Euro area unemployment at new high
Record unemployment figures for the 17 countries that use the euro are set to increase the pressure on Europe's leaders to switch from a focus on harsh austerity measures to push for a pro-growth strategy.
Unemployment across the 17-member eurozone rose to 10.9% in March - its highest level since the euro was launched in 1999 - official figures showed.
The rate was up from 10.8% in February and 9.9% a year ago, and reflects the downturn in the eurozone economy as governments pursue tough austerity measures to deal with their debts. Nearly half the countries in the eurozone are now officially in recession.
The figures from European statistics office Eurostat are likely to ratchet up the pressure on the region's policymakers to introduce more pro-growth measures alongside the spending cuts and tax increases they have already introduced in an attempt to fix their debt crisis.
Michael Hewson, an analyst at CMC Markets, said the figures are "likely to prompt further calls from EU leaders affected by rising unemployment to call for an easing of austerity, from EU leaders and Berlin is particular". However, he said this is likely to be resisted by politicians in Germany, "conscious of the fact that the worst of the crisis appears to be staying outside their borders for now".
Spain has the highest proportion of its people unemployed in the eurozone at 24.1%. The rate for the under 25s is 51.1%.
Greece was close behind, though its figures date back to January. The country, which has had to receive two massive international bailouts to avoid a messy default on its debt payments, has a general jobless rate of 21.7 %, with 51.2% of young people out of work.
This weekend, as Greece and France head to the polls, there are hopes - certainly among the ranks of the 17.4 million people unemployed in the eurozone - that there may be a change of strategy in Europe over how to deal with the two-year debt crisis that has already seen three countries bailed out and raised the spectre of the break-up of the single currency.
"With the potential changing of political leaders, coupled with confirmation that nearly half of the eurozone is officially in recession, the strategy of continuing austerity is being widely challenged," said Gary Jenkins, managing director of Swordfish Research.
The unemployment rate across the wider 27-country European Union, which includes non-euro members such as Britain and Poland, was 10.2%, unchanged from February but still higher than the 9.4% recorded a year before.