BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European economy contracted a record 2.5 percent in the first quarter as Europe lurched deeper into recession than the United States, official data showed on Friday amid growing public outrage at job losses. The 16-nation eurozone suffered its deepest slump on record going back to 1995 as the economy shrank 4.6 percent over one year and the 27-nation European Union economy shrank 4.4 percent, the Eurostat agency said. Although the downturn first took hold in the US, it is hitting harder in Europe as the US economy shrank 1.6pc in the first quarter and 2.6pc over one year, according to comparative figures given by Eurostat. Europe plunged last year into its deepest post-war recession as international trade collapsed and consumers grew wary of spending on all but essentials in the face of the worst financial crisis in generations. Although signs the slump may be stabilising have emerged since the first quarter, the downturn is taking a painful toll on the labour market with fresh waves of job losses announced on an almost daily basis. British telecoms operator BT said on Thursday it would cut up to 15,000 more jobs, or 10 percent of its staff, after suffering an annual net loss of 83 million pounds in its 2008-2009 financial year. European trade unions hope to mobilise as many as 200,000 people in a series of marches over the three days from Thursday to Saturday in Madrid, Brussels, Prague and Berlin to protest job cuts. At least 40,000 people marched on Friday in Brussels demanding job protection. The European Commission warned earlier this month that mass unemployment could return to haunt Europe, with the jobless rate expected to jump to a post-war high of 11.5 percent in the eurozone. Contracting activity is likely to continue depressing recruitment, BNP Paribas economist Clemente De Lucia said. Mounting fears of unemployment are likely to drag down consumer confidence, making consumers reluctant to spend despite falling inflation. The depth of the eurozone slump in the first quarter took economists by surprise, exceeding their forecasts for a contraction of 2.2 percent over one quarter and 4.1 percent over one year. It also marked a dramatic turn for the worse at the start of the year after the eurozone economy contracted by 1.6 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively, in the last three months of 2008. Export-dependent Germany led the way deeper into recession as Europes biggest economy shrank a stunning 3.8 percent on the quarter and 6.9 percent over the year in a sharp deterioration. However, Italy was not far behind with its economy contracting 2.4 percent and 5.9 percent while the French economy officially entered recession as it shrank 1.2 percent over the quarter and 3.2 percent over one year.