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France: President Macron scraps elite ENA college

April 8, 2021

The Ecole National d'Administration is seen as a finishing school for the high-flyers of French politics and business. But critics say it is too elitist and that it hampers social mobility in France.

The ENA school in Strasbourg
The ENA school in Strasbourg that is set to be axed by Macron has helped educate a string of French leaders, Macron includedImage: Patrick Hertzog/AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed on Thursday to scrap France's top ENA college, a finishing school for the country's political and business elites.

President Macron and several of his closest advisers attended the Ecole National d'Administration, which is seen as a passport to a senior job in government or industry.

But he has argued that social mobility in France is at its worst for decades, and sees the closure of the prestigious university set up by Charles de Gaulle in 1945 as part of that shake-up.

What did Macron say?

Macron said the ENA would be replaced by a new Public Service Institute that would have a mission to be move diverse, calling the changes a "profound revolution in terms of recruitment."

"The ENA ended up becoming an institution that ranks individuals," he said in a speech late on Thursday. "The Institute will be more open to the academic and research world, both in France and internationally."

Frankreich I Polizei-Demo in Paris
The Yellow Vest protests were directed at the French elite over the cost of living in France Image: Francois Mori/AP/picture alliance

The announcement confirms a previous call from Macron to scrap ENA which he made in 2019 during the so-called Yellow Vest protests.

Macron Proposes Closing France‘s Elite ENA

However, he gave no time frame in Thursday's address about when the new college would be up and running.

In February, the president said the "social elevator" in France -- the process by which people from poorer backgrounds rise to prominent positions -- "works less well than 50 years ago."

Why is ENA being criticized?

Studies show that ENA's student intake is dominated by the children of wealthy, professional families.

Coronavirus I Lockdown I Frankreich
President Macron, seen here announcing a new lockdown last month, wants to improve social mobility.Image: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

The ENA has become a target for populist anger ahead of next year's presidential election.

Previous graduates include former presidents, such as the late Jacques Chirac and Francois Hollande.

The entrance exams are notoriously tough, and the ENA's intake is dominated by students from privileged backgrounds.

High society: elitism in France

"Among the vital problems in France, there is one that you are aware of every day: it's the absolute fracture between the base of society -- people who work, who are retired, who are unemployed, young people, students -- and the supposed elite," Francois Bayrou, a close political ally of Macron, told France Inter radio on Thursday.

It admits fewer than 100 students a year, who are fast-tracked into prestigious civil service jobs.

The school was created in 1945 when France needed to rebuild its civil service, parts of which had collaborated with France's Nazi occupiers during World War II.

jf/msh (AFP, AP)

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