Abstract this article analyses the eu's relations with libya and belarus over the past few decades. It is argued that the eu's pursuit of its internal security interests has led to significant u-turns in its perceptions of and policies towards autocratic regimes in its neighbourhood. Both libya and belarus were largely ostracized by the eu and the majority of its member states because of their grave concerns over democratic conduct and repeated violations of human rights in those countries. However, their increasingly important role in eu security (and, in particular, border security and the ‘flight’ against ‘illegal’ migration) has changed their image in and leverage over the eu. This paper first maps the competing paradigms of democracy promotion and the pursuit of internal security in eu foreign policy, followed by an outline of the key instruments used by it to implement its policies towards its neighbouring states. In the empirical parts that follow, the article examines the complex interplay between the two paradigms in the eu's policy towards belarus and libya and assesses their implementation in the political practice of day-to-day relations between the eu and both countries. By way of conclusion, the article's findings are placed in the broader context of the eu's normative power and future role as a ‘successful democratiser’.