BRUSSELS Far-right Eurosceptics in France, Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium have far more in common than just animosity towards the European Union or opposition to migration, according to a new survey.
Rather than being single-issue voters with narrow national interests, the survey suggests far-right Eurosceptics share a common set of values and concerns that could potentially make them a meaningful bloc in the European Parliament.
The findings indicate that if anti-EU parties such as France's Front National and Britain's UKIP do well in the European elections in May, as expected, they have a chance of forging a strong alliance with staying power.
Until now, analysts have tended to argue that while anti-EU parties may do well, they are unlikely to find enough common ground to make them a political force.
"There is far more to the Eurosceptic vote than one-issue concerns about migration or European integration," said Martijn Lampert, the research director of Motivaction International, which conducted the survey of more than 10,000 people (here)
"Once the parties really form a front together, that could be quite powerful because they have a similar voter base that is rooted in similar values. It's not a one-off event."
The survey quizzed right-wing Eurosceptics in Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands and left-wing ones in Italy.
While all of them share a certain number of values and concerns, the right-wing ones had a particularly strong correlation of interests, no matter their country of origin.
In general, Eurosceptics were more inclined to advocate tradition, organization and obedience than average voters, while agreeing that people with too much freedom tend to abuse it and that the world is changing too fast and too often.
In terms of specific concerns, Eurosceptics are more worried about immigration, crime and safety than average voters, while being less concerned about employment and the environment. They are also more opposed to high salaries, the bonus culture and governments rescuing banks than ordinary voters.
The Front National and the anti-Islam PVV party in the Netherlands have already agreed to form a bloc after the European elections and they are likely to have support from some smaller right-wing Eurosceptic parties.
The big question is whether they will be joined by UKIP, which is expected to come first or second in the vote in Britain and is riding a wave of popularity.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has ruled out cooperation with France's Marine Le Pen or PVV leader Geert Wilders, concerned that their past or ongoing controversies with race and religion could taint his brand of Euroscepticism.
But the survey's findings may prompt him to reconsider, especially if it is the only chance he has of forming a bloc in the European Parliament, which would increase his influence.
A bloc must have at least 25 seats and include parties from at least seven countries. Without UKIP, the Front National and PVV may struggle to reach the seven-country threshold.
May's election is expected to produce a surge in support for anti-EU parties on both the left and right, with some projections suggesting around a quarter of the 751 seats in the parliament could go to non-mainstream parties.
At the same time, the main center-left, center-right, liberal and Green blocs will almost certainly hold two-thirds of the seats and are likely to try to work more closely together to ensure a centrist, pro-EU middle prevails.
(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Tom Heneghan)