French reform 'elite' school

May 2, 2003

France's elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA) is to lose its monopoly on recruiting and training top civil servants and senior diplomats under reforms proposed by a committee appointed by the civil service minister Jean-Paul Delevoye.

While the school has escaped closure, for which some MPs were calling last year, it will have to introduce drastic changes in an effort to modernise.

The report of the committee, which is headed by former European commissioner Yves-Thibault de Silguy, recommends ending the "bilateral monopoly". Under this, the ENA is the only route for entry to the highest echelons of the civil service, and the state is the only employer.

It proposes introducing a parallel competitive examination, open to candidates with five years' higher education, which would give access to the same posts as those on offer after an ENA training.

The committee also says a diploma should replace the infamous classement . This ranking system, which gives the top few graduates access to the most prestigious posts, has encouraged narrow academic competition and conformity rather than competence and innovative thinking.

The training itself should be diversified, the report says, and should provide a choice of three specialisations - international studies, economics and finance and general administration - in addition to the core curriculum covering matters such as law, ethics and management.

It recommends that the school, currently split between Paris and Strasbourg, should be based entirely in Strasbourg.

The recommendations, which Mr Delevoye plans to start introducing from June, come as the school is experiencing unprecedented crisis.

The ENA was created in 1945 to train a postwar elite. It includes among its graduates many industrial leaders and senior politicians, including six recent prime ministers and president Jacques Chirac.

But criticisms by former pupils of its management, especially the classement , have dogged it for years.

Last year, 43 of the school's 117 pupils tried unsuccessfully to contest their grades in the courts.

In November, two MPs tabled a parliamentary motion calling for its closure. They claimed the ENA had created a "new public nobility", an administrative elite that influenced all French decision-making, which, though intellectually brilliant, was economically archaic, politically irresponsible and detached from the people.

The reforms will take place under a new head, Antoine Durrleman, former director of the Hopitaux de Paris, who was appointed in December.

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