It began with a great promise: a move away from favoritism in French politics. No longer descending but ambition will define the way to the top. But the prestigious school, which had to bridge the gap between the people and the elite after World War II, became the financier of that elite.
So Emmanuel Macron, himself a graduate of the National School of Administration (ENA) in Statsburg, could have announced the closure of the institute on Thursday. The government needs to become more open, diverse, and flexible – starting with the training of civil servants.
Many prominent French, from prime ministers to ministers and CEOs of major corporations owe their posts to ENA. Every year, the best graduates are given access to key government bodies, such as the French Audit Office and the Council of State. It taught past presidents François Hollande, Jacques Chirac and Valerie Giscard d’Estaing, as well as the current prime minister, Jean Castex.
Thus the institute inadvertently became a symbol of the French elite. EnarchAs former students are called, it has become more of a term of abuse than a recommendation.
Charles de Gaulle
While the famous president Charles de Gaulle founded the school in 1945 to make management accessible to all social classes. On the basis of careful selection, the best minds in the country, regardless of origin, will find their way. But although anyone can register for an entrance examination, in practice it is students from better backgrounds and with the best previous education who have a chance to succeed. Only a small part of it comes from the working-class environment.
The criticism leveled at the school has been beating for years. Former student Olivier Sabie wrote in his book about the school that students will be crammed into a mold, while critical thinking and creativity rarely get any attention. With so many resources and these smart students, one can expect more.
Shutting it down now is a promise from Macron in response to the yellow vest movement two years ago. The protest movement that has taken to the streets across France for several months has focused, among other things, on the Parisian elite that was said to be isolated from the ordinary French. ENA was the standout symbol for this. The President admitted that the social ladder is no longer functioning as it was 50 years ago.
Macron wants to replace the school with the new “Institut du service public”, which trains students in topics such as poverty, the environment and secularism. The degree will no longer guarantee a top job with the French government. Graduates must first gain work experience before they are allowed to hold a management position.
Can a New School Really Change the Political Culture? Alumni Association President Daniel Keeler spoke to FranceInfo about a mock trial. “We cannot hold the school responsible for all the failures of the French education.” Instead of starting the same training under a new name, Macron could have focused better on reforming the existing system.
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