The present paper explores how new governance materializes in public policies on corporate social responsibility (CSR) across Europe. By highlighting how both new governance and CSR facilitate the dispersion of public responsibilities to non-state actors, I first highlight the often overlooked complementarity of the two concepts. The paper then takes stock of how governments across Europe aim to shape and promote CSR by employing five different types of policy instruments. An analysis of empirical stocktaking in the light of the new governance theory confirms that public polices on CSR strongly resemble the new governance rationale, but not so much because of tangible networks employed but due to their voluntary character. The paper adds evidence to the growing body of literature showing that new governance is also concerned with influencing actors from a distance without actually being involved in networking activities, and without making use of their legislative power (also referred to as ‘governing at arm's length'). Conclusions are drawn on the modes of governance and the role of persuasion in the context of new governance. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.