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Euro zone finally exits its longest-ever recession

Led by Germany and France, the euro zone managed 0.3 percent GDP growth in the second quarter of 2013.

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(Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The euro zone climbed out of recession at last with surprisingly strong growth of 0.3 percent in the second quarter led by Germany and France, the European Union said on Wednesday.

But the European Commission warned that tough structural reforms must be pursued without let-up and in the long term if the fruits of sustained growth are to be reaped.

The European Union data agency Eurostat said the 18-month downturn which has cost millions of jobs and crushed debt-laden governments ended thanks largely to surprisingly robust gains of 0.7 percent in Germany and 0.5 percent in France.

These figures were broadly comparable for the 0.6-percent growth attributed to the non-euro neighbouring economy of Britain.

Analysts had tipped a 0.2-percent increase for the 17-nation bloc, home to some 340 million people who have struggled through six consecutive quarters of falling output.

A lasting rebound is at hand but only if governments stick to reforms anchored in the tough austerity policies of the past few years, EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said following the results release.

"A sustained recovery is now within reach but only if we persevere on all fronts of our crisis response," he said, claiming vindication for policies that made Rehn something of a hate figure for many Greeks, for instance.

"There is still a very long way to go before we reach our ultimate goal of a sustainable growth model that delivers more jobs," he added, keeping the focus firmly on the eurozone and EU's "mountain of debt, both public and private."

Fellow commissioner Michel Barnier, responsible for the internal market, said on Twitter that this did not mean ongoing austerity for all.

"Austerity is not the Commission's line — it's about far-reaching reforms, financial regulation and coordinating policies" across borders, the Frenchman stressed.

Behind the headline gains, the third- and fourth-largest euro zone economies of Italy and Spain pulled up short, with their economies shrinking 0.2 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively.

The Netherlands also shrank once more, by 0.2 percent in the second quarter, but bailed-out Portugal posted a strong return with 1.1 percent growth.

No figures were immediately available for bailed-out Greece or Ireland, both also bailed out during the debt crisis. Cyprus remains deep in recession, with a 1.4-percent contraction.

But Portuguese authorities said that Portugal, also under a rescue programme, emerged from recession with growth of 1.1 percent in the quarter from output in the first quarter.

Eurostat noted that comparable figures for the United States and Japan came in at 0.4 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.

IHS Global Insight analyst Howard Archer tipped an overall growth rate for the eurozone in 2013 of 0.5 percent, with only minor improvement in 2014.

"It is likely that GDP growth of 0.3 percent quarter-on-quarter overstates the region's economic health," Archer maintained.

At Capital Economics in London, chief European economist Jonathan Loynes said that the data showed that the eurozone had returned to growth for the first time for seven quarters.

However, referring to the bailed-out countries, he warned that "the return to modest rates of growth in the euro-zone as a whole won't address the deep-seated economic and fiscal problems of the peripheral countries."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130814/eurozone-exits-recession-surprise-03-growth-1