TODAY’S figures for GDP in the second quarter of 2015 from Eurostat are disappointing. The consensus among economists was that the 19-strong currency club would grow by 0.4%, the same as in the first quarter. Instead the pace of quarterly growth slowed a little, to 0.3%, leaving output 1.2% higher than a year ago.

The French outcome was the main setback. Output had been expected to rise by 0.2% following growth of 0.7% (revised up from 0.6%) in the first quarter. Instead it stagnated mainly because of an abrupt slowdown in consumer spending. Italian GDP continued to expand but by 0.2% compared with 0.3% in the first quarter, leaving output only 0.5% higher than a year ago.

The feeble economic performance of France and Italy is the principal reason why the overall recovery of the euro area since the spring of 2013 has been a pallid affair. Given the stimulus from lower energy prices and the policy of quantitative easing (purchasing assets by creating money) pursued by the European Central Bank (ECB) since March, the renewed weakness in the euro zone’s second- and third-biggest economies is troubling.

Their unsatisfactory performance contrasts with the strong upswing in the Spanish economy, the fourth-biggest in the euro area. The pace of quarterly growth strengthened from an already robust 0.9% in the first quarter to 1.0% in the second quarter, among the highest in the euro area. The reasons why Spain is now doing so well are disputed. Some point to the benefits of structural reforms made in the past three years (which Italy and France have lagged in introducing) while others emphasise the wrenching internal adjustments made by workers and businesses together with the cathartic effect of sorting out the banks in 2012.

An oddity is that despite the intense liquidity squeeze of the past few months in Greece, where the banks have been unable to lend and the government stopped paying commercial creditors, GDP is estimated to have grown by 0.8% in the spring. Statisticians have also revised up their estimates for previous quarters, from minus 0.4% to minus 0.2% in the final three months of 2014, and from minus 0.2% to zero in the first quarter of 2015.

One reason for the strong outcome in the second quarter might be that Greeks fearing for what might happen to their euros in the event of a “Grexit” and the reinstatement of the drachma (which would immediately tumble in value) spent some of the cash they withdrew from bank accounts on consumer durables such as cars, regarding these as safer forms of wealth.

Whatever the precise cause (and the estimate may in any case be revised down), the outlook for the Greek economy remains bleak owing to the trauma of late June and July when the banks were closed for three weeks and capital controls were introduced.

As so often before, a solid performance by Germany, the hub economy within the euro area, has bolstered euro-zone growth. German output expanded by 0.4%, a bit higher than in the first quarter when it grew by 0.3%, though lower than the consensus forecast of 0.5%.

Although the pace of growth was still satisfactory a worry is that exporters are bound to be hurt by the weakening Chinese economy, a prime market for German investment goods and luxury cars.

A year ago, the first estimate for GDP in the second quarter was a wake-up call for the ECB because it showed a stalled economy only a year after a feeble recovery had begun. Subsequent revisions have turned that ominous zero into growth of 0.1% as well as raising GDP growth at the start of the recovery, in the second quarter of 2013, and in the final quarter of 2014, from 0.3% to 0.4%. The estimates published today are only the first draft of economic history and may also be revised up. But the broader picture is that the euro-zone recovery, while intact, lacks vigour to a worrying extent.