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EU Leaders Discuss Spreading Debt Crisis

Portugal's Caretaker Prime Minister Jose Socrates arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, March 24, 2011

Portugal's Caretaker Prime Minister Jose Socrates arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, March 24, 2011

European leaders are holding talks Thursday and Friday on ways to halt the spread of the eurozone debt crisis that has led to the resignation of Portugal's prime minister.

Even before European Union leaders gathered in Brussels, two events served to remind them that the economic crisis is far from over. Late Wednesday, Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates submitted his resignation after the parliament rejected his latest austerity budget.

And thousands of workers demonstrated in the Belgium capital against economic reforms they claim are too pro-business.

EU leaders were supposed to agree during this summit to a comprehensive set of steps to prevent the spread of the financial crisis within the 17 nations sharing the euro currency. But analysts like Olivier Jehan, head of the Brussels office of the French Institute of International Relations, doubt that will happen.

"It's difficult to reach an agreement if you have a caretaker government in Portugal," said Jehan. "And also some political difficulties in Finland."

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, whose population has balked at bailing out debt-strapped members like Greece, also is facing key regional elections. Berlin is likely to demand tougher conditions for lending to poorer members.

In Portugal, Prime Minister Socrates has been reluctant to follow the path of Greece and Ireland, which both accepted EU bailouts. Jehan doubts a debt measure for Portugal will be agreed to this month.

"The first thing is to find a new government," he said. "I'm not sure that the current government, after the resignation of the prime minister, is able to take any decision on this matter."

Libya also is expected to dominate the agenda, with EU members divided over the current military action. Observers say it is unlikely leaders will come to any major decision this week on Libya beyond humanitarian assistance.