Euro zone inflation eased at a quicker pace than expected in May, EU figures show, giving the struggling 17-nation bloc a rare piece of good news.

Annual inflation slowed to 2.4% in May compared with 2.6% in April and 2.7% in March, according to Eurostat data agency.

While the inflation rate topped the European Central Bank's ceiling of just under 2% for the 18th month in a row, the May figure was better than the average analyst forecast of 2.5%.

The first estimate was published less than a week before the ECB's next policy meeting and could influence the Frankfurt-based bank's decision on whether to lower its main interest rate, currently at a record low of 1%.

Analysts said that the drop in consumer price inflation in May eased the squeeze on consumers' purchasing power, thereby providing much needed support to growth.

They said that the decrease also facilitates an interest rate cut by the ECB sooner rather than later, and there is an ever more compelling case for this given the current deteriorating economic growth environment in the euro zone and the heightened uncertainty stemming from the situations in both Greece and Spain.

But they also voiced doubt that the ECB would lower its rate at the June 6 meeting because the bank will likely wait for the outcome of elections in Greece on June 17, which could affect the country's future in the euro zone.

The first estimate was published less than a week before the ECB's next policy meeting and could influence the Frankfurt-based bank's decision on whether to lower its main interest rate, currently at a record low of 1%.

Analysts said that the drop in consumer price inflation in May eased the squeeze on consumers' purchasing power, thereby providing much needed support to growth.

They said that the decrease also facilitates an interest rate cut by the ECB sooner rather than later, and there is an ever more compelling case for this given the current deteriorating economic growth environment in the euro zone and the heightened uncertainty stemming from the situations in both Greece and Spain.

But they also voiced doubt that the ECB would lower its rate at the June 6 meeting because the bank will likely wait for the outcome of elections in Greece on June 17, which could affect the country's future in the euro zone.