BRUSSELS – European Union foreign ministers were debating on Monday whether to boycott this year's European soccer championship matches played in Ukraine to protest alleged abuse of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
"We've been very consistent in sending messages to Ukraine about the importance of justice being done and seen to be done," EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said.
When Tymoshenko launched a hunger strike last month after saying she was beaten by prison officials, several European leaders vowed to shun Ukraine during Euro 2012 in protest, but critics have warned that boycotting the matcheswould mean mixing sports with politics and could do more harm than good.
She said Poland, co-host of the tournament, would brief the ministers on the situation. Ukraine is not a member of the EU, but Poland is.
Officials said no formal decision on the move was expected at the meeting on Monday. Instead, the 27 ministers were expected to agree to jointly decide on any future moves regarding Ukraine, said a senior EU official who could not be named understanding rules.
"It would be more of an undertaking that they won't make any individual decisions (on the boycott) that would give the impression of lack of coordination," he said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he personally had no plans to attend 2012.
"It's very important that there is a focus on Ukraine," he said. "But as far as ministerial attendance is concerned, that will be kept under review."
Critics say shunning the matches could lead to boycotts of other nations with questionable democratic credentials, including Russia when it hosts the Sochi winter Olympics in 2014 and the World Cup in 2018.
Some ministers also played down the political significance of a possible boycott of the tournament.
"I fail to see that attendance or nonattendance of football games is an instrument of European policy," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said as he arrived for the meeting.