Lobbying by Poland and Hungary has led to the removal of the phrase "gender equality" from a draft declaration on advancing social cohesion that the EU is due to publish on Friday, according to diplomats and documents seen by Reuters.
Poland's nationalist ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and its eurosceptic ally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, promote what they call traditional social values at home and have repeatedly clashed with their more liberal Western peers over the rights of women, gays and migrants.
The two countries opposed mentioning "gender equality" directly in the draft prepared for discussion by the bloc's 27 national leaders, who are meeting in the Portuguese city of Porto on Friday and Saturday.
While an earlier draft said the bloc would "promote gender equality", the later version seen by Reuters - which could potentially be redrafted again - avoids the phrase and reads:
"We will step up efforts to fight discrimination and work actively to close gender gaps ...and to promote equality."
European Union diplomats said Warsaw and Budapest had sought the looser language. Both governments have sought to promote Catholic, conservative social values in campaigns that have gone hand-in-hand with increasing state control over media, courts and academics.
Asked to comment on the matter, a Polish official said: "Poland always underlines how important legal clarity is... The Treaty of the European Union very clearly refers not to gender equality but to equality between women and men." The official did not elaborate.
There was no immediate reply to a request for comment from the Hungarian missions to the EU.
The leaders will commit to an inclusive recovery from the bloc's record recession triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 700,000 people in Europe, shut businesses and travel, and confined millions to their homes for more than a year.
"Our commitment to unity and solidarity also means ensuring equal opportunities for all and that no one is left behind," the leaders will declare in mentioning the bloc's planned green and digital reforms, as well as focus on education and training.
"...The priority will be to move from protecting to creating jobs and to improve job quality," they will say, according to the latest draft, which also welcomes a proposal to look beyond GDP readings to measure economic and social progress.
The leaders are due to gather in Porto from 1200 GMT.
Twenty-four will attend in person, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and two others dialling in for discussions that will also try to overcome divisions on waiving patents for COVID-19 vaccines, and the EU's fraught ties with Russia.