BRUSSELS - Euro zone industrial new orders unexpectedly rose in December against November, data showed, helped in large part by a car-scrappage scheme in France designed to encourage vehicle purchasing.

Orders in the 16 countries that use the euro rose 0.8 percent from November and were 9.5 percent higher than a year earlier, the European Union statistics office said on Wednesday.

The numbers, however, shed little light on what to expect at the start of this year as the French car-scrappage scheme has now expired.

Economists polled by Reuters had on average expected a 1.0 percent month-on-month fall in industrial orders and a rise of 6.0 percent year-on-year.

Industrial new orders are an important bellwether of economic activity because they translate into factory production over the coming months.

The euro zone pulled out of recession in the third quarter of 2009 with economic expansion of 0.4 percent, but quarterly growth in the last three months of the year slowed to a paltry 0.1 percent.

The orders growth was driven mainly by demand for capital goods, including cars, which jumped 7.0 percent month-on-month.

(Reporting by John O'Donnell, editing by Dale Hudson)