JNN 04 May 2012 LONDON — Record high unemployment for the 17 countries that use the euro is set to increase the pressure on Europe’s leaders to switch from a focus on austerity to a pro-growth strategy to stop the region from moving deeper into recession.
Unemployment across the 17-member euro zone rose by 169,000 in March, official figures showed Wednesday, taking the rate up to 10.9 percent in March — its highest level since the euro was launched in 1999.
The rate was up from 10.8 percent in February and 9.9 percent a year ago, and reflects the downturn in the euro zone economy as governments pursue tough austerity measures to deal with their debts — nearly half the countries in the euro zone, including Spain and the Netherlands, are now officially in recession.
The seasonally adjusted figures from European statistics office Euro stat 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 implemented in an attempt to fix their debt crisis.
“The question is how long EU leaders will continue to pursue a deeply flawed strategy in the face of mounting evidence that this is leading us to social, economic and political disaster,” said Sony Kapoor, managing director of Re-Define, an economic think-tank.
European Central Bank president Mario Draghi has spoken of the need for a “growth pact” in Europe and Francois Hollande, who is tipped to beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in France’s presidential runoff this Sunday, has said he would renegotiate the euro zone’s austerity-focused fiscal pact to include more pro-growth measures.
Austerity has so far been Europe’s main policy response to the debt problems afflicting many countries. It’s been pushed hard by Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, as a way to convince markets and international investors that the region has a grip on the problem.
However, analysts have pointed out that Germany may change its stance as there are already indications that its economy may struggle this year.
April unemployment figures from Germany’s statistics office showed a monthly rise of 19,000, only the second increase in the past 25 months.
And a survey of the manufacturing sector in the Europe’s’ export powerhouse economy pointed to grim times ahead. The monthly purchasing managers index — a gauge of activity levels — for the euro zone from financial information company Markit fell to 45.9 in April from 47.7 the previous month. Anything below 50 indicates a contraction in activity. Germany’s index slumped to 46.2, its lowest level since the summer of 2009 when the global economy was in its deepest recession since World War II following an acute banking crisis.
“There may be a growing consensus on the need for growth in the euro zone but with unemployment rising and industry slumping, a prolonged recession looks much more likely,” said Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics.