The biggest discrepancy is in Greece, where women earn only 68 per cent as much as men. The Lander of the former East Germany have the smallest pay gap, with women being paid 89.9 per cent of men's salaries. Denmark and Sweden follow closely with 88.1 per cent and 87 per cent.
A spokesman for Eurostat, the EU's Luxembourg-based statistical office, said yester-day: "The average EU woman has a long way to go before achieving equal pay with the average man."
Although the figures exclude economic sectors such as education, health and farming, Eurostat said that they do reflect "structural differences" in the conditions for working men and women, such as the fact that fewer women occupy management positions, which are among the best-paid jobs.
On average, manual workers earn more than office clerks, and 47 per cent of men are manual workers or plant operators, compared with only 18 per cent of women. One-third of women are office workers compared with one- tenth of men.
Women tend to leave work to raise children: working women are therefore younger than working men, and fewer reach senior positions. Working women tend to be less educated than their male colleagues, with 51 per cent having only primary or general secondary-level education compared with 43 per cent of men. But even when groups of men and women with the same education and skills were compared, women are "systematically" paid less, says Eurostat.
Baroness Jay of Paddington, minister for women, said: "We should all be shocked by the European statistics published today. The women of Britain are lagging behind in terms of pay, not just behind men but behind other European women as well."
In Britain, the Government has set up the Women's Unit to look at the pay gap between men and women. Research by the Government's Statistical Service shows that women already earn less at the age of 20 and that the gap widens thereafter: by the time a woman is in her mid-fifties she can expect to be receiving as little as half of a man's weekly earnings.
The Women's Unit has set up a research project, which is due to report by the end of the year, to look at the distribution of women's incomes over their working life and to explain the discrepancies to provide a basis for future policy.
"This Government is helping to turn this trend around with this research project but we will not give up there. We will continue to strive to deliver a fairer deal for the women of this country," Lady Jay said.
The EU Wage Gap
Women's wages calculated as a percentage of men's (gross hourly full-time earnings, excluding any bonuses).
East German Lander 89.9
West German Lander 76.9