The longest-ever recession to afflict the eurozone ended in the second quarter of the year, official figures have confirmed.
Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office, said the 17 European Union countries that use the euro saw their collective economic output grow by 0.3% in the April to June period from the previous quarter.
It is the first quarterly growth since the eurozone slipped into recession in the last three months of 2011. The ensuing recession of six quarters was the longest since the euro was launched in 1999.
The improvement made up for the previous quarter's equivalent decline and was moderately better than the 0.2% anticipated in the markets. The eurozone economy remains 0.7% smaller compared with a year earlier. However, that is still better than the 1.1% annual contraction seen in the first quarter.
The figures will be greeted with a sigh of relief by Europe's policymakers, who have spent nearly four years grappling with a debt crisis that has threatened the very future of the euro. But they were not ready to declare victory, aware that this is only the start of what is expected to be a slow and uneven recovery.
"This slightly more positive data is welcome - but there is no room for any complacency whatsoever," Olli Rehn, the EU's top monetary official, said. "I hope there will be no premature, self-congratulatory statements suggesting 'the crisis is over'."
The improvement was largely due to solid economic growth of 0.7% in Germany and a surprisingly strong 0.5% bounce-back in France following two quarters of negative growth.
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Aside from Europe's top two economies, there were signs of stabilisation elsewhere, notably in Portugal, which grew by a surprising 1.1%. Spain and Italy saw the pace of their economic contractions slow.
There was even evidence that the recession in Greece, the country at the heart of Europe's debt crisis, is easing, too. Eurostat does not publish quarterly figures for Greece. It only has annual comparisons and they showed that the year-on-year contraction eased to 4.6% in the second quarter from 5.6% in the first.
Despite the brighter picture that has emerged from the figures, the eurozone still has a long way to go before it can say it has proved the sceptics wrong. Europe's indebted governments still face years of spending cuts and tax increases and many, notably Greece and Spain, are weighed down by record-high unemployment of over 25%.