BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The center left is likely to win the most seats in European Parliament elections in May, a survey showed on Wednesday, boosting the group's chances of also winning the presidency of the European Commission.
The Socialists and Democrats, the second-largest group in the 751-seat parliament, will take 221 seats, a 14 percent improvement on their current standing, according to PollWatch, an analysis of opinion polls led by professors at the London School of Economics and Trinity College Dublin.
The S&D have selected Germany's Martin Schulz, the current president of the European Parliament, as their candidate to succeed Jose Manuel Barroso as head of the Commission, a job with powers affecting 500 million Europeans.
While the survey predicts the center-right European People's Party, the largest political group, will lose seats along with the Liberals, the traditional parties are still expected to hold about 70 percent of the legislature.
That is a fall from today's levels of about 85 percent but is likely to be a relief to supporters of European integration.
Following the worst financial crisis in a generation, many observers expect radical nationalist parties to win unprecedented support when voters from across the 28-member European Union go to the polls between May 22 and May 25.
A worst-case scenario for policymakers is a fragmented new parliament peppered with populist parties that reject European integration and seek to block proposals such as the free-trade deal that Brussels is negotiating with the United States.
The euro zone crisis and record youth unemployment have combined to propel parties such as France's National Front into the public debate on an anti-EU and anti-immigrant platform.
The PollWatch survey forecasts that if the far-right formed a grouping that included the National Front and Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, it could win 38 seats, potentially doubling the far-right's presence in the parliament.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which wants Britain to leave the European Union, could end up with 18 European lawmakers, up from the 13 it gained in the last vote in 2009.
For decades, elections to the European Parliament were given little importance.
That has changed both because of Europe's economic crisis and the introduction of a new EU treaty in 2009, which gave the parliament more say in policy making. It also has a role in determining who should become the next Commission president, a powerful decision-making job.
PollWatch, part of an initiative to track the trends and votes in the European Parliament, gathers opinion poll data and uses a model to estimate support for parties in European elections.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Tom Heneghan)