Over the years, civil society empowerment has become an integral part of the European Union’s (EU) external and internal governance as a way to advance democracy and enhance citizen participation. While there has been increasing scholarly attention to the instruments and impact of the EU’s civil society support, so far there has been little research on the question what kind of civil society the EU actually promotes. This article intends to fill this gap by examining the substance of the EU’s civil society support in post- Soviet Central Asia, a region where various forms of civil society organizations (CSOs) exist. The findings reveal a differentiation between civil society types promoted in EU strategic documents and those that are supported in practice. While at the strategic planning level the EU seeks to strengthen civil society broadly construed, at the program implementation level the (neo-) liberal CSOs are the main beneficiaries. At the same time, the EU customizes its civil society assistance depending on the realities on the ground and at times finds itself empowering state-led civil society, while communal groups rarely benefit from the EU assistance schemes. This has severe implications for the advancement of citizen participation, considering that the actual grass-root initiatives are largely excluded from the EU assistance.

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