The European Union has put on ice an agreement meant to increase political and economic ties with Ukraine. The move comes in response to deep concerns about the state of human rights in the former Soviet republic.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday agreed to postpone the ratification of an association agreement with Ukraine. However, they were unable to agree on whether senior EU officials should boycott soccer games played in Ukraine next month as part of the European championship.
The discussions came in response to concerns about the human rights situation in Ukraine, particularly about the treatment of jailed opposition figure Yulia Tymoshenko.
"For many people, making sure that justice is done and is seen to be done is core to the values of the EU," the bloc's foreign policy coordinator, Catherine Ashton told a press conference. "We want to be connected in terms of this association agreement… but we can't move forward if Ukraine doesn't respect those basic values," she added.
The association agreement, which is meant to bring Kyiv closer to the EU in economic and political terms, was agreed at a conference two months ago, but it still needs to be ratified by all 27 EU states before it can come into force.
Some politicians to stay away
Despite the fact that the ministers were unable to agree on a common stance on Euro 2012, several leading EU politicians have already said they plan to stay away unless there are big changes in Ukraine in the next few weeks.
The government of the Netherlands, whose national team plays all of its group-stage games in Ukraine, has said it would send no political representatives. The European Commission has said the same.
Germany, whose national team is in Group B along with the Netherlands, has left the issue open for the time being, however over the weekend, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said he would not attend any games in Ukraine.
"You overcome your political opponents in elections, but you don't lock them up in jail," he told the Sunday newspaper Welt am Sonntag.
No teams to boycott
At the same time, though, the foreign ministers ruled out calling for any of their national teams to boycott the tournament.
“I think in these circumstances we need to have good football without many ministers being there,” said Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, who's country did not qualify for the tournament.
Tymoshenko who claims to have been physically abused while in custody, reacted by going on hunger strike for a period of three weeks. She agreed to end the strike last week after a visiting German doctor advised her to do so to avoid permanent damage to her health.
The 51-year-old Tymoshenko, who was jailed last October after being convicted on charges of abuse of office stemming from her time as prime minister, claims she is the victim of a political vendetta by her political rival, President Viktor Yanukovich. The Ukrainian authorities have denied any wrongdoing. Tymoshenko also faces a second trial on tax-evasion charges.
pfd/sej (Reuters, dpa)