There is a remarkable parallel between the evolution of the EU and the Northern Ireland peace process. The Single European Market in particular enabled a deal; consent by nationalists in return for the all-island expression of their identity. Let's look at the sequence.
1993 (January); the creation of the Single European Market as agreed back in 1986.
1993 (April); Hume Adams dialogue begins. Hume grasped the strategic significance of the SEM for peace in Northern Ireland.
If the SEM eliminated the border for the movement of goods and people, only the ongoing conflict and its requirement for border security stood in the way of a borderless island.
1993 (December): the Downing Street Declaration by Taoiseach Reynolds and PM Major, a key breakthrough conceptualising a resolution of partition through all-island referenda, opening the way to the end of the use of violence.
1994 and 1997: IRA ceasefires.
1998 (April): the Good Friday Agreement. Its approach to North-South relations is framed within the all-island economy and borderless island made possible by the SEM. The GFA didn't need to mandate this because it already existed.
The North South Ministerial Council established by the GFA expresses nationalist identity in formal inter-governmental structures.
1998 (May): All-island referenda N and S affirm all-island democratic national self-determination in support of the GFA. Northern Ireland's status is enshrined in the GFA and changes to Articles 2 and 3 of our Constitution.
2007: with the resolution of issues of policing and decommissioning, establishment of the power-sharing government in NI and full operation of the NS Ministerial Council.
This is not to say that the SEM was the foundation for the peace process. The conflict and its resolution involved a complex interaction of factors. But the SEM was a critical contribution in eliminating the visible manifestation of partition in border checks.
Throughout these years, the EU's Peace Building Programme spent literally billions of Euros supporting peace and reconciliation. Moreover, the whole form of Anglo-Irish relations was inspired by the EU project of inter-governmental cooperation and the spirit of cooperation.
The EU provided a forum for encounters between British and Irish leaders and senior officials onwards from our joint membership of the EC in 1973. This helped facilitate the Haughey/Thatcher summits and the breakthrough Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985 under FitzGerald/Thatcher.
The parallel between the EU and NI goes deep: both projects are founded on the belief that the elimination of borders is the greatest contribution you can make to peace building and the elimination of conflict.
A very useful chronology. I can remember in the late 80s how the idea of a Europe without borders seemed to offer the only basis for optimism, and a weak enough basis it seemed at the time. We are all Humeans now.
I don't know that we have ever really articulated just how fundamental a revision to inherited ways of thinking about politics, the state, nationhood and sovereignty was going on in that period.
That you could, so to speak, step around the issue of sovereignty; that government functions could be unbundled from each other and shared between jurisdictions; that the border could disappear and sovereignty would take care of itself. All of this was very new.