The economic conditions in 2012 were characterised by a global downturn. In the fourth year since the financial crisis began, the long-term consequences continued to affect a number of industrialised nations, with growth rates failing to reach their potential. As in 2011, there was highly divergent macroeconomic development within the European Monetary Union. In Germany, real gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 0.9 per cent in 2012. Despite the difficult economic environment, Austria recorded growth of 0.5 per cent, one of the highest rates within the European Monetary Union. Some of the southern euro zone members were hit by a serious recession. GDP declined by 7.2 per cent in Greece and 3.4 per cent in Portugal, while the downturn in Italy and Spain was slightly less pronounced at 2.4 per cent and 1.6 per cent respectively.
The macroeconomic situation in the USA was more positive than in the euro zone, with GDP improving by 2.2 per cent in 2012. While domestic demand in a number of euro zone nations was impacted by public-sector austerity measures, some of which were dramatic in nature, the much-needed consolidation of the US budget was not addressed until the turn of 2012/13.
The high level of unemployment in many countries is increasingly becoming one of the most serious problems affecting the euro zone. As of September 2012, Spain had the highest unemployment rate at 25.6 per cent, followed by Greece (24.6 per cent), Portugal (15.8 per cent), Ireland (14.8 per cent) and Italy (10.6 per cent). By contrast, unemployment rates in Austria and Germany are relatively stable and considerably lower than the average for the euro zone as a whole (Austria: 4.3 per cent; Germany: 6.8 per cent; euro zone: 11.4 per cent).