PARIS - The eurozone is now in its longest-ever recession, beating even the calamitous slump that hit the region in the financial crisis of 2008-09.
The European Union statistics office said Wednesday that nine of the 17 EU countries that use the euro are in recession, with France a notable addition to the list. Overall, the eurozone's economy contracted for a sixth straight quarter, slumping by 0.2 percent in the January-March period from the previous three months.
Though that is an improvement on the previous quarter's 0.6 percent decline, it's another unwelcome landmark for the single-currency bloc as it grapples with a debt crisis that has prompted governments to slash spending and raise taxes.
And while the eurozone's 9.5 trillion euro ($12.22 trillion) economy struggles, companies' order books around the world are suffering.
Austerity measures introduced across the eurozone have inflicted severe economic pain and social unrest. Unemployment across the eurozone is at a record 12.1 percent. In Greece, the figure is even higher at 27.2 percent, while in Spain it's 26.7 percent and Italy 11.5 percent.
There was also bad news for the wider 27-country EU, which includes non-euro members such as Britain and Poland. It too is now in recession after shrinking by a quarterly rate of 0.1 percent in the first quarter, following a 0.5 percent drop in the previous period.
Though the eurozone's recession is not nearly as deep as the one in 2008, which ran for five quarters, it is the longest in the history of the euro. A recession is typically defined as two straight quarters of negative growth.
"The eurozone is facing a double blow from necessary restructuring of its domestic economy and somewhat disappointing growth in world trade, in particular demand from emerging markets," said Marie Diron, senior economic adviser at Ernst & Young.
With a population of more than a half-billion people, the EU is the world's largest export market. If it remains stuck in reverse, companies in the United States and Asia will be hit. Last month, U.S.-based Ford Motor Co. lost $462 million in Europe and called the outlook there "uncertain." McDonald's saw its sales in Europe, the hamburger chain's biggest market outside the United States, fall 1.1 percent in the first quarter.