This Special Issue aims to inquire how two contradictory developments – the sustained struggle for human rights and social justice in the Arab world since 2011 and the EU’s pragmatist turn that has followed it – interact by examining the changing relationship between local needs and expectations on one hand and EU policies and practices on the other. It does so by systematically exploring the viewpoints of civil society stakeholders about the EU’s presence and practices in the Mediterranean, both at the local level (specifically in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia) and at the EU level, through more than hundred in-depth interviews. This article provides a critical review of the literature on Euro-Mediterranean relations by drawing on a selected number of critical academic studies which have emerged in the post-Arab uprising, as well as by providing an overview of the grey literature by civil society networks in Europe and the Southern Mediterranean, often not taken into account in research on Mediterranean relations. This will allow us to see what has been neglected in the literature and what we can build on in this Special Issue from a decentring perspective. It then outlines the conceptual framework and methodology of this Special Issue and concludes with an overview of the case studies/contributions.