Record unemployment and fraying social welfare systems in southern Europe risk creating a new divide in the continent, the EU warned Tuesday, when figures showed joblessness across the 17 EU countries that use the euro hit a new high.
Official data showed eurozone unemployment rose to 11.8 percent in November, the highest since the euro currency was founded in 1999. The rate was up from 11.7 percent in October and 10.6 percent a year earlier.
In the wider 27-nation EU, the world's largest economic block with 500 million people, unemployment broke the 26 million mark for the first time.
Last year "has been another very bad year for Europe in terms of unemployment and the deteriorating social situation," said Laszlo Andor, the EU's Employment Commissioner.
"Moreover, it is unlikely that Europe will see much socio-economic improvement in 2013," he said.
A closer look at the figures shows the rise in unemployment was greatest among those countries -- mostly in southern Europe -- where market concerns over excessive public debt have pushed governments to make the toughest savings.
States have raised taxes and slashed spending -- including by cutting wages and pensions, measures that hit the labor force in the pocket and reduce demand in the economy.
The biggest increase in unemployment in the past year took place in Greece, where joblessness soared to 26 percent in September, up 7.1 percentage points over September 2011's 18.9 percent. But the highest overall rate in the EU was in Spain, where 26.6 percent of the workforce was jobless in November, up 3.6 percentage points over last year.
By contrast, Austria posted the lowest unemployment rate in the EU, at 4.5 percent. The rate in Luxembourg was 5.1 percent, and the rate in Germany was 5.4 percent.
And increasingly, southern nations are chipping away at their social safety system to make do.
"Most national welfare systems have lost much of their ability to protect household incomes against the effects of the crisis," Andor said.