* FTSEurofirst 300 index up 0.5 percent
* Banks gain; BNP Paribas, Commerzbank up on results
* Alcatel-Lucent drops after results
* For up-to-the minute market news, click on [STXNEWS/EU] By Joanne Frearson
LONDON, May 6 (Reuters) - European shares rose on Thursday, recovering earlier sharp falls as strong results from BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA) boosted the banking sector, offsetting concerns that the Greek debt crisis could spread.
Banking stocks recovered from earlier falls to feature among the best performers. BNP Paribas gained 2.6 percent after it posted first-quarter net profit that beat analysts' forecasts. [ID:nLDE6442OD]
Germany's second-biggest lender Commerzbank (CBKG.DE) rose 3.4 percent after reporting better-than-expected results for the first quarter thanks to solid trading results. [ID:nLDE6441ZJ]
By 0909 GMT, the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3 index of top shares was up 0.5 percent at 1,028.66 points.
"We commenced on a backward foot, but we seem to be recovering. The sell-off has really come over fears of euro zone sovereign debt, but the underlying fundamentals have not changed," said Angus Campbell, head of sales at Capital Spreads in London.
"Such a substantial move to the downside is going to naturally attract buyers which will lend support to the market. Economic and corporate data on the whole has been strong and the appetite for equities is still there."
Insurers were also on the upside. Swiss Re RUKN.VX, the world's second-biggest reinsurer, gained 5.4 percent after beating profit expectations in the first quarter. [ID:nLDE6441SB]
But AXA (AXAF.PA), Europe's second-biggest insurer, dipped 2.1 percent after it posted a 1.1 percent rise in first-quarter revenue that missed analysts' forecasts. [ID:nLDE6441YV]
Miners rebounded from recent falls after the Australian government imposed a 40 percent mining tax on the sector, with higher copper prices also helping.
Anglo American (AAL.L), Antofagasta (ANTO.L), BHP Billiton (BLT.L), Vedanta Resources (VED.L) and Xstrata XTA.L rose 2.4 to 3.8 percent.
In individual stocks, Bureau Veritas (BVI.PA) gained 5.3 percent after the French certification company reported first-quarter sales that pleased investors.
On the downside, telecom gear maker Alcatel-Lucent (ALUA.PA) fell 4.9 percent after it posted a wider first-quarter net loss and lower revenues than expected. [ID:nLDE6441SA]
Later in the session, investors will eye the European Central Bank monthly rate meeting and, while it is expected to keep rates unchanged at 1 percent, it might seek to assure markets that it can prevent the Greek debt crisis spreading. [ID:nLDE6440NA]
Britons also vote on Thursday in what is forecast to be the closest election since 1992, with the opposition Conservatives struggling to convert their opinion poll advantage into an outright majority. [ID:nLDE64429K]
(Editing by Erica Billingham)