Beneath the headline-grabbing numbers showing on Thursday that the euro zone has fallen into recession, there lies a more positive and probably more important story: the growth trajectories of the currency bloc’s four largest economies have moved considerably closer together.

The convergence of Italy and Spain, the two economic weaklings of the quartet, with the strongman Germany, and France, which had recently been caught somewhere in the middle, eases the risks posed by the biggest design flaw of the euro zone. This is the fact that, because of the absence of a true fiscal union, it is only as strong as the weakest of its most powerful constituent parts.

The bad news of the day was that the euro zone has entered its second recession since 2009, after gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 0.1 percent from July to September, on a quarter-over-quarter basis. This marked the second straight quarter of falling output — the most common definition of a recession. As a result, the euro zone economy is now 0.6 percent smaller than it was a year ago. 

However, this mild third-quarter decline was both less steep than forecast and even less pronounced than in the second quarter, when GDP fell by a fairly gentle 0.2 percent.

There was, moreover, a rather benign devil in the details. Output in Italy, until Thursday the weakest economy among the euro zone’s four leading nations, shrank by only 0.2 percent in the third quarter — a considerable easing from 0.7 percent for April to June, and a nadir of 0.8 percent in the first quarter. Spain’s decline in output also eased slightly, to 0.3 percent. In both countries the speed of the fall has slowed to its gentlest pace in a year. France confounded skeptics who cavil at its inclusion in the “core” of inherently healthy euro zone economies, by growing for the first time since the fall of 2011. Its better-than-expected performance was thanks partly to strong exports.

By contrast, some other economies which are more consistently placed by analysts in the core performed worse than before. Growth in Germany eased by 0.1 percentage points to 0.2 percent, with Austria and the Netherlands tipping from growth into decline.

The euro zone sovereign debt crisis, which has continually dominated international financial markets for more than a year, would, naturally, be much nearer its end if the euro zone was experiencing overall output growth rather than decline. However, Thursday’s figures suggest that the nature of the decline is far less poisonous than in the second quarter, when both Italy and Spain were shrinking faster than now.