Hollande vows to lift lethargy that is 'wiping out' Europe
French President Francois Hollande has vowed to launch an initiative to end Europe's "lethargy" and promised closer political union within the bloc in two years.
"If Europe does not advance it will fall or even be wiped out from the world map. . . My duty is to bring Europe out of its lethargy," he said, at the start of a press conference.
Mr Hollande said his first year in power had been entirely devoted to 'defending our sovereignty and putting our economy back into shape' but added that the second year would be marked by an 'offensive' to kickstart the economies of France and Europe.
The press conference came a day after Mr Hollande's first anniversary in office was marred by news that France had fallen back into recession.
There was little comfort from the wider eurozone either, where Germany crept back into growth in the first quarter of this year. The combined economic output of the eurozone fell for a record successive sixth quarter.
Mr Hollande said that the French economic situation was "serious" and called once again for concerted efforts within the EU to kick-start growth.
The French finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, said that the GDP growth figure of minus 0.2pc was "not a surprise" and blamed the poor economic conditions in Europe as a whole. He called on France to "mobilise all our energy to create a more flexible, more competitive, more creative" economy.
There was no need, he insisted, to abandon the government's prediction that growth would return by the end of the year and that unemployment (10.6pc) would begin to recede.
However, the government statistical agency, INSEE, said all economic indicators in France appeared to be on red.
"Overall production is stagnant, consumption is feeble, investment is declining, exports are falling," the agency said.
In the Eurozone as a whole, the first quarter figures made equally grim reading.
Germany managed to avoid a statistical recession by its finger tips – growing by 0.1 per cent in the first quarter of this year after a 0.7 per cent fall in late 2012.
The Italian economy receded for the seventh quarter in a row, contracting by 0.5 per cent.
Economic experts said that the overall picture was of a European economy stagnant, rather than on the verge of a deep decline.
However, commentators said that it was difficult to see what would break the pattern in the near future. Hopes that German growth might haul the rest of Europe from the mire are fading. Most EU governments are still committed to austerity policies while access to bank loans remains difficult.
Mr Hollande was elected a year ago on a similar pledge but has since largely failed to persuade the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to focus on growth or to reduce the austerity efforts demanded of indebted Eurozone nations.
And he is under fire in France for his muddle-through approach to economic recovery.
He is criticised on the Right for increasing taxes and failing to take decisive steps to reduce labour costs. He is also attacked on the Left for pursuing a kind of "austerity light" programme to reduce the French state budget deficit to under 3pc next year. (© Independent News Service)