The number of unemployed people in France climbed to new record levels in March, according to official data.
Around 3.2 million people were out of work in the country, an 11.5 percent annual increase, the labour ministry said on Thursday.
With a wave of industrial layoffs taking effect, the March jobless figure beat the previous all-time record of 3.1 million set in January. 1997.
The new figures are a symbolic blow to President Francois Hollande, whose approval ratings have sunk to the lowest of any modern French leader in recent months as jobless claims soared.
Battling to make good on his promise to reverse the rise in unemployment by the end of this year, Hollande has launched subsidised youth-job schemes and pushed through a reform to make hiring and firing slightly easier.
On Thursday Hollande reaffirmed his goal to reverse the rising trend, calling on his government to combine with industry and other players to use all means possible to create jobs.
“Everything the government does, in every ministry, must be to continue to strengthen the battle for jobs,” he told a news conference during a state visit to China. “I want all the French people to unite behind this one national priority.”
Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris, said Hollande had predicted that by the end of 2013, fewer people will be out of work but that prediction seems very optimistic at this point. She added that more factories are being threatened to closure.
“The French motor industry is finding it difficult to compete in the market and labour costs are a significant factor,” our correspondent said.
Auto-makers, once major job-providers, have announced thousands of staff cuts, with PSA Peugeot Citroen scrapping more than 10,000 domestic jobs and rival Renault aiming to cut 7,500 posts in France by 2016.
The March data showed that the average time that job seekers spend on the jobless roster hit a new multi-year high of 485 days, up from a previous record of 482 in February, a level that was also reached in April 2000.
The news of France’s unemployment rate follows news out of Spain where more than six million people were out of work in the first quarter of this year. The jobless rate rose to 27.2 percent from 26.02 percent in the previous quarter, the highest since records began in the 1970s.
The number of unemployed climbed by 237,400 people to 6.2 million, the National Statistics Institute said on Thursday.
Spain, once the motor of job creation in the 17-nation single currency area, is in a double dip recession, having yet to recover from the collapse of a property boom in 2008.
The Spanish economy contracted by 1.37 percent last year, the second worst yearly slump since 1970, and the government forecasts it will shrink again by between 1.0 percent and 1.5 percent this year.