Newly-released Eurostat figures show that output in the eurozone fell by 0.3 percent in March, with the second and third largest economies in the area leading the loss. The monthly fall follows a decrease on the previous month, when production fell 0.1 percent in February. France saw production decline by 1.0 percent in March, while Italy recorded a fall of 0.9 percent in the same month.
The shift down in gear followed increases in the two previous months in both countries.
Germany’s first positive month in the year was not enough to offset marked falls of output in France and Italy, resulting in the overall negative reading.
The intense struggles being experienced by some of the bloc’s most influential economies highlights the crisis the eurozone faces over the next couple of years.
Pro-EU businessman George Soros arguably predicted the “nightmare” the eurozone is living in during a 2013 speech at the Global Economic Symposium in Kiel, Germany, titled “The Future of Europe”.
In the speech, Mr Soros acknowledged that the height of the euro crisis, which started at the end of 2009 when several eurozone member states were unable to repay or refinance their government debt, had ended but suggested that it had dramatically transformed the bloc for the worse.
He said: “The euro crisis is now over.
“Yet the system that emerged from the crisis is far from satisfactory. Mainstream economists would call it an inferior equilibrium; I call it a far-from equilibrium situation.
“The euro crisis has already transformed the EU into something radically different from what was originally intended.
“The EU was meant to be a voluntary association of sovereign and equal states that surrendered part of their sovereignty for the common good. It has turned into a relationship between creditors and debtors that is by its nature compulsory and unequal.”
Mr Soros argued that this new but already well-established relationship between debtor countries and creditor countries had the potential of “destroying the EU altogether”.
He noted: “Only the creditors are in a position to prevent this outcome but they do not seem to show any inclination to do so.”
His advice to the bloc was: “What needs to be done follows directly from this analysis of what has happened.
“Only Germany can initiate the process because, as the country with the highest credit standing, it is in the driver’s seat. If a debtor country tried, it would merely aggravate its own position.
“Doing it would earn Germany the long lasting gratitude of the rest of Europe.
“Failure to do is much worse. It has created a nightmare in which the victims of the current policies have to live in their waking lives.”
It was not the first time the Hungarian-born currency speculator and strong supporter of European integration had blamed Berlin for being the “root” of the “euro tragedy”.
In an interview with the Financial Times in 2012, the billionaire financier issued a passionate plea to Angela Merkel’s government to lead the continent out of recession or leave the currency union.
He said: “Lead or leave: this is a legitimate decision for Germany to make.
“Either throw in your fate with the rest of Europe, take the risk of sinking or swimming together, or leave the euro, because if you have left, the problems of the eurozone would get better.
“It is entirely dependent on Germany’s attitude.
“If they insist on a policy of austerity, of reinforcing the current deflationary stance, and they won’t budge from that, then in fact it would even be better for them in the long run [to leave].”
In a previous piece for the Financial Times in 2011, Mr Soros also accused Berlin of benefitting from the crisis.
He explained: “As the largest creditor, Germany could dictate punitive terms of assistance, which pushed debtors towards insolvency.
“Meanwhile, Germany benefited from the euro crisis, which depressed the exchange rate and boosted its competitiveness further.”
The Hungarian-born philanthropist, now a US citizen, became known as the “man who broke the Bank of England” after he bet against the pound in 1992, forcing Britain out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.