* Study finds that economic crisis made 6 million unemployed
* Ministers told that young suffered most from spending cuts
* Think-tank sees growing gaps between rich and poor
* Thousands protest against EU/IMF-imposed reforms in Athens
(Updates with protest in central Athens)
By John O'Donnell
ATHENS, April 1 The economic crisis in Europe
has put 6 million people out of work and driven others into
poverty, according to a think-tank study looking into the social
impact of the slump that was examined by EU finance ministers
for the first time on Tuesday.
As host, Greece, the first euro zone state to be bailed out
during the crisis, put the study on the agenda of a regular
meeting of EU finance ministers that has more usually focused on
appeasing financial markets with tough spending reforms.
The gathering was taking place a short distance from
Syntagma Square, the focus of often violent clashes over
austerity measures imposed by the terms of Greece's bailout,
although protests had been banned for this meeting.
Defying the ban, about 5,000 people gathered in central
Athens earlier on Tuesday to protest against a new wave of
reforms Greece passed this week to qualify for more bailout
loans from the European Union and the IMF.
A few demonstrators tried to penetrate the cordoned off area
around the meeting venue but police repelled them with tear gas.
After six years of recession that many blame on
international lenders such as euro zone heavyweight Germany for
exacerbating tax hikes and spending cuts, about a quarter of
Greeks are jobless, including over half of those aged under 25.
The study presented to ministers by the influential economic
think-tank Bruegel outlined how unemployment had risen to 11
percent of the European Union workforce last year, as
governments slashed spending.
The axe fell hardest on the young, the study found, with
children in families of the unemployed also bearing the brunt.
"The European Union faces major social problems," the
study's authors said in the presentation. "More than 6 million
jobs were lost from 2008-13 and poverty has increased.
"The distribution of adjustment costs between the young and
old has been uneven; a growing generational divide is evident,
disadvantaging the young," the study said.
The report also identified the wide disparities of wealth
across the EU, a shaky alliance of 28 countries that often clash
due to their different cultures and interests.
Bruegel identified the largest gaps between rich and poor in
Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Britain. Along with Greece,
Spain and Portugal have also been forced to seek emergency
financial support from their neighbours.
The report further flagged the widening gap between rich and
poor in southern European countries, arguing that some cuts to
social spending could trap countries in economic gloom by
creating, for example, a generation of long-term unemployed.
Guntram Wolff, one of the study's authors, said that while
the reaction of ministers was favourable, differences remained
when it comes to addressing such problems.
"While all ministers agree that the issue is relevant there
are very different philosophies throughout Europe," he said.
(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Editing by Mark