abstract, such an agreement with the EEC could promote the autonomous bilateral ties of the East European countries. However, the USSR has historically been the motive force behind the Eastern bloc’s initiatives for this type of agreement. To the degree that that remains the case, such an agreement could serve to increase the coordination of national economic planning among some, if not all, CMEA members. The autonomous development of existing bilateral economic ties between East and West European states, on the other hand, could encourage an economic integration process in Eastern Europe that would exclude overt coordination with the USSR.

3. EEC–CMEA Relations in the Future

It is possible to distinguish four potential outcomes of the two organizations’ ongoing contacts. These are: (1) an umbrella framework agreement, (2) establishment of a joint statistical office, (3) an agreement in principle, and (4) absence of any agreement. …

3.1. An Umbrella Framework Agreement

If the CMEA were to seek some such joint council with the EEC, then some in Western Europe might fear that this would create a basis for the Eastern bloc’s interference in the affairs of EEC members. But it is at least as likely that this would also permit the West European countries to “interfere” in the affairs of CMEA members. Indeed, this is precisely what happened through the follow-up conferences instituted by the CSCE Final Document. … Moreover, the Helsinki Accords gave rise to a wave of dissent in the CMEA countries in the late 1970s that was wholly unanticipated in both East and West. From this experience it would seem unlikely that Western Europe should have much to fear from an EEC–CMEA joint commission.

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3.2. Establishment of a Joint Statistical Office

After the failure in the early 1970s to establish strong, institutionalized formal relations, some rather more modest proposals were put forward, including one to establish a central statistical office—to gather and exchange economic data—which might also facilitate trade contacts. Although this is a much more practical approach, the Geneva-based U.N. Economic Commission for Europe already fulfills precisely this function, and it is doubtful that duplicating that effort would promote further cooperation.

3.3. An Agreement in Principle

The possibility also exists for an agreement in principle. Such an agreement would be entirely symbolic, yet even this possibility encounters obstacles: …

3.4. Absence of Any Agreement

There is always the possibility that the status quo will be maintained and that no agreement will be struck between the EEC and CMEA. It is unlikely that the absence of an agreement will make much difference. …

4. Conclusion

Underlying the issue of EEC–CMEA relations is the question of competing political visions of Europe. There is a clear parallel between the EEC’s approach to relations with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and its approach to the CMEA. EFTA’s members ended up signing individual free trade agreements with the Community, which refused steadfastly to sanction any formal agreement with EFTA as an

[ page 270 ]

organization. This experience seems almost a conscious model for the EEC’s treatment of the prospect of relations with the CMEA.[22]

It should come as no shock to hear even East European planners remark that the CMEA has been transformed from an integration mechanism into a disintegration mechanism. Having failed to delegitimize the EEC, the Soviets seem to wish to enlist its aid to relegitimize the CMEA.


[Note 13]. For a survey of the thorny question of a common export credit policy, see Peter Marsh, “Development of Relations between the EEC and CMEA,” in Avi Shlaim and G.N. Yannopoulos (eds.), The EEC and Eastern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 57–61.

[Note 22]. I wish to thank Baard Bredrup Knudsen, University of Oslo, for this insight. See also his “Europe between the Superpowers,” Cooperation and Conflict, Vol. 20, no. 1 (1985), pp. 91–112.

Dr. Robert M. Cutlerwebsiteemail ] was educated at MIT and The University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in Political Science, and has specialized and consulted in the international affairs of Europe, Russia, and Eurasia since the late 1970s. He has held research and teaching positions at major universities in the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Russia, and contributed to leading policy reviews and academic journals as well as the print and electronic mass media in three languages.

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