By and and and and and  on December 9, 2013

PARIS — ’Tis the season to be jolly for most European consumers.

Shoppers in 18 countries, mostly in Eastern and Western Europe, are ready to increase their budgets for the end-of-period for the first time since 2008, according to an annual Christmas study by Deloitte. They plan to spend on average 450 euros, or $613, a rise of 0.7 percent from the same period last year.

There is a stark divide between Northern and Southern Europe, though, with the latter still reeling from the impact of prolonged austerity measures. And while things are expected to improve, no one is popping the vintage French Champagne just yet: As in the U.S., the holiday shopping patterns in Europe are decidedly mixed.

While Germans plan to up their budgets by 6.7 percent and the Swiss by 3 percent, French consumers will be paring back their spending by 0.9 percent, Italians by 2.4 percent and the Greeks by 12.8 percent, the report found.

Books remain the most popular item, accounting for 31 percent of planned gifts, followed by chocolate (28 percent), cosmetics and perfume (20 percent), CDs (17 percent), cash (16 percent) and clothing and shoes (16 percent), Deloitte said.

The European Central Bank, or ECB, forecasts growth in the 17-member euro zone will increase by a modest 1.1 percent in 2014 after a projected decline of 0.4 percent this year. But ECB president Mario Draghi said there were reasons to be optimistic.

“The fundamentals of the euro area are strong in a sense because the major policy mistakes of the previous years are on the way to being corrected. The euro area can afford to make the structural reforms it needs,” Draghi said after the central bank revealed it was leaving interest rates unchanged at its meeting on Dec. 5.

NEXT:  A snapshot of the holiday retail outlook in leading European economies >>

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