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Looking West: the European Socialist regimes facing pan-European cooperation and the European Community

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PanEur1970s (Looking West: the European Socialist regimes facing pan-European cooperation and the European Community)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2018-09-30

What is the problem/issue being addressed?
The project investigates the socialist regimes’ expectations and predicaments vis-à-vis the opening of a space of pan-European cooperation in the 1970s. Since the late 1960s, the relaxation of tensions between the socialist East and the capitalist West thrived on, and at the same time further promoted, various forms of exchange and cooperation across the Iron Curtain. In the same period of time, the European Economic Community (EEC) acquired new members, became the first commercial power in the world, and also extended its competences. The incipient process of globalization also affected the socialist economies, revealing their vulnerability. In this multi-layered challenging scenario, the socialist regimes’ governing élites had to work out complex ideological, economic, and political issues originating from their attempts at integrating in the world economy, deepening their rapprochement with Western Europe and dealing with the commercial giant next door, the EEC.
Among the socialist regimes, only Yugoslavia recognised the EEC, and yet by the mid-1970s, the latter had become the single largest import and export market for the other socialist countries outside their own bloc. The EEC also impacted on their attempts to integrate in the world economy. Yet historians have not yet provided a broader analysis of pan-European co-operation against the background of Cold War constraints, global economic trends, and regional processes of integration.
PanEur1970s analyses and compares the views, debates, and policies of the European socialist countries’ elites about cooperation with Western Europe and the EEC in the long 1970s. We focus on the ruling party, but also on state apparatus, central and investment banks, foreign trade organisations and managers, experts and academia. We consider East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria (members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance – CMEA or Comecon) and Yugoslavia. The Soviet Union is not under direct scrutiny, as its problems and interests were quite different. Yet Soviet views and policies feature in our analysis as key factors affecting national debates.
In particular, PanEur1970s explores how the elites of the European socialist regimes envisaged their country in a pan-European co-operative framework, and whether they were simply driven by short-term economic goals or imagined also a long-term mutual opening and convergence. We investigate how they conceived and rationalised their country’s increasing economic exchanges with, and deepening financial dependence from, Western Europe, as well as what views of Western Europe, and specifically of the EEC, they elaborated as co-operation intensified. More specifically, we want to appraise how the socialist elites envisioned the interaction between ideological rivalry and a new rhetoric of collaboration.

Why is it important for society?
Our study will shed new light on the long-term paths of European integration and the antecedents to EU enlargement to Eastern Europe. The topic has been largely overlooked, or summarily dealt with in the context of the EU’s enlargement to the East under the simplistic rubric of their post-Cold War ‘return to Europe’.
In order to explain pan-European co-operation, PanEur1970s links the usually separate studies on Eastern and Western Europe and incorporates the concepts, strategies, and approaches of the s mocialist regimes. In so doing, it is able to assess the impact of the EEC from the (not always happy) perspective of the outsiders. The analysis of the ‘pre-history’ of Eastern European countries’ access to the EU will offer a deeper understanding of the long-term features of the process of recombination between the two halves of Europe.
Moreover, PanEur1970s crosses the traditional boundaries of diverse historical fields such as Cold War, modern Europe, Communism, European integration, and international econo
This kind of project requires sustained teamwork. The division of labour is country-related: each team member focuses on the country s/he is expert of, and applies the common multidisciplinary approach to his/her specific area of investigation in order to address the project's main research questions.
The research effort revolves on the systematic exploration of the archival records of the socialist states’ agencies involved in the elaboration and implementation of national economic strategies. This key activity is now almost complete for Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and the EEC. It is around the mid-point for Poland and Bulgaria. In the cases of the GDR, Yugoslavia and Romania (for which we encountered some recruitment delays) we are catching up fast and expect to have this research phase concluded within a year.
We are close to completing the mapping of the relevant elites in each country and we have completed the preparatory work for the project’s database and interactive map. We first conceived the overall structure of this online tool and defined the methodology to realise it. We contracted a company specialised in web graphic design to prepare the front-end graphic interface of the interactive map (now ready) and we developed the back-end database structure. Finally, we created the tools that team members are currently using to organize the relevant data.
This massive collection of data and archival sources is accompanied by a continuous dialogue among the team members in order to exploit synergies, refine the conceptual framework, compare results and hypotheses.
We made substantial progress towards a comprehensive reconstruction of the debate in most of the countries, and among them. We made important inroads in the interpretative assessment of the challenges that cooperation with capitalist Europe posed to the regimes’ ideological self-legitimisation. We submitted early research findings and hypotheses to a first public workshop, held in November 2017 with experts in our fields. This early testing confirmed the validity of our approach, provided assessments of each individual research and valuable suggestions. No less valuable were our efforts at early dissemination and collaborations with research groups and individuals operating in contiguous thematic areas.
Over the last decade, historians revealed a complex and lasting pattern of relations between the socialist East and the capitalist West in Europe. Since the mid-1960s, they grew enmeshed into a deepening web of contacts, interaction, exchanges, and mutual treaty obligations across the ‘Iron Curtain’. Their transformative effects are now considered among the main factors leading to the Cold War’s peaceful ending. Scholars of Communism also brought to the fore the economic reasons for the socialist countries’ opening to the West: the acquisition of Western technology and integration in global trade were recognised as important factors for economic modernisation and, consequently, for political stability. Studies on EEC policy towards the East appraised the Community’s reach, influence and allure on socialist European countries.
Yet our knowledge is far from comprehensive. The impact of external economic and political factors on the socialist regimes’ search for solutions to their predicaments remains sketchy. Even more glaring is the knowledge gap about the changing mind-set of the European socialist elites, particularly the expectations that nurtured their rapprochement and cooperation with Western Europe and the EEC.
Our research sits at the crossroads of different fields of historiography, such as Cold War, modern Europe, Communism, European Integration, and international economic history. Its findings are meant to impact on all these fields and significantly enrich their scholarship. First, the project will provide a detailed mapping of the actual debates about East-West cooperation occurring within each European socialist country. Second, it will contextualise the opening to the West in the contradictory web of domestic pressures and limitations that each socialist regime experienced. Third, it will reframe the relevance and impact of long-term patterns of European cooperation. In particular, it will shed light on the persistence of European détente despite the superpowers’ renewed confrontation of the early 1980s. As such, the project will effectively contribute to the historiographies of Communism, the Cold War, and modern Europe. Fourth, PanEur1970s’ findings will add to international economic history, by assessing how European and global processes of transformation changed the socialist elites’ reading of the international economic environment and shaped their consequent decisions. The project will therefore contribute to bring underrepresented Eastern Europe to the forefront of studies in global economic history. Last but not least, the project will reframe our understanding of European integration as a complex set of processes connected to, but much wider than, the history of the EEC/EU.
We expect PanEur1970s to stimulate new research in adjacent fields of historical inquiry as well as in cognate disciplines within the Humanities. It would promote transnational history research aimed at exploring the exchange of ideas among experts across Europe – be they economists, central bankers, managers, academics, or social and political analysts. Moreover, the project’s study of national debates could offer intellectual historians useful insights and material for research on the multiple and changing meanings of ‘Europe’ in the late 20th century.
"2 Interactive map - template for webpage ""About this map"""
"6 Interactive map - template for webpage ""Person profile"""
"4 Interactive map - template for webpage ""List of country elites"""
PanEur1970s team
5 Interactive map - template for webpage for a single elite
Project logo
"3 Interactive map - template for webpage ""Country profile"""
1 Interactive map - template for the homepage