Ukraine`s new ambassador to the European Union says there is growing support for his country`s aims to draw closer to the EU, despite Russian opposition that dealt a setback to its NATO membership bid last month, according to AP.

France in particular, which has previously expressed caution about future expansion of the EU, now had a "new vision" of Ukraine`s place in Europe, Andri Veselovsky said Thursday after presenting his credentials to the European Commission.

"This vision of Ukraine`s place in Europe is new, it is a clear difference and a new step in the understanding of a common European home in French political circles," he told reporters.

France takes over the EU`s rotating presidency in the second half of this year and will play a key role in shaping the bloc`s policy. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also scheduled to host an EU-Ukraine summit in September.

Signs of French support follow an appeal Monday from Poland and Sweden for the EU to develop a new "eastern dimension" policy that would build ties with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and other former Soviet neighbors.

Moscow has opposed the efforts of Ukraine and other former Soviet nations to join Western organizations. NATO last month postponed a decision to grant Ukraine and Georgia a "membership action plan" after pressure from Moscow. However, the military alliance did say clearly for the first time that the two nations could one day join and offered to look again at the membership plan.

Ukraine hopes to join the EU by 2020. Veselovsky acknowledged the EU was unlikely to take any bold steps toward further enlargement until the new Lisbon Treaty underpinning the union`s working rules is ratified. Fifteen of the 27 EU nations have so far ratified the treaty, most recently Luxembourg, which did so on Thursday.

Most are voting in parliaments, but Ireland has a June 12 referendum. Concerns over the entry of former communist bloc nations were seen as a factor in French and Dutch voters rejecting a previous treaty in 2005 in referendums that plunged the EU into crisis.

"There is a very difficult stage in the development of the European Union and the Lisbon Treaty is not yet in our pocket," Veselovsky said. "We wait and watch with interest."

He said Ukraine would cooperate with nations like Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, but that Ukraine`s bid for EU membership should be based on the country`s own merits.

AP, International Herald Tribune