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Crises Overshadow EU Finance Ministers Meeting

Italy's FM Tremonti and French counterpart Lagarde listen to Luxembourg's PM and Eurogroup chairman Juncker during a meeting in Brussels, May 16, 2011

A European Union finance ministers meeting is being overshadowed by the euro zone's ongoing economic problems and sexual assault charges against International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who had been expected to attend the two days of talks in Brussels.

The financial troubles of Greece, Portugal and other weaker euro-zone economies are expected to dominate the Brussels talks that end Tuesday. Finance ministers from the 27 European Union states are expected formally approve a $112 billion rescue plan for Portugal and discuss the possibility of more aid to Greece, which received its own bailout last year.

The chief economist for the Brussels-based European Policy Center, Fabian Zuleeg, says the 17-nation euro zone is facing a tough period.

"Portugal is needing help, there are some uncertainties around there," Zuleeg said. "There are questions about the long-term future for Greece and now, of course, we are having developments with the IMF and Strauss-Kahn in particular."

At issue is Saturday's arrest of International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sexual assault charges. The incident is certain to cast a cloud over the talks.

But EU spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio told reporters it would not impact their outcome. He also praised the IMF's new interim head, former American banker John Lipsky.

"He has a very large experience," noted Tardio, "he is globally recognized as a strong economist, he has a very good knowledge of Europe. So we have no doubt about the continuity also in that respect."

But experts like Zuleeg note Strauss-Khan's absence will be felt on a larger scale. The former French finance minister worked closely with European countries in planning the recent rescue packages.

"He has been personally involved and I think his involvement has also made it more possible, more acceptable for European leaders to bring the IMF in[to] the process," Zuleeg said.

Last week, the IMF warned the debt crisis could spread to other euro-zone members as well as some non-members in eastern Europe.