08.04.2021 Europe

Macron says "adieu" to the elite ENA civil service finishing school

By David Coffey with RFI
© wikipedia
LISTEN APR 8, 2021
© wikipedia

French President Emmanuel Macron is due to officially announce the closure of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, the elite institution that has been the nurturing ground for France's top fonctionnaires, including several heads of state.

Founded by General Charles de Gaulle in 1945, the ENA grande école was conceived to break the hegemony of France's upper classes on the administration of the country, in a bid to put an end to nepotism and create a more pluralist and democratic state. 

In the 76 years of its existence, however, ENA has become synonymous with elitism and privilige, with many Enarques - as graduates are known - moving into positions of power and maintaing an alma mater network that many have criticised as encouraging "group think". 

Macron's decision to close down ENA follows on promises he made during the Yellow Vest protests of 2018 and 2019, which were driven by a popular sentiment that France's leaders are out of touch and aloof from the concerns of ordinary people. 


Class division

At it's inception after the World War II, 55 percent of ENA students came from modest income families. By the mid-2010s more than 70 percent of Enarques hailed from the upper classes of French society, with working-class representation falling to about 6 percent. 

The objective of the institution's reform, according to Macron's office is "to offer the French people a closer, more efficient, more transparent and more benevolent public service."

Speaking on French television this Thursday, veteran centrist politician François Bayrou underlined the rifts.

"Among the many problems facing France is the absolute rupture between the bedrock of society - those who work, who are retired, who are unemployed, young people, students - and those who are at the so-called summit."

Less bureaucracy, more diversity

Diversity in the public service has become central to ENA's closure and rebirth, in favour of an "equal opportunities" institution that Macron has been hoping to promote, capitalising on the room for public debate during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The reformed grande école also aims to reorganise the recruitment, teaching and classification of students.

Although the revamped institution will remain in Strasbourg, it will be brought closer to other schools of higher administration and academia from across France.

Echoing criticisms made by Macron, Bayrou concluded that "the state has become an administration and the administration has become a bureaucracy", which have blocked any significant institutional reforms to date.

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