French economy is back in recession, spelling trouble for region

PARIS – France’s economy is in recession again — and that could spell more trouble for Europe.

The national statistics agency, Insee, said Wednesday that gross domestic product fell 0.2 per cent in the first quarter of the year. The agency also revised its data for the fourth quarter of last year, saying GDP fell 0.2 per cent, up from a 0.3 per cent retraction. A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

News of the fall into recession comes on the first anniversary of President Francois Hollande’s swearing in. During that year, Hollande has had to deal with mounting economic problems. France’s economy hasn’t grown significantly in nearly two years and European data show it was last in recession at the beginning of 2012. Economists say its high unemployment rate of 10.6 per cent is more proof that its economy is in trouble.

A recession in France, the eurozone’s second-largest economy, is likely to exacerbate problems around the region since it is a major market for its neighbours.

Slow growth is plaguing many European countries as they struggle to cut their spending and debts, and France’s finance minister blamed his country’s problems on the region.

“We are in Europe, the eurozone countries are our main clients and our main suppliers, and when the environment around us is depressed, well, that’s the main factor in the slowing of the French economy,” Pierre Moscovici told reporters after Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.

But France’s problems also stem from high government spending, a sclerotic labour market and sliding competitiveness among its companies. Household consumption and production of good and services were both down, according to Insee. Expenditure on manufactured goods, especially cars, was hit hard, falling 0.9 per cent in the first quarter.

Despite the grim news, Moscovici said the government is maintaining its projection that the economy will grow 0.1 per cent this year and that it will manage to begin to bring down unemployment by the end of the year.