The European Community and the Collapse of the Soviet Union

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The year 1992 is synonymous with the European Community's single-market program and, more generally, with the revitalization of Western Europe. But the year 1992 will most likely be remembered for epic events in the East, as the former Soviet republics assert their autonomy, search for stability, and, in many cases, struggle for survival. The "acceleration of history" in 1988 and 1989, culminating in the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, threatened to throw 1992 off course. In the late 1980s the Community pursued the complementary objectives of deeper integration and an imaginative Ostpolitik. On the one hand, the Community advanced its internal market agenda, embarked on economic and monetary union, launched a common foreign and security policy, and strengthened its institutional structure. On the other, the Community concluded commercial and cooperative agreements with the former Soviet-bloc countries, coordinated Western aid to Eastern Europe, absorbed the German Democratic Republic, took the initiative in establishing the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, helped to negotiate the European Energy Charter, and signed far-reaching association agreements with Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland.

From the outset, the European Community and its twelve member states had been strong supporters of glasnost and perestroika. In effect, that meant supporting Mikhail Gorbachev. But it was only in late 1989 that Moscow was ready to conclude a commercial and cooperative agreement with the Community, a "modest and prudent first step" in developing an economic and political relationship (John Pinder, The European Community and Eastern Europe, London: RIIA, 1991, p. 75). Apart from trying to encourage trade between the Community and the Soviet Union, Brussels sought by signing a formal accord to reassure Moscow that the Soviet Union would not be excluded from Gorbachev's metaphorical European house. In the following year, with German unification a reality and the Soviet Union descending into disorder, it was more important than ever for the Community to involve the U.S.S.R. in the new European architecture. As a grudging host to several hundred thousand Soviet troops, Germany especially urged the Community to pursue a positive, constructive policy in the East. In December 1990 the Community approved emergency food aid and an ambitious technical assistance program for the Soviet Union (Rome Summit communique, 15 December 1990).

Events in 1991 severely strained the Community's newly established relations with Moscow. Brussels protested against repression in the Baltic States and fretted about the apparent ascendancy of conservative communists in the Kremlin. Yet the Commission opened an office in Moscow, in time to observe at close quarters the failed military coup, Boris Yeltsin's triumph over Gorbachev, and the rapid dissolution of the U.S.S.R. With great regret, the Community watched Gorbacbev go. On the day of his departure, the Community paid genuine tribute to Gorbachev's "great vision of a new Europe and a safer world," a vision that helped to "end the partition of Europe and to bring down the German wall" (EPC Press Release p. 135/91, 25 December 1991).

The Community responded to the sensational circumstances of late 1991 and early 1992 by sending emergency food aid to Moscow and St. Petersburg and by immediately exploring options for longer-term economic assistance. A Commission report in January 1992 proposed accords between the Community and the U.S.S.R. successor states that would not go as far as the recently signed "European Agreements" with Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland but would nonetheless promote economic reform and political stability in the former Soviet Union. Moreover, the Community wants to encourage collaboration between the components of the newly established Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Commission vice-president Frans H. …