Matteo Salvini. Picture: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD
Matteo Salvini. Picture: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD

Brussels — Eurosceptic populists will make gains in the European Parliament's elections in May, but mainstream political groups should be able to maintain a working majority, a broad voter survey showed on Monday.

Forces loyal to Italy’s hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini and far-right French politician Marine le Pen will make gains, according to an analysis of national opinion polls put together by the parliament.

The European People’s Party — usually described as a centre-right conservative group but also including MEPs from populist Hungarian premier Victor Orban’s party — is on course to remain the biggest voting bloc.

And, with the Socialists and Democrats as the second force, the traditional parties of the centre will remain the largest in the new parliament.

The survey forecast that the EPP will lose 34 seats and the Socialists 51 seats but retain 183 seats and 135 seats respectively.

The new parliament will have 705 seats, down from the current 751 seats because of Britain’s scheduled exit from the 28-nation bloc on March 29.

The liberal group ALDE will move from fourth to third place with a projected 75 seats, compared with 68 today.

ALDE will displace the European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) Group, which will see its share decline from 75 to 51 seats, with the departure of Britain’s pro-Brexit Conservatives. Poland’s eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) Party also belongs to the ECR.

The liberal group could even — under this survey — increase its size to 93 seats if they are joined, whether formally or in an alliance, by French President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party.

LREM’s expected gains will come at the expense of established centrist parties, not Le Pen’s National Rally (NR), which the poll average shows will strengthen its position and win 21 seats.

The NR belongs to the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group, which could rise to 59 from 37 seats with help from Salvini’s League, which is sceptical about Brussels but not outright opposed to Italy’s EU membership.

The League, which counts only six seats in the current parliament, are projected to win 27.

Overall, eurosceptic and populist forces will represent more than a fifth of the new parliament if the ENF and ECR results are added to those of the EFD, which includes the League’s coalition partner, the Five Star Movement.

But these gains still fall short of those forecast by analysts in recent months.

The first projections, which will be updated every two weeks, were obtained by compiling voting intentions in a basket of independent polls from each of the 27 countries that will remain in the EU after Brexit.

However, the gains still fall short of those feared by analysts in recent months.