Year XXVII, 1985, Number 3, Page 174

 

 

 

EUROPE AND THE CMEA: TOWARDS A EUROPEAN OSTPOLITIK?
 
 
The CMEA, or Comecon countries as they are sometimes known, have once again asked for a start to be made to official negotiations with the EEC. Mutual recognition is indispensable if commercial, production and financial ties between the two organisations are to be improved, and would also contribute to a new role that Europe could play on the international political scene. In the course of a press conference, held in Paris on October 4th 1985 together with the French President Mitterrand, Gorbachev, the Soviet Communist Party Secretary, stated: “We feel that it would be useful to develop more constructive ties between the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, and the European Economic Community. In this respect the CMEA countries have proposed a constructive initiative which may well be received favourably. It is important that concrete results be achieved. On this basis, as we have stated on other occasions, if the EEC countries are able to act as a political entity, then we are ready to seek out a common language with them on concrete international problems as well. This could take place in various ways, including Parliamentary relationships, particularly with the representatives of the European Parliament”.
European governments and public opinion should note the clearcut change in the Soviet and CMEA countries’ attitude towards the European Community as compared with the years of the cold war. In 1962 the Common Market was defined as “the economic basis of the aggressive NATO block in Europe and ... a weapon of cold war imperialist policy and source of increase in international tension” (“The thirty-two theses on the Common Market”, Pravda, 26-8-1962). But by 1972 Breznev had already recognised “the situation really existing in Western Europe” and the need for the CMEA countries to set up cooperative relationships with the Common Market. Subsequently, the CMEA secretariat was asked to establish direct contacts with the EEC Commission and in 1975 the Commission’s President Ortoli and the CMEA’s Secretary Faddeev held an official meeting, to examine ways of recognising the two organisations, which, however, ended without any positive results. On September 26th, 1985, CMEA Secretary Sytchev once again made it known to the European Community that the CMEA countries were willing to normalise mutual ties by means of the approval of a joint political “Declaration” stating that the “CMEA and the EEC establish official relationships with each other in compliance with the powers of both organisations”.
The reply that the European Commission, in agreement with the Council of Ministers, sent was extremely cautions. In principle, the idea of establishing official ties between the two organisations is accepted as is the attempt to reach a joint declaration. European Commissioner De Clercq stated: “At the same time it is proposed that each of the European countries in the CMEA should normalise their relationships with the Community”. In other words the Commission seems to be more interested in using official CMEA recognition as a means of creating or strengthening bilateral ties with the EEC and the individual CMEA countries, rather than setting up a series of overall negotiations with the Eastern European countries. According to some observers, at a general level, the EEC would be willing to discuss only a few problems relating to the environment and exchange of statistical information. Commercial and technological relationships ought instead to be restricted to bilateral agreements between the EEC countries and the Eastern European countries in the Community and the CMEA.
Behind the Community’s extremely cautious attitude, bordering on open obstructionism, there certainly lies the residual nationalist tendencies of the member States. Western Germany wants to go on having privileged relationships with the German Democratic Republic and feed the dream of German unification, which is, however, unthinkable outside the context of European unification. France willingly flirts with the USSR in an attempt to continue gaullist policy tous azimuts, whereas Italy cultivates special ties with Balkan countries etc. All in all, there is no European Ostpolitik, but only national Ostpolitiken. Of course, these petty-minded conservative reasons never emerge explicitly in political debate. There are at least two major objections which are advanced by the European Community to justify this prudent, wait-and-see attitude vis-à-vis overall economic co-operation with the CMEA.
The first objection relates to the political asymmetry existing between the CMEA and the European Community. While the EEC is potentially a supranational organisation governed merely by Europeans, i.e. without the direct participation of the USA, the CMEA includes the USSR as well as Eastern European countries. It follows that there is a tendency to think that the CMEA must be considered as an instrument of Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe and that therefore it would be bad for Western Europeans to consider it as a true partner: it would strengthen Moscow’s power over its allies.
There is some truth in this affirmation. The relationships between states are what they are and entail real responsibilities for the Superpowers. It cannot be ruled out that the promptness with which the USSR tries to promote the CMEA’s recognition by the Community is motivated by the very practical reason that it wishes to keep relations between its European allies and Western partners under control. This is obvious: in a bipolar world, the way in which the United States behaves with its Western European allies when discussing directly with the USSR on European security is not very different. But this is only one aspect of the problem. There is also the question of establishing whether greater economic co-operation between Eastern and Western Europe does not make it possible for socialist countries to become increasingly autonomous in the long and very long term, within the CMEA. It is not in fact reasonable to base European policy on the illusion that it is possible to replace the CMEA with something else without taking into consideration the awful possibility of an international cataclysm. The CMEA was created by Stalin in 1949 as a socialist block reply to the flattery of the Marshall Plan, but it was practically inactive for so long as the development model applied by Eastern European countries slavishly followed the Soviet model. Self-sufficiency was the order of the day in those times and no organisation was needed to coordinate the division of labour within the socialist camp. But from the sixties onwards the situation has completely changed and now intra-CMEA trade is even more important for individual Eastern European countries than intra-Community trade is for EEC countries. Indeed this is precisely the reason for the CMEA’s weakness: it is a market which is entirely closed to world trade and its possibilities for growth are now strictly tied to active participation on the international market. For this reason, it is very important to create ties with the European Community, the world’s leading commercial power. The question now becomes: is it reasonable to argue that a decision that placed the Eastern European countries in a position to stimulate economic growth and increase their peoples’ well-being would increase their dependence on Moscow? The truth is that failure to open up with the West would bring about precisely the effect that the opponents of stricter ties between the two European camps fear. A glance at the “complex programme” adopted in 1971 by the CMEA to strengthen common institutions is more than sufficient to convince oneself of this. On the one hand, it is affirmed that “the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance which will be responsible for taking all the decisions needed to achieve the current complex programme, will have an increasingly greater part to play”, and that on the other hand “socialist economic integration does not entail the creation of any international body”. The contradiction is as striking as it is understandable. The CMEA countries cannot do without greater international integration. Faced with an increasingly turbulent international market, the tendency to strengthen the CMEA is certainly destined to prevail over the arguments of those who would like to restrict its powers. The overtures to the European Community may thus become a decisive factor in the economic and political growth of the CMEA. If Western Europe is able to offer CMEA countries appropriate monetary (ECU) and financial instruments (a system of credit facilities for their foreign trade) it is likely that such instruments will become the vehicles for a process of internationalisation of socialist economies which ought not to be procrastinated any further and which can only be delayed by the short-sightedness of Western European governments.
The second objection advanced by a number of critics of greater agreement between East and West concerns the absence of formal democracy in the Eastern European socialist countries. Open economic collaboration with socialist countries, it is argued, would strengthen and perpetuate non-democratic powers. It is an objection which suffers from the cold war climate and which is repeated when relationships between the two Superpowers deteriorate. In actual fact, Europe peacefully enjoys economic ties with many Latin American, African and Asian countries whose real democratic status is highly doubtful. The substantial problem lies elsewhere. True democrats ought to be aware that the future for democracy is world-wide and that this now depends on the affirmation of an effective process of détente and an end to the politics of opposing military blocs. Only a fool could argue that an incurable conflict exists between socialism and democracy, as if it were possible in the East only to think about the value of social justice and in the West to think about political equality. It is necessary to admit that a process of democratisation, which follows different roads and formulas from those typical in the West, is being undertaken in the East. The peoples of Eastern Europe are perfectly aware of the need to advance their socialist regimes towards forms of government where greater liberty, including economic freedom and popular participation in the management of power, is achieved. But it is also necessary to recognise that this process of democratisation is continually hindered by political and military tensions between the two Superpowers. In a bipolar world, democracy and socialism end up inevitably by becoming instruments of imperialist power. There is only one way out. European countries of East and West alike have world tasks and responsibilities. The basic terrain of conflict and detente between the Superpowers is and will continue to be Europe. Every step forward towards opening up frontiers and establishing stricter co-operation between economies and peoples represents a step forward towards peace in Europe. The Franco-German example is valid in this respect. The spirit of conquest and domination of these two states has generated two world wars. Today we live together in friendship in the European Community. Why cannot such steps be undertaken between the countries this side and the other side of the now decrepit “iron curtain”? Everything that today favours détente will end up in the long run by favouring democracy.
The European Community must not shirk its responsibilities. The recognition by Gorbachev of the European Community as a political entity and the explicit consideration of the European Parliament are certainly the fruit of the struggle for European Union. It is a further confirmation of the correct path chosen and the need to continue without any form of hesitation, despite the setbacks in Luxembourg, in our attempts to achieve the priority objective of the Union. The forces of progress, including the “European left”, ought by now to understand that the cornerstone for any plan for renewal and peace is European political unification. Although it is true that only when Union has been achieved will it be possible to draw up a coherent European foreign policy, nevertheless some important steps forward can be taken now. The European Community has for example demonstrated with the Lomé agreements and GATT trading negotiations that it is a credible and major partner at a world level. Why does the European Parliament not ask the Commission to commit itself at once, without shilly-shallying, to a series of negotiations which end up in an overall agreement for economic co-operation with the CMEA?
 
Guido Montani

 

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