Hungary Urges U.S. to Start Talks Over Soros-Founded University

(Bloomberg) -- Hungary’s government renewed a demand for talks with the U.S. government over the fate of Central European University, the main target of tighter rules on colleges that the school says may end its operations in Budapest.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government is facing intense international criticism that it is trying to shut down the university founded by billionaire financier George Soros after the fall of communism. The tighter regulations now condition a foreign college’s continued operation on an agreement between Hungary’s government and where the college is based. CEU is registered in both Hungary and the state of New York.

“We are ready to hold talks with U.S. authorities,” Janos Lazar, minister in charge of Orban’s office, told reporters on Thursday. “If the CEU case is important for America, then there will probably be such talks.”

The U.S. government, which has joined European allies including Germany in reprimanding Hungary for threatening CEU’s operations, has said it won’t negotiate on behalf of the university and has told Orban’s government to start direct talks with the institution. Orban, the European Union’s first leader to embrace a ruling style modeled on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s, is also pressing on this week with legislation singling out some non-governmental organizations for being in the service of “foreign interests.”

CEU President Michael Ignatieff urged supporters on Thursday to lobby the EU’s lawmakers and executive to help the school, which Soros founded in 1991 to train a new generation of leaders during the return of democracy to eastern Europe. Orban may address critics in the European Parliament next week after some members of the European People’s Party have called for expelling his ruling Fidesz party from its ranks.

“The battle shifts to Brussels,” Ignatieff said in a video message. “We are prepared to negotiate, but academic freedom is one of those values about which you just can’t compromise.”