BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - The euro zone's public deficit dropped in the first quarter of the year to its lowest level in nearly a decade, driven by a widening surplus in Germany and despite France's increasing fiscal gap, data released on Thursday (July 20) showed.
The figures, published by the European Union's statistics office Eurostat, confirmed the improving state of the bloc's public finances, although public debt increased in the first quarter driven by a further expansion of Italy's debt, the second largest in the 19-country currency bloc.
Eurostat said that government deficit in the euro zone dropped to 0.9 per cent of output in the first quarter of the year from 1.1 per cent in the previous quarter, confirming a long-lasting downward trend.
It was the lowest level of public deficit since the last quarter of 2007, when the global financial crisis began hitting euro zone's economies forcing higher public spending to prop up the financial sector.
The fall in the bloc's fiscal gap was helped by Germany's thrift, as the bloc's largest economy further expanded its surplus to 1.5 per cent of output in the first quarter from 1.4 per cent in the last quarter of 2016, and 0.7 per cent in the third quarter of last year.
The widening of the surplus goes against calls on Germany from other euro zone countries and European Union institutions to increase spending and rise wages to help strengthen the bloc's recovery.
France, the euro zone's second largest economy, instead saw an increase of its government deficit in the first quarter to 3.3 per cent of output from 3.2 per cent in the previous quarter.
The figure was above a 3 per cent limit set by EU fiscal rules, but French President Emmanuel Macron and his government have repeatedly pledged that they will bring the annual deficit below the 3 per cent threshold this year.
The drop in the euro zone deficit was offset by an increase of the bloc's public debt to 89.5 per cent of output in the first quarter from 89.2 per cent in the last quarter of 2016, above an indicative limit of 60 per cent required for euro zone countries by EU fiscal rules.
The increase was partly due to the expansion of debt in Italy, the third largest economy in the euro zone. Rome's debt, already the second highest in the bloc, grew to 134.7 per cent of output in the first quarter of the year from 132.6 per cent in the previous quarter.
In Greece, which has the euro zone's highest debt, Eurostat recorded a drop in the first quarter to 176.2 per cent of output from 179 per cent in the last quarter of 2016.