Europe is edging closer to recession, dragged down by the crippling debt problems of the 17-country euro bloc, official figures showed today.

Eurostat revealed that the economies of both the euro zone and the wider 27-country EU shrank by a quarterly rate of 0.2% in the second quarter.

In the first quarter, output for both regions was flat. A recession is officially defined as two quarters of falling output in a row.

Earlier, figures showed Germany grew by 0.3% during the quarter. France reported zero growth in Q2.

Europe's stumbling economy is making it harder for other economies around the world to recover. 

The euro zone is grappling with sky-high debt levels and record unemployment. Compared with the year before, the euro zone's economy is 0.4% smaller.

And without Germany continuing to post solid levels of growth, the euro zone would officially be in recession. Europe's largest economy grew by a quarterly rate of 0.3% in the second quarter.

Though down on the 0.5% recorded in the first quarter, the advance was a little more than expected - most economists thought Germany would only grow by 0.2%%.

Though Germany benefits from strong demand for its products for the time being, its high-value exporters are finding it increasingly difficult to tap international markets. Forward-looking surveys, including the closely-monitored ZEW survey of German investor sentiment, are suggesting that confidence is taking a knock as Europe moves from one crisis point to another.

The other 16 countries that use the euro are Germany's biggest export market and six of them are in recession. The US is also coming off the boil, with growth in the second quarter down compared to the previous three months at 0.4%, according to Eurostat.

Slower economic growth is also making it harder for governments and central banks to control the debt crisis in Europe.

Shrinking economies make it more difficult to get the public finances into shape, while lower output dents tax revenues and force up the cost of social benefits.

Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Portugal are all in recession and all five are at the front-line of Europe's debt crisis. Bailed out Ireland will publish its second-quarter figures in the coming weeks.