The article contends that gender equality policy objectives become part of the main political agenda of the European Union only after their meaning has been transformed to satisfy other policy priorities. A content analysis of relevant official EU acts, from the First European Commission's Social Action Programme (1974) to the Conclusions of the Barcelona European Council (2002) and the Fifth EU Action Programme for Gender Equality (2001–2005), shows how a concept introduced to encourage gender equality in the labor market, the “reconciliation of working and family life,” gradually shifted in meaning from an objective with feminist potential (“sharing family responsibilities between women and men”) to a market-oriented objective (“encouraging flexible forms of employment”) as it became incorporated in the European Employment Strategy of the 1990s. I argue that this process can be characterized as cooptation because the goals of the original proposals are undermined by shifting the meanings of the original concepts to fit into the prevailing political and economic priorities in the EU.

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