BRUSSELS -- In a fresh sign that the bloc is pulling out of a crippling downturn, business activity in the 18-nation eurozone powered to its strongest growth in 2.5 years, a key survey showed on Wednesday.
Markit Economics said its Eurozone Composite Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for February rose to 53.3, the highest level since June 2011.
"The final PMI indicates that the eurozone economy grew at the fastest rate since June 2011," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.
"The survey suggests the region is on course to grow by 0.4% -0.5% in the first quarter, which would be its best performance for three years."
The eurozone escaped a record 18-month recession in the third quarter last year with growth of 0.3%.
The upturn in the service sector gave the main boost to overall activity, while manufacturing also contributed.
Ireland posted the steepest expansion of business activity, while Germany was second placed.
Italy also returned to growth and recovery continued in Spain, the survey showed.
"Perhaps the best news came from Spain, which is enjoying its best quarter of growth for seven years, and Italy where the rate of growth hit a near three-year high," said Williamson.
France, however, remained the eurozone's laggard, being the only nation to report a contraction in business activity for the month.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014