The eurozone's economy grew in the fourth quarter compared to a year earlier, but shrank compared to the third quarter, Eurostat reported Wednesday.
Eurostat, the statistical agency of the European Union, said the economies of the 17 nations that share the euro as currency fell 0.3 percent compared to the third quarter, after rising 0.2 percent in the previous quarter-to-quarter comparison.
The gross domestic product for the eurozone dropped for the first time since the April through June stretch in 2009, when the eurozone economy shrank by 0.2 percent.
GDP figures for Greece, Portugal, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands fit into an unofficial definition of recession, which is two consecutive quarters of economic contraction. Officials designated to declare a recession weigh other factors into a decision and usually delay making an official pronouncement.
Eurostat said the economies of the European Union, a 27-nation political affiliation, also fell 0.3 percent from the third to fourth quarters, but rose 0.9 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2010.
The data is not complete, forcing Eurostat to leave blank the fourth quarter performances of Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden.
Among the countries reporting, Latvia posted the highest 12-month growth with GDP up 5.3 percent. That was followed by Lithuania, up 4.5 percent, and Estonia with growth of 4 percent.
Greece posted the sharpest decline, their economy shrinking 7 percent fourth quarter to fourth quarter. Portugal's economy contracted 2.7 percent year-to-year. Italy, Cyprus, and the Netherlands also posted annual declines.