France's Socialists snap at Macron's heels ahead of European election

By Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) - The leading candidate for France's Socialists in European elections, who is riding a surprise surge in opinion polls, on Friday pitched himself and his left-wing allies as the resistance to the rise of the far-right in Europe.

Voters in the 27 countries of the European Union will elect 720 lawmakers to the European Parliament for the next five years on June 6-9 and are expected to deliver a shift to the right.

France is no exception, with surveys showing voters handing Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally party a record score in a European campaign with as much as 34% of voter intentions.

But the rise in polls of the French Socialists under Raphael Glucksmann, a moderate on the left, has been the surprise of the campaign, with his party surging to within a single point of Emmanuel Macron's second-placed Renaissance party, as the president's rightwards policy shift alienates some voters.

"We will be the leaders of the resistance," Glucksmann told Reuters in an interview. "The liberals and the conservatives are tempted to strike an alliance with the far-right, we need a group that blocks that," Glucksmann, 44, said.

"We will be this dam," he added.

Discontent over immigration, crime and the cost of living will boost the far right, while pro-EU groups around the centre - the centre-right EPP, centre-left S&D, Greens and liberal Renew Europe - will likely lose voter share, polls show.

Glucksmann said the potential for deal-making between conservatives and far-right or nationalist parties threatened Europe.

Glucksmann, whose Socialists are polling at around 14%, said his rise in the polls from 10% in December was in part the result of his choice to distance himself from the hard left, which failed to condemn the Palestinian militant group Hamas as a terrorist organisation at the start of the Gaza war.

The conflict in Gaza has become a flashpoint during the campaign and fractured the left in France.

"I have never hesitated to condemn Hamas, a terrorist organisation," Glucksmann said. "However, I have also never flip-flopped when it came to condemning the burning to ashes of the Gaza Strip and the endless spread of colonies (Jewish settlements) in the West Bank."

The projected slim majority for the conservative, liberal and socialist groupings means Ursula von der Leyen, who heads the EU's executive arm, may not be assured of a second term should some of their lawmakers not endorse her. She needs the support of the EU's 27 leaders and a majority in parliament.

Asked whether he would support Von der Leyen, Glucksmann said he backed Nicolas Schmit, the Social Democrats' lead candidate, and Luxembourg's current European Commissioner.

The potential dominance of right-wing and nationalist parties in the EU parliament threatened European cohesion and efforts to combat climate change, Glucksmann said.

"Do we press 'pause' or move on to another phase of the green transition? Will we have a Parliament dominated by a conservative-nationalist right coalition that will jeopardize European integration?"

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Michel Rose; Editing by Ros Russell)