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Democratic challenges facing cross-communal parties in consociational societies in the EU: Northern Ireland and Brussels

Henry Jarrett

This paper explores the impact that operating in consociational societies has on non-sectarian parties in two constituent regions of the EU: Northern Ireland and Brussels. It analyses the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland in order to illustrate the disadvantages faced by non-ethno-national parties and compares its experience with Pro Bruxsel. This paper focuses on the electoral impact of operating within an ethnic party system and the ways in which voting arrangements in consociational societies limit the electoral success of non-sectarian parties. It argues that in Northern Ireland, PR-STV disadvantages Alliance as it is not reaping the full potential of attracting lower order preference votes due to this system having been implemented with ethnically based parties in mind. In Brussels, the electoral potential of Pro Bruxsel is constrained by the requirement that parties register their list as either French or Dutch speaking, with no further option for parties seeking to appeal to both communities. This paper argues that this constitutes a democratic deficit in consociational societies in the EU that other European democracies are not faced with. Rectifying this deficit is, however, particularly problematic as consociationalism, which recognises and accommodates different groups, offers the greatest potential to succeed in managing conflict in divided societies.

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