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European unemployment: grim and grimmer

Eurostat has just released January unemployment numbers for the 17 Eurozone countries and its not a pretty sight. The overall joblessness rate for the eurozone was 10.7 percent in January, up slightly from December. Spain continues to have the highest unemployment rate at 23.3 percent, followed by Greece at 19.8 percent and and Ireland and Portugal, both at 14.8 percent. Austria has the lowest rate at 4 percent. Here's the full breakdown:

The situation is even worse for young people: 

In January 2012, 5.507 million young persons (under 25) were unemployed in the EU27, of whom 3.314 million were in the euro area. Compared with January 2011, youth unemployment increased by 269 000 in the EU27 and by 141 000 in the euro area. In January 2012, the youth unemployment rate was 22.4% in the EU27 and 21.6% in the euro area. In January 2011 it was 21.1% and 20.6% respectively. The lowest rates were observed in Germany (7.8%),  Austria  (8.9%) and the  Netherlands  (9.0%), and  the highest in  Spain (49.9%), Greece (48.1% in November 2011) and Slovakia (36.0%). 

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What will Cameron and Merkel do if Sarkozy loses?

Nicolas Sarkozy's counterparts in Europe's "big three" have been involving themselves in his reelection bid to an unusual extent. Angela Merkel endorsed Sarkozy in late January and may even appear at his campaign events. David Cameron unambiguously gave his support to Sarkozy in an interview earlier this month, calling him ‘brave politician’ with ‘great leadership qualities’.

Cross-border endorsements aren't unheard of in Europe, where parties are grouped into international ideological coalitions. But the degree to which Cameron and Merkel have made the preference for Sarkozy clear raises questions about whether they will be able to cooperate with Socialist Francois Hollande should he win. While Sarkozy is doing better in the polls, he's still essentially tied with him and trails badly in a likely second-round head-to-head matchup. 

So in the quite possible event that Hollande pulls it out, he's likely to remember comments like this

Merkel's aides aren't even trying to hide their dislike of Hollande. "The conflict between Sarkozy and Hollande is a clash of two fundamental concepts," says CDU General Secretary Gröhe. "Strengthening competitiveness or left-wing redistribution."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle seemed uneasy about the Merkel team's strongly-stated preference, saying that "The German government isn't a party in the French election campaign."

Hollande is currently in London, campaigning with the city's sizable French population. Cameron declined to meet with him, and Hollande seems to have decided to use the president's popularity among the Tories against him:

Today, Mr Hollande's campaign manager made it clear he saw Mr Cameron's support as a poisoned chalice for Mr Sarkozy. "Being the friend of the Conservatives, the friend of Thatherites and their heirs … is frankly pretty strange for the so-called 'candidate of the people," said Pierre Moscovici.

I get why conservatives aren't thrilled about the prospect of a French president who wants to slap a 75 percent tax on millionaires, but given the realities of European politics, they're going to have to coordinate with him frequently. It might not be a terrible idea to extend an olive branch before he's sitting across the table from them in Brussels.

As one Conservative British MP put it,  "Our political elite will have to rub shoulders with whoever wins, so we have to be very careful about interfering.... I don’t think we should be running our foreign policy like a scene from Love Actually with subtitles."

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images