New fears have been raised over the health of Europe's economy after France reported negative growth.
The French economy shrank by 0.3% during the April to June period, official figures revealed.
France's economy, the second largest in the eurozone, steadily weakened during 2002.
However, marginally more upbeat figures in the first three months of 2003 had raised hopes of an improvement.
But the latest contraction will dash hopes of a turnaround and is likely to weigh heavily on investor sentiment.
Earlier this month, both Germany and Italy announced they had fallen into recession after recording two consecutive quarters of contraction.
FRENCH ECONOMIC GROWTH
Q1 2002: +0.7%
Q2 2002: +0.5%
Q3 2002: +0.3%
Q4 2002: -0.1%
Q1 2003 +0.2%
Q2 2003 -0.3%
"We are very disappointed with this figure....
this is very negative for France," said Irina Topa, an economist at Societe Generale.
France's Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said last month he expected the economy to grow 0.1% during the second quarter.
And the unexpected contraction spells trouble for the government, which desperately needs growth to generate more tax revenues in order to try to rein in the public sector deficit.
European countries in recession
"We expected better figures than this but it seems that, despite the drop in inflation, the bad state of the job market has weighed on consumers," said Jean-Louis Mourier, an economist at Aurel Leven.
Amongst France's economic difficulties, exports dropped by 0.6% and consumer spending eased by 0.2%.
Despite the first half year's poor performance, Mr Raffarin still predicts an expansion of 0.8-1.5% for the year as a whole.
"The second quarter was exceptional owing to the consequences of
the war in Iraq, the poor international economic climate and
recession affecting several of our partners. It does not represent a
trend," a ministry statement said.