Fifty to eighty thousand demonstrators took to the streets in Budapest on Sunday to protest a law that threatens to close the Central European University (CEU). The European People’s Party has warned the Victor Orban administration to back off or face the consequences.

Demonstrators’ demands

The BBC reports that beyond students one could also see families and middle age people in the crowd. The police prevented the crowds from approaching the ruling Fidesz’s headquarters.

A bill that will close down the Central European University passed on March 29 and is due to be ratified by for President Janos Ader on Tuesday, April 10. The Magyar Nemzet reports that the President is not likely to veto the bill.  Citing Fidesz party sources, Orban’s administration claims the President has no legal grounds to veto the bill.

CEU has been operating in Budapest for 26 years and currently hosts 1440 students from 107 states.

The content of the bill

The law says that any foreign private university must be subject to an intergovernmental agreement and can only operate in Hungary if it has a campus in the country of origin. CEU is registered with New York State but does not have a campus in the United States.

Both President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Victor Orban view the founder of CEU, George Soros, as a political foe. Neither setting up a campus in the United States nor the conclusion of an intergovernmental agreement is likely. The Victor Orban administration was elected in 2010 on the back of a promise to promote an “illiberal state.”

Protestors on Sunday waved EU flags bearing the word “help” and asked President Ader to veto the bill. Several university faculties are expected to strike on April 10 in solidarity to the CEU.

EPP reaction

The European People’s Party has indicated a strong reaction when the bill is ratified. Manfred Weber had what he called “an intense exchange of views” with Prime Minister Victor Orban last Thursday.

The European Commission is also expected to issue an assessment. Under Article 7, the EU can deny an undemocratic country access to the Single Market when there is “serious and persistent breach” of EU values.

The EPP has signaled it will stand by the European Commission if such an assessment is issued. EPP party leaders are due to discuss the CEU law with Fidesz at its presidency meeting on April 29, BNE Intel reports. However, the omens for Hungary’s Fidesz are certainly not good.