London: Unemployment across the 17 countries that use the euro ended 2011 at record high, official figures showed, a day after EU leaders acknowledged they would have to boost economic growth with the same urgency that they had shown in combating their nations' debts.

Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, on Tuesday said the 10.4 percent unemployment rate in December was unchanged at its highest level since the euro was launched in 1999, as November's was revised upward from a previous estimate of 10.3 percent.

Unemployment has been steadily rising over the past year in December 2010, it stood at 10 percent largely because of Europe's debt crisis, and compares badly with the US, where unemployment stands at 8.5 percent.

There are huge disparities across the eurozone, however, with those countries at the front line of Europe's current financial turmoil, such as Greece and Spain, suffering record rates of unemployment that are stoking concerns about the social fabric of their societies. Spain's unemployment stands at a staggering 22.9 percent and Greece's is not far behind at 19.2 percent.

What even those figures mask is that unemployment among the young is much, much higher. Latest figures from Spain show unemployment among people aged under 25 was 48.7 percent, prompting concerns that an entire generation of people could fail to accumulate the necessary skills and experience for a prosperous life.

At the other end of the scale, some countries like Austria are operating not far off what is considered to be the natural rate of unemployment in an economy of 4.1 percent, while Germany's rate at a post-unification low of 5.5 percent. Since Europe's debt crisis exploded around two years ago, the focus has been on austerity, with governments getting their houses in order with big, often-savage spending cuts, and tax increases.

However, there are growing signs that Europe is changing tack, and that measures to boost growth and jobs are now central to the crisis resolution effort.

On Monday, at a summit in Brussels designed to shore up the euro's budgetary defenses against debt, EU leaders promised to stimulate growth and create jobs across the region.

The leaders pledged to offer more training for young people to ease their transition into the work force, to deploy unused development funds to create jobs, to reduce barriers to doing business across the EU's 27 countries and ensure that small businesses have access to credit.

(Agencies)