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Post-Conflict Reconciliation in the European Context: The Cases of Northern Ireland and the Balkans

November 10, 2023

Vanessa Zelenović


This paper asks how EU membership can impact the success of post-conflict reconciliation through an analysis of two cases: Northern Ireland and the Balkans. The two variables to measure reconciliation are cross-community relations and democratization. First, this paper evaluates EU-led cross-community projects. Regarding Northern Ireland, the EU Peace Fund II was met with mixed results and suggested that Catholics had an overall more positive view. Surveys conducted reveal that polarization persists in other ways. For the Balkans, the Regional Youth Cooperation Office’s biggest challenge is a lack of funding. Surveys reveal that citizens have a desire for reconciliation and EU membership but are pessimistic about the prospects for both. Democratization was measured by assessing the stability of Stormont in Northern Ireland and the fulfillment of the chapters of acquis 23 and 24 by the Western Balkans. The constant suspensions of Stormont reveal the fragility of the Good Friday Agreement. For the Balkans, the promise of accession does lead to temporary gains in their democracy ranking. However, this diminishes when accession seems less likely. This paper also considers two important developments: Brexit and the accession of Slovenia and Croatia. Brexit revealed how ingrained EU norms were in the GFA and how the absence of the EU can reverse progress made. The accession of Croatia and Slovenia shows that the EU fails to hold member states accountable to standards of democratization and cross-community relations. The paper concludes that, while imperfect, an absence or lack of commitment from the European Union is worse.

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Article featured in:

Volume 11, Issue 1 (Spring/Summer 2023)

Volume 11, Number 1. Summer 2023

Jackson School Journal Vol. 11 cover