Warning to 'elitist' school

November 22, 2002

France's elite school for training top civil servants, senior diplomats and industrial leaders has survived an attempt by rightwing MPs to close it, only to face reform next spring.

The Ecole Nationale d'Administration, which has produced a host of leading politicians including six prime ministers and president Jacques Chirac, has been criticised for being out of touch and for catering for a privileged few whose parents are mostly from the upper ranks of the civil service and big corporations.

Civil service minister Jean-Paul Delevoye is expected to announce plans in the spring to widen student intake and modify programmes.

Jean-Michel Fougous and Hervé Novelli, MPs from President Chirac's Union for the Presidential Majority, tabled an amendment during the budget debate early this month to halve ENA funding next year and to close it in 2004.

The amendment was defeated. A further amendment proposed by Louis Giscard d'Estaing, son of the former French president, to cut the school's €31 million (£19.7 million) budget by €5 million was withdrawn.

The two UPM MPs claimed that ENA, which was created in 1945 to train leaders of postwar France, "has produced nothing but a new omnipotent 'caste', fit only for planning the careers of its members".

The "new public nobility" was exercising "a quasi exclusive influence over all decision-making centres", they said.

It constituted an administrative elite that was "intellectually brilliant but economically archaic, politically irresponsible and sociologically cut off".

The debate has reinvigorated criticisms that have dogged the school for the past 35 years. In 1967, a pseudonymous, scathing article against the school turned out to have been written by three énarques , including Jean-Pierre Chev nement, later a leading leftwing politician.

Former pupils have criticised how the school is managed, focusing on the classification system that determines who gets the best jobs.

Prominent ex-pupils who have called for the school's closure include former prime ministers Laurent Fabius, Alain Juppé and Michel Rocard, and industrialist Jacques Attali.

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