By Ingrid Melander
LA ROCHELLE, France (Reuters) - French Socialists welcomed a decision by two senior Green lawmakers to split away and create a new movement to support them, saying on Friday it would strengthen the Left's hand in regional and presidential elections.
The extra support could be key for Socialist President Francois Hollande's chances to get re-elected in 2017 as well as for regional elections in December.
The Greens were a junior ally in Hollande's government until they decided last year to leave, angered by what they said was a move toward more centrist economic and social policies.
But Jean-Vincent Place, the Greens' head of group in the Senate, earlier on Friday quit his party over its decision to distance itself from the Socialists, one day after the party's chief lawmaker in the lower house of parliament Francois de Rugy did the same.
Place said the Greens had become "sectarian" and veered too far to the left and he wanted to gather "reform-minded" pro-environment politicians in a new structure.
"I salute the Greens who say they don't want to drive the Left in a brick wall," senior Socialist lawmaker Bruno Le Roux told reporters at an annual Socialist party gathering.
"If we remain fragmented, if we remain divided ... the Left will allow the right and far-right to dominate the debate," Socialist Party secretary general Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said.
The Greens have lost voters over the past years, but if they decide to stand against Hollande in the presidential vote, even a weak Green candidate could take away enough left-wing votes to stop him getting to the second round.
Some Socialists were quick to hint that the two Greens could be rewarded by ministerial portfolios.
The Green resignations were also a welcome distraction for Socialists from their own woes, after pro-business Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron laid bare the divisions on economic policy by appearing to again criticize France's 35-hour work-week, an iconic Socialist law.
While Socialist party members backed Hollande's policies in a party vote in May, backbenchers are unhappy with a government they see as too pro-business.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau in Paris)