Europe's big banks returned to growth mode in the first half of this year, expanding their books by €530m, in a sign they are starting to get back on their feet after the financial crisis.

But even though the banks' assets are growing as a result of lending money or doing deals, their profitability remains below target.

Loan losses are still a burden and many businesses across Europe still find it tough to borrow cash.

Europe's 30 largest listed banks, battered by the crisis and regulatory demands that followed, shrank their balance sheets by 10% from 2008 to 2014, shedding about €2 trillion of assets by selling businesses or chunks of loans. 

This process has contributed to a squeeze on lending which has not helped Europe's weak economies revive growth. 

The European Central Bank last week stepped in with a new plan to get more money flowing from banks into the flagging euro zone economy. 

Data compiled by Reuters shows the 30 banks - which include the likes of Deutsche Bank, Bank of Ireland and Santander - added €530m of assets in the six months to June, taking the total to €23.1 billion.

In the first half, the growth rate of 2.2% was flattered by an accounting change as Santander consolidated its US results, helping the Spanish lender come in as the third fastest growing bank with a €54m rise in assets.

The fastest growing was France's Société Générale, with an increase of €108m as it acquired full ownership of derivatives brokerage Newedge and expanded its global banking and investor solutions business. BNP Paribas followed with an increase of €96m.

Politicians and regulators have been pushing banks to lend more, but as Europe struggles to grow and flirts with deflation, or falling prices, the incentives for companies or households to borrow are less. 

The European Commission expects the EU to grow by just 2% this year, with economies such as Spain, Germany and France expected to expand more slowly. 

The banks themselves are under pressure to hold more capital to support loan books, deterring them from making new loans.

Loan losses also remained a problem across the group, wiping €27.7 billion off their earnings and sucking up 10.5% of their total income. But they were less of a problem than in the first half of 2013, when the tally was €40.2 billion, or 15% of total income.

Analysts said some banks could enjoy write-backs, clawing back money they had set aside for loan losses, and that while litigation losses were a threat, other exceptional losses should be smaller from 2014.