The euro zone unemployment rate hit a 15-year record high of 10.8% in February, up from 10.7% the previous month.

The Eurostat data agency estimated that more than 17.1 million men and women were out of work in February after the ranks of the unemployed rose by 1.48 million compared with February 2011.

The seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate also rose to a new record in the wider, 27-nation European Union, hitting 10.2% in February compared to 10.1% the previous month.

An estimated 24.55 million people were unemployed in the EU, an increase of 1.87 million from February 2011.

The unemployment rate rose in 18 EU states and fell in eight others compared to a year ago. It remained stable in Romania. Spain remained the nation with the highest rate at 23.6%, followed by Greece at 21%. The Greek figures date from December.

The states with the lowest rates were Austria (4.2%), the Netherlands (4.9%), Luxembourg (5.2%) and Germany (5.7%).