This article analyses the development of the EU's external civil society agenda and how this is interpreted by various actors. Using qualitative interviews carried out in Ukraine, Georgia and Brussels, the article shows how the EU's external civil society agenda has developed in parallel with the EU's internal ‘governance turn’. Changes in this narrative from a partnership-orientated role towards a more political watchdog-role for civil society organisations are (re)interpreted differently by EU actors, EU-based civil society organisations and those in the neighbourhood countries. By focusing on localised interpretations and the inherent contradictions this policy produces, this article shows that civil society's new watchdog role is not only directed towards controlling domestic governments but also the EU.
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