Unemployment in the eurozone continued to fall in May, but at a slower pace, raising fears that a fragile economic recovery in the single currency bloc could be stalling.
The eurozone jobless rate stood at 11.6 percent in May, the Eurostat statistics agency said. There were 28,000 fewer job seekers than a month earlier.
"A mild recovery continues but it is still leaving many people behind," said European Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor.
A total 18.552 million people remained unemployed in the 18-member eurozone in May, down 636,000 from the level a year earlier. The agency said the jobless rate was unchanged from the level a month earlier, though it was a slight drop from an earlier estimate of 11.7 percent for April.
Unemployment in the eurozone still varies alarmingly from region to region. "Unemployment rates in the periphery are still stratospherically high," said Jessica Hinds of Capital Economics with Greece at 26.8 percent and Spain at 25.1 percent. She added that falls in Germany and Spain were offset by rises in France and Italy, with any future recovery in the labour market likely to remain "painfully slow".
Over 12 months, the sharpest declines were seen in Portugal, where the unemployment rate fell from 16.9 percent to 14.3 percent and Ireland, down from 13.9 percent to 12.0 percent
More falls were to be expected in countries that pushed through reform, said economist Christian Schulz of Berenberg Bank.
"We expect eurozone unemployment to continue its gradual decline over the coming months and year, with reformed former crisis countries leading the way and France falling behind unless it starts more serious reforms," Schulz said.
Unemployment in Germany as measured by Eurostat remained low, staying at 5.1 percent, but Germany's own data showed a more mixed picture. Berlin's measurement remained at 6.7 percent for June, when analysts had expected a fall.
Youth unemployment still in focus
The unemployment rate among youths in the eurozone, a huge concern in Europe's crisis-hit countries, dipped by 0.2 points over the month to 23.3 percent in May.
Over 12 months, the number of youths without work has fallen by 205,000 to 3.356 million people.
Across the 28-member European Union, 25.18 million were jobless in May, with the unemployment rate dipping by 0.1 points over the month to 10.3 percent.
Manufacturing data released separately on Tuesday also hinted that the recovery in the eurozone may be losing steam. A key June survey of the manufacturing sector was revised downward with a decline in activity in France deepening.
The jobs and manufacturing data showed that "slack in the economy remains plenty, weighing on the inflation outlook and giving the ECB ample room to maintain its accommodative stance into 2016," said Schulz.
The European Central Bank, which decides policy on Thursday, has cut its interest rates into negative territory in the hope of boosting lending and pushing inflation back to the bank's target of nearly 2.0 percent.