European officials to meet but crisis fix elusive

LUXEMBOURG (AP) - Europe's finance ministers meeting Thursday will try to find common ground on whether to soften Greece's austerity terms, possibly clear a bank bailout request from Spain and discuss new ways to boost confidence in the 17-country eurozone.

The ministers' meeting in Luxembourg will try to make progress on wide-ranging solutions to the debt crisis that leaders hope to adopt by a European Union summit on June 28. The leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Spain will meet in Rome on Friday.

Among the most pressing issues will be approving a bailout for Spain's banks should the country make the official request on Thursday. The Spanish government will receive an independent audit of the banks' capital needs before its finance minister meets his counterparts later in the day.

Last week it said it would need as much as €100 billion ($127 billion) to give the banks. The money would add to public debt, however, raising concerns that the government may be unable to repay the money. That has caused Spain's borrowing rates to jump.

Investors will be eager to know the size of the loans and what the terms will be to judge its impact on Spain's sovereign debt.

The ministers will also debate how to approach Greece's request for more time to reach its austerity targets. Greece's newly-appointed prime minister, Antonis Samaras, has said his coalition government would respect the broad outlines of the country's bailout terms, but has said the current targets are not realistic. European officials in Brussels have indicated the country needs more time, though Germany has opposed any softening in the terms.

Finally, the ministers will discuss new measures to ease the financial chaos afflicting European countries, particularly the high borrowing rates of countries like Spain and Italy.

The last two and a half years of Europe's government debt crisis have seen Greece, Ireland and Portugal seek multibillion-euro bailouts after high borrowing costs made it impossible for them to finance their debts on the international bond markets. Now markets-watchers fear Spain and Italy may soon be joining the bailout club as their borrowing costs spiral ever higher.

The leaders of the 17 countries that use the euro have been under global pressure to find a substantial solution to the debt crisis rather than piecemeal measures that provide only temporary relief. At this week's G-20 summit of world economic powers in Los Cabos, Mexico, politicians including U.S. President Barack Obama called on Europe to find a solution to the debt crisis.

One more solution emerged late Tuesday night on the sidelines of the G-20 summit. Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti urged looking at using Europe's €500 billion ($635 billion) emergency bailout funds - the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Stability Mechanism - to buy government bonds on the open market.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has resisted such an idea. She will meet Monti as well as the leaders of France and Spain in Rome on Friday to iron out differences on this and other measures.