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In this conceptual article, we explore mechanisms of conflict management in European Union (EU) regulatory policy-making. We build on J.G. March's distinction between aggregation and transformation as the two strategic options to deal with inconsistent preferences or identities that are at the source of social conflict. While this distinction is helpful in mapping conflict management mechanisms, the rigid association of these two options with the rival paradigms of rationalism and constructivism respectively has led political scientists to neglect conflict management strategies that work at the edges of aggregation and transformation. We show the potential of these latter strategies as intelligent ‘in-action’ hybrids that emerge from ground-level policy-making praxis of actors navigating a complex institutional and policy environment. Specifically, we discuss five strategies: issue-based aggregation; arena-based aggregation (arena-shifting and arena-creation); socialization; re-framing; and proceduralization, their underlying mechanisms and related scope conditions. The theoretical implications of this discussion lead us towards ‘strategic constructivism’. In the conflict management mechanisms that are of most interest, norms and ideational structures matter, but they are related to strategic actors who draw on and orchestrate ‘ideas’ in pursuit of political goals.