Official data showing that France and Germany both enjoyed a 0.3% rise in gross domestic product during the three months to June 30 took economists by surprise.

Economists had in June harboured brief hopes that the UK economy might have clawed its way out of deep recession in the second quarter of this year. However, as the weeks went by, these hopes dissipated and data from the Office for National Statistics last month showed UK economic output declined by a further 0.8% in the three months to June.

Chancellor Alistair Darling, in his Budget in April, had forecast that UK economic output would contract in the first two quarters of this year. This has come to pass.

However, he also talked about how, as “an open and flexible economy, the UK is well positioned to benefit” from eventual recovery in the world economy.

It may, therefore, be something of a disappointment to Darling that France and Germany have hauled themselves out of recession before the UK.

More significantly, the relative second-quarter performances may raise concerns that the UK is being weighed down by the much greater direct exposure of its banking sector to the global financial crisis.

The UK has had to plough tens of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into recapitalising the Lloyds TSB and HBOS businesses, which combined to form Lloyds Banking Group, and bailing out Royal Bank of Scotland. The government is supporting the UK banking sector as a whole with a broader package, in conjunction with the Bank of England.

However, in spite of these huge efforts by the government and Bank of England, lending to UK businesses has continued to fall. There is little, if any, sign that the UK banking sector’s appetite to lend is about to improve and this does not bode well for the future.

In contrast, the German economy has been hammered mainly by the collapse in world trade because of its large industrial sector and its dependence on exports.

Yesterday’s official GDP data for Germany may be a harbinger of an ultimately stronger recovery than that in the UK, as world trade improves, and not merely show a quicker exit from recession.

But it is worth remembering Germany fell harder than the UK while it was in recession. Its GDP plummeted by 3.5% in the first quarter of this year, even more precipitous than the 2.4% decline in UK economic output over this period. In the fourth quarter of last year, Germany declined by 2.4% and the UK contracted by 1.8%.

German GDP, in spite of its 0.3% recovery in the latest three months, was still 5.9% lower in the second quarter of this year than in the same period of 2008. In the UK, GDP in the second quarter of this year was down 5.6% on the same period of 2008.

France, however, has suffered a much shallower recession than both the UK and Germany.

French GDP was, in the second quarter, down only 2.6% on the same period of 2008.

It is disappointing that the UK is trailing France and Germany out of recession. However, yesterday’s mainland European GDP data is certainly not all bad news from a UK economic perspective.

Darling will be well aware that recovery in France and Germany is good news for UK exporters.

France and Germany remain among the biggest overseas markets for exporters in Scotland and throughout the UK.

Recent surveys from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, which are watched closely by the Bank of England, have meanwhile pointed to an improvement in the UK economy. These surveys showed the UK services sector growing at its fastest pace since February 2008 in July and overall manufacturing activity increasing last month for the first time since March 2008.

It remains to be seen whether this strength persists as the third quarter progresses, and whether Darling’s forecast of UK recovery starting in the second half of this year turns out to be correct.

The improvement in July suggests Darling’s prediction might be accurate, although there has at times been a divergence between official data and business surveys.

In spite of the stronger showing by the German and French economies, and a 0.3% rise in Portuguese GDP and 2.2% leap in Slovakian output during the second quarter, the 16-nation eurozone did not as a whole manage to emerge from recession in the second quarter.

That said, the 0.1% decline in output in this single currency bloc was a much better out turn than the 0.8% contraction in the UK.

And eurozone output in the second quarter was down 4.6% on the same period of 2008 -- not as bad as the 5.6% year-on-year drop in the UK.

It will only be as this year progresses that we get a clearer idea of whether or not the big mainland European economies have a much brighter outlook than the UK.

Meantime, yesterday’s French and German GDP data raises some worrying questions.

Will the UK have to pay the price for a long time for the huge extent to which its banking sector was exposed to the global credit crisis? Will unemployment continue rising on this side of the Channel for longer? Is the consumer sector in more fragile shape in the UK, than in France and Germany, given the tumble

in house prices which has occurred and the unemployment picture?

Time will tell.