The eurozone's economic prospects are brighter now than they were three months ago thanks to cheaper oil, a weaker euro and the European Central Bank's quantitative easing, the European Commission said on Thursday (February 5).
"Europe's economic outlook is, I would say, a little brighter today than when we presented our last forecasts," said Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, referring to forecasts released in early November 2014.
"The fall in oil prices and the cheaper euro are providing, of course, a welcome shot in the arm for the EU economy. Meanwhile, the Investment Plan for Europe and the ECB's important recent decisions will help also to create a more supportive backdrop for reforms and smart fiscal policies," he said.
The EU executive arm raised its forecasts for gross domestic product (GDP) expansion in the 19 countries sharing the euro to 1.3 percent this year from the 1.1 percent seen in November and to 1.9 percent in 2016 from an earlier 1.7 percent.
Growth last year was 0.8 percent, the Commission said.
"Growth is set to gradually pick up speed, as the impact of adverse factors on growth gradually fade. Growth is expected to accelerate in the EU to 1.7 percent this year and 2.1 percent in 2016. In the euro area, growth is expected to increase to 1.3 percent in 2015 and 1.9 percent in 2016. This is of course a welcome news," Moscovici said.
Growth will also benefit from a recovery in investment. The Commission sees it increasing 2.0 percent this year over 2014 and by 4.4 percent in 2016, boosted by the ECB's money-printing measures and the European Union's 315 billion euro ($358 billion) investment plan.
Investment grew by just 0.9 percent in 2014 but would recover, Moscovici said.
"Investment should however gradually benefit from three factors: the first one is strengthening demand factor, prospects, the second is diminishing needs for balance sheet adjustments and the third is improving and improved credit conditions and profit margins. The Commission's Investment Plan for Europe is also expected to have an increasingly positive impact and to help to close the investment gap that has opened up since the beginning of the crisis," he said.
Oil prices more than halved since the middle of last year, lowering costs for eurozone companies and households and the euro weakened 18 percent against the dollar as ECB loosened monetary policy to prevent deflation.
The central bank wants to keep inflation below, but close to 2 percent and announced last month it would buy government bonds on the secondary market to inject more than one trillion euros into the economy and make prices go up.
The Commission forecast that consumer prices in the eurozone would fall 0.1 percent this year after a mere 0.4 percent increase in 2014, but will then rise by 1.3 percent in 2016.
Eurozone unemployment is set to fall to 11.2 percent of the workforce this year from 11.6 percent in 2014 and continue dropping to 10.6 percent in 2016 as the economy gathers pace.
"The unemployment rate in the EU and euro area is expected to decline to 9.3 percent and to 10.6 percent respectively in 2016," Moscovici said.
"This steady reduction in unemployment is of course welcome and it is of course not enough. Those figures are still not acceptable by the people of Europe," he added.