The Europeanization literature predominantly credits the empowerment of pro‐reform political elites through the EU's incentives for the democratization of non‐EU countries. The existing studies under‐emphasize the societal dimension of the EU's impact and the normative context in which the EU's leverage is applied. Taking a societal perspective, this article examines societal empowerment as an alternative to elite empowerment and proposes four mechanisms of EU influence on democratization through societies taking into account the EU's structural power and actorness, and considering their effects on the societal sphere and societal actions. Applying the mechanisms to a tough case for societal mobilization for democracy – Bulgaria – the article shows how the EU, through representing a legitimate model of democratic governance, has created a strong pro‐reform societal constituency that can sustain the democratic dynamic. The article also demonstrates the relevance of cross‐national diffusion processes for pro‐democracy societal mobilization.