French president expected to shut prestigious training school

By on 23/04/2019
President Macron: planned to announce closure of ÉNA last week (Image courtesy: Jacques Paquier/flickr).

France’s President Macron has drawn up plans to shut down the country’s prestigious administrative training college, as part of his response to the gilets jaunes (“yellow vests”) protests. 

The l’École Nationale de l’Administration (ÉNA) in Strasbourg trains senior public servants, with alumni including French presidents François Hollande, Jacques Chirac and the incumbent Macron, who graduated in 2004.

The plan to close the school was one of a number of measures set to be included in a pre-recorded speech that Macron was to give last Monday. The speech was to mark the end of the two-month long “great debate”: Macron’s nationwide consultation exercise, held following the wave of gilets jaunes protests sweeping the country.

Opening up access

Macron’s televised address to the nation was called off at the last minute following the huge fire at Notre-Dame cathedral. But the text was leaked to French media: “If we want to build a society of equal opportunity and national excellence, we must reset the rules for recruitment, careers and access to the upper echelons of the civil service,” he was due to say.

“That’s why we will change the system of training, selection and career development by getting rid of the ENA and several other institutions.”

From solution to problem?

The ÉNA was founded in 1945 as a meritocratic institution to train bright students capable of re-building the country following World War II.

It now educates a huge proportion of top French civil servants and ministers. However, in recent years the school has come to be seen as elitist, drawing many of its students from a narrow section of society.

Only 6% of attendees now come from working class backgrounds, with many students coming from homes where one or more parents are themselves senior civil servants or leading businesspeople.

The president is now expected to set out his plans in a press conference scheduled for Thursday evening. Other measures he is likely to announce include tax cuts for the middle classes, which he says will be paid for by clamping down on tax evasion. It remains to be seen whether abolition of the ÉNA will make the final cut. 

For every action…

The move to close the college risks alienating the president from colleagues within government and the civil service, while doing little to appease the “yellow vest” protesters. 

Following the leak, polls showed most voters were underwhelmed by the idea of scrapping the college. The UK’s Telegraph reported that many former classmates are shocked by the threat to scrap the ÉNA.

Gaspart Gantzer, former president François Hollande’s communication chief and Mr Macron’s ex-classmate, told the Telegraph: ”It totally boosted his career, now he’s shutting the door behind him.”

The UK’s experience may be relevant. In 2012, the Coalition government shut down its National School of Government: a college providing residential courses for senior officials. But by 2014, the need for dedicated training for civil service leaders and specialists had become obvious. A number of civil service academies have since been founded, covering fields such as project management and digital skills.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie Leal is an NCTJ qualified journalist based in the UK. She holds a BSc and Master's degree in Social Anthropology and writes about society, poverty, politics, welfare reform, innovation and sustainable business. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Positive News, The Brighton Argus, UCAS, Welfare Weekly, Bdaily News and more.

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