BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Unemployment in the euro zone unexpectedly fell to its lowest level in more than three years in July with a sharp decline in the volatile figure in Italy.
The European Union's statistics office Eurostat said on Tuesday that euro zone unemployment was 10.9 percent in July, the first time below 11 percent since February 2012.
It had been 11.1 percent for the previous three months and economists had on average expected no change in July, according to a Reuters poll.
For the 28-member European Union as a whole, the unemployment rate was 9.5 percent, the lowest level since June 2011.
The overall number of people unemployed in the euro area decreased by 213,000 compared with June and by 232,000 in the entire European Union.
Of the 17 euro zone members for which July data was reported, the number of unemployed people fell in nine countries, was unchanged in five and rose in just three - Finland, France and Lithuania.
The decline was sharpest in Italy, with a 143,000 drop after a 45,000 person increase in June. The decline in Spain was 57,000.
The lowest unemployment rates were in Germany, at 4.7 percent, followed by the Czech Republic and Malta, both at 5.1 percent. The highest rate, of 25.0 percent, was in Greece according to the latest available May data, followed by Spain at 22.2 percent.
Youth unemployment also declined significantly to 21.9 percent from 22.3 percent in June.
Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop