France’s Macron closes elite ENA school in equal opportunity push

French President Macron meets President of the Kurdistan region in Iraq Nechirvan Barzani in Paris
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a protective face mask, welcomes President of the Kurdistan region in Iraq Nechirvan Barzani (not seen) before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, March 30, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

April 8, 2021

By Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) -President Emmanuel Macron announced on Thursday the closure next year of France’s Ecole Nationale d’Administration, an elite postgraduate school that has produced many of the country’s presidents, ambassadors and business leaders.

The move to abolish what has for some in France become a symbol of unequal opportunity is part of Macron’s drive for a fairer society. Macron himself is an alumnus of the school.

It will be replaced by a new Institut du Service Public, with ravamped rules for recruitment and access to the highest tiers of the civil service.

“We must radically change the way we recruit … and build the career paths of our public servants,” Macron told senior members of the civil service.

The Strasbourg-based ENA was founded in 1945 by Charles de Gaulle to train a postwar administrative elite drawn from across all social classes.

With time, it earned a reputation, however, for selecting students from the upper social echelons and being disconnected from reality – an image it struggled to redress.

The growing tendency for alumni to move back and forth between the public and private sectors only deepened the public perception of an out-of-touch old boys’ network.

“We have given up on building careers in a transparent and meritocratic way. We have built refuges of excellence which have continued to attract high-potential students, sometimes by breaking the destinies of others, often by being unfair,” Macron added.

Four modern-day presidents and eight prime ministers are Enarques, as the school’s alumni are known. So too are the chief executives of telecoms group Orange, Societe Generale bank and retail group Carrefour.

The school enrolls about 80 students a year.

Macron has said he wants to install a more meritocratic system. He said the new institute would use the current ENA campus and that France’s 13 civil service schools would share a core curriculum.

Last month, he announced a special process for entry to France’s elite schools for students from underprivileged backgrounds who require grants.

ENA Director Patrick Gerard has acknowledged the school’s lack of diversity but said it was not solely responsible.

“The ENA cannot be accused of all ills,” he told the magazine L’Express in October.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Christian Lowe and Peter Cooney)

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