Macron to do away with France’s top school for elite

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday detailed plans to do away with an elite academic institution that’s a pillar of the country’s power establishment, replacing it with a more egalitarian version.

Macron spelled out what he said was the need for “radical change” in training of the top ranks of the civil service in an address to hundreds of ranking civil servants by video conference, including putting an end to the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, widely known as ENA.

ENA is to be replaced by a new creation, the Institute for Public Service, with a vastly different approach to recruiting, training and selecting top civil servants.

The plan to do away with the Strasbourg-based school is part of Macron’s larger transformation of the public sector, ridden with red tape, to bring more “humanity,” “efficiency” and “simplicity.”

Macron himself, like most French presidents, is a graduate of ENA, which is the training ground for the nation’s most senior civil servants.

Macron had first referred to the idea two years ago, as France was shaken by the yellow vest protest movement seeking economic and social justice.

The reform would include a common learning trunk for all top civil servants to expose them to the realities of today, including secularism, poverty, ecology and scientific discourse.

In a peacemaking effort with Yellow Vest protesters, whose marches turned violent, Macron traveled the country in 2019 to discuss contested issues in what was billed as a “great national debate.” It concluded with an April 25 news conference in which he said ENA should be ended because it doesn’t resemble French society.

The school founded in 1945 by Gen. Charles de Gaulle — with the intention of making access to the top echelons of the civil service more democratic, but elitism was perpetuated by the system whereby graduates went straight from school to top posts. No more.

“One can no longer join the Council of State … at 25,” Macron said. Graduates all must do time in “operational” jobs of the administration, moving beyond that after several years, based on merit, Macron said.

The Institute for Public Service will feed into 13 other schools and provide continued education for its students.

“I want that in terms of entrance criteria, we can widely open things up … to allow for less socially determined profiles,” the president told his audience of elite civil servants.

A top official at the president’s office said the plan “corresponds perfectly to his (Macron’s) DNA, that is to put the public sector at the service of the French and recreate confidence at a time our country needs it.” The official could not be named in keeping with custom.

The head of the association of former ENA students, Daniel Keller, disagreed with the common notion that ENA turns out a cookie-cutter elite who think alike, saying on BFMTV that ENA graduates “are in contact with what is real.”

Speaking ahead of the publication of Macron’s speech, he said the 40 or so students who enter ENA each year are on average 25 years old, time enough to have been exposed to life, for 20 months of study.

“We must get out of this fantasy,” he said.