President Emmanuel Macron is shifting forward with a plan to shut Ecole Nationale d’Administration (Ena) — the elite postgraduate faculty that has educated the politicians and chief executives who dominate French public life.

The Elysée introduced on Thursday that Ena, lengthy dominated by college students from privileged backgrounds, shall be changed by a brand new “public administration faculty” that can draw from a extra various pool of candidates and train a broader curriculum together with the setting and poverty.

To reform the senior civil service, the federal government may even abolish the system by which persons are initially assigned to probably the most prestigious authorities jobs based mostly on their rating at Ena commencement, and as an alternative give them roles based mostly on wants and abilities.

Macron first promised to abolish Ena, which has produced 4 of France’s seven presidents since 1958 and is his personal alma mater, in 2019 in response to the anti-establishment gilets jaunes protests.

The choice shocked the French elite and divided public opinion — some noticed it as an extended overdue transfer to assist repair an unequal society whereas others decried it as a cynical gesture pandering to populists.

Final 12 months the federal government appeared to soften its stance and floated the thought of changing Ena with a brand new establishment whereas retaining the model for worldwide functions such because the coaching of EU employees. That method has now been adopted as Macron prepares for presidential elections subsequent spring together with his reputation dented by his dealing with of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ena was based in 1945 underneath Charles de Gaulle with the goal of coaching civil servants drawn from all social courses by means of entrance exams and assigning jobs based mostly on efficiency relatively than wealth or connections.

However in latest a long time critics have known as it a failed meritocracy on condition that college students more and more got here from the higher courses — 70 per cent on the newest rely, in comparison with about 45 per cent within the Fifties.

The close-knit group of graduates generally known as énarques then typically assist one another to the highest jobs in enterprise and politics. For instance, the present chief executives of telecoms operator Orange, financial institution Société Générale, and meals retailer Carrefour are all Ena graduates, as had been 5 of the final ten prime ministers.

Solely about 100 individuals, 80 of them French, emerge from the two-year programme every year.

Whether or not the brand new method proposed by Macron’s authorities will show to be fairer is troublesome to foretell, mentioned Luc Rouban, a political scientist who has researched Ena and its historical past. It’ll depend upon the small print of how aggressive entrance exams are performed and the way graduates of the brand new faculty are then positioned within the civil service.

However, in focusing on Ena Macron is sending a political message, mentioned Rouban. “He needs to indicate that he’s enacting a reform to make France extra meritocratic simply as he promised he would when he was elected in 2017,” mentioned Rouban.

“In a way, Macron is attempting to return to Ena’s unique mission in 1945 to draw expertise from all walks of life to assist run France, and cease it being the ending faculty for elites it’s as we speak,” mentioned Rouban. “The danger is that they simply put a brand new identify of the varsity on some enterprise playing cards, however little else modifications.”

Damien Abad, the chief of the centre-right Les Républicains group within the Nationwide Meeting, mentioned he supported abolishing Ena as a result of it produced leaders who had been “disconnected” from the inhabitants. “We should open up entry to the senior civil service and encourage upwards social mobility,” mentioned the politician, who himself failed the Ena entrance examination. “This can be a first step.”

Benjamin Cauchy, a former gilets jaunes activist who has gone into politics, was extra sceptical. “The issue is just not Ena. It’s the groupthink and the lack of political leaders to direct the civil service and reform the state.”

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