OVER THE LAST DECADE AND A HALF THE PART PLAYED BY THE European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the construction and operation of the European Union has become controversial. Relatively unnoticed beyond specialist legal circles in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, the role of the Court featured prominently in the debates occasioned by the Treaty of Maastricht. In this article I consider the use of heroic and villainous imagery to describe the Court. After arguing that such imagery now conceals more than it reveals, I suggest that if its role is to be understood properly, the Court needs to be placed in strategic context. For convenience, the discussion of strategic context, which makes up the largest part of this article, is divided into five sections. In turn these sections consider member state executives, other European Union institutions, ‘European’ law(s), European Community law and actors in civil society (particularly litigants).