Recent jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) marks a striking shift towards a more restrictive interpretation of EU citizens’ rights. The Court’s turnaround is not only highly relevant for practical debates about ‘Social Europe’ or ‘welfare migration’, but also enlightening from a more general, theoretical viewpoint. Several recent studies on the ECJ have argued that the Court is largely constrained by member state governments’ threats of legislative override and non-compliance. We show that an additional mechanism is necessary to explain the Court’s turnaround on citizenship. While the ECJ extended EU citizens’ rights even against strong opposition by member state governments, its recent shift reflects changes in the broader political context, i.e., the politicization of free movement in the European Union (EU). The article theorises Court responsiveness to politicization and demonstrates empirically, how the Court’s jurisprudence corresponds with changing public debates about EU citizenship.