The economic indicators across the European Union are not in tune with the season or the rhetoric. As buds of growth start to feather the winter-darkened branches with new colour, and Lisbon Strategy promises fill the air, European business confidence is declining, and dole queues are lengthening.

March saw yet another drop in the euro-zone business climate indicator: managers expect production to fall, and exports and order books to shrink. Unemployment in February rose across the euro-zone in February, new EU figures out today reveal; 12.8 million of the citizens of the twelve members were officially out of work. And in Spain, France and Germany, this is around 10% of the workforce.

The latest figures from France suggest that nearly 2.5 million people are looking for a job there with the young and the old suffering particularly from the difficult market. It is only weeks since the German jobless total passed the 5 million mark for the first time and unemployment is running at 20% in many regions of the former eastern Germany.

Meanwhile, the economic sentiment indicator based on business and consumer surveys continued its downward trend in March, falling to its lowest point for 15 months, with the decline in confidence most noticeable in industry, services, and the retail sector.

While overall performance outside the...

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