Reuters International

By Noah Barkin

VIENNA (Reuters) - Emboldened by a surge in voter support and the looming Brexit referendum, Europe's leading far-right parties pledged on Friday to work towards a "Patriotic Spring" that would roll back EU powers and halt an influx of Middle East refugees.

Their meeting in Vienna was hosted by Heinz-Christian Strache, whose Freedom Party (FPO) came within a whisker of winning the Austrian presidency last month and is now challenging the result. He vowed to deepen cooperation between the parties, which share a deep mistrust of immigrants and European integration but whose nationalist tendencies have hampered close collaboration in the past.

Strache was joined by Marine Le Pen, leader of France's National Front, and politicians from the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) and Italy's Northern League. They expressed hope that Britain's June 23 vote on whether to remain a member of the European Union would give their cause new momentum.

"I support the referendum in the United Kingdom because I want all the countries in the EU to have this choice," Le Pen told a news conference in the Austrian parliament building.

"But even if we don't get Brexit, it will present a huge new problem for the European Union which has pledged to give Britain special rights if it stays that other countries won't have. So this could be the beginning of Europe a la carte."

Le Pen and the others sat beneath a poster with a massive bald eagle on it and the words: "Patriotic Spring -- Cooperation for Peace, Security and Prosperity in Europe."

ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT MOOD

Populist, anti-immigration parties are on the rise across the region as high unemployment and austerity, the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees, and recent militant attacks in France and Belgium erode voters' traditional loyalties.

The mood is mirrored in the United States, where Donald Trump has confounded the political establishment by crushing rivals for the Republican presidential nomination with rhetoric that has been widely denounced as racist and divisive.

Le Pen is expected to make it into a second-round run-off for the French presidency next year.

In neighbouring Germany, where far-right parties have struggled to gain traction in the post-war era, the AfD has won double-digit support in a string of state elections and seems poised to enter the Bundestag in Berlin next year.

Since its creation in 2013, the AfD has kept other European far-right parties at arm's length.

But its leader Frauke Petry joined Strache last week for a symbolic trip to the top of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain, and her partner, AfD politician Marcus Pretzell, recently joined the "Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom" grouping in the European Parliament.

The group also includes Austria's Freedom Party, the National Front, the Northern League and right-wing Belgian and Czech parties.

"We are different parties. We have differences on substance. But there are also issues on which we agree," Strache said, listing more direct democracy, greater influence for national parliaments and the preservation of national cultural identities as common goals.

"We want to send a signal with the Patriotic Spring. After a long political winter in the European Union, we want Europe to bloom again," he said.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

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