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INTERVIEW-Juncker says France shouldn't blame its woes on euro

* Ex-Eurogroup chief is centre-right candidate in EU election

* Juncker says euro rate not to blame for France's woes

* Former Luxembourg PM backs creation of European champions

BERLIN, May 9 (Reuters) - France's economic woes are the result of poor policy choices at home and Paris should stop blaming its problems on the strength of the euro, Jean-Claude Juncker, the centre-right candidate for European Commission president, told Reuters.

The former prime minister of Luxembourg and long-time head of the Eurogroup forum of euro zone finance ministers spoke days after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the strong euro as a threat to growth and jobs.

Valls, a Socialist, urged the European Central Bank to adjust policy to weaken the single currency, which reached a 2-1/2 year high just below $1.40 on Thursday before comments from ECB President Mario Draghi pushed it lower.

France, the second biggest economy in the euro zone, has been dogged by high unemployment and weak growth, casting doubt on its ability to meet EU-mandated deficit targets. The economic weakness was behind President Francois Hollande's decision to reshuffle his government last month, bringing in Valls.

"I don't believe France is the sick man of Europe," Juncker said after an EU election campaign appearance in Berlin on Thursday. "But I do caution against looking for the causes of what is partly the result of (its) own mistakes somewhere other than at home."

Juncker, 59, said the strong currency had created problems for a number of euro zone member states, but that its level was the same for all. "If France has a tougher time than other countries, then the reasons for this are to be found in France, not in exchange rates," he said.

Speaking earlier, Juncker suggested that the German economy was doing better than France's because it was run by a centre-right leader.

Juncker is the lead candidate for the European People's Party (EPP) in May 25 elections for the European Parliament. His main rival for the Commission presidency is Social Democrat Martin Schulz, a German.

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS

In comments that may be more warmly received in France, Juncker also backed the idea of European industrial champions, saying governments should use planemaker Airbus as a model in promoting tie-ups across other sectors.

In the past weeks, the French government has intervened to prevent U.S. conglomerate General Electric from taking over the energy assets of French rival Alstom, by encouraging Germany's Siemens to make a counter-bid.

Paris has argued that a transaction with Siemens has the potential to create two European champions - one in energy, the other in trains. But Alstom's management would clearly prefer to sell to GE, and Siemens seems lukewarm on the idea of a deal.

In the interview, Juncker defended the right of governments to intervene in corporate deals that affect their interests, describing Airbus - the Toulouse-based commercial jet manufacturer created by France and Germany as a rival to Boeing - as a success story to be copied.

"When the opportunity presents itself to put a (national) champion on a broader footing, we should try to launch European champions," Juncker said. "Governments shouldn't decide for companies, but governments have an interest and a right to be part of such decisions."

(Editing by Catherine Evans)