ENA: The elite French school that trains presidents


For France's intellectual crème de la crème a place at the elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA) is coveted above all others.

The school has long selected and trained leaders, including former presidents François Hollande and Jacques Chirac, Orange CEO Stéphane Richard and foreign presidents.

Many try repeatedly to pass ENA's notoriously tough entrance exams, so desperate are they to get in.

But the Strasbourg school's most powerful ex-pupil is reportedly turning against it.

Determined to quell the gilets jaunes ("yellow vest") protest movement, President Emmanuel Macron has proposed abolishing ENA, according to the text of an upcoming speech leaked to French media.

"If we want to build a society of equal opportunity and national excellence, we must reset the rules for recruitment, careers and access to the upper echelons of the civil service," he is quoted as saying.

"That's why we will change the system of training, selection and career development by suppressing ENA and several other institutions."

The president's office has declined to comment on the leaked text.

French media say it was to be in his address to the nation marking the conclusion of a two-month great debate. But the speech was postponed because of the Notre-Dame fire.

What is ENA?

It was established in 1945 by then French President Charles de Gaulle, in the immediate aftermath of World War Two.

It was created "with a spirit of reconstructing France and renovating the state", said anthropologist Irène Bellier of France's National Centre for Scientific Research.

"The ideology was you'd raise a group of people capable of acting in the public interest."

Prior to its creation, each ministry had its own hiring process and standards, resulting in closed networks that almost exclusively favoured the upper class.

ENA hoped to attract "more people from the provinces, fewer Parisians, fewer bourgeois - social democratisation", explained Prof Jean-Michel Eymeri-Douzans, a political scientist who has studied ENA extensively and now works with it.

But while designed as a meritocracy, research shows that ENA students' parents are often senior civil servants themselves or CEOs. Very few come from working-class backgrounds.

"It's the school of the elite," Mr Eymeri-Douzans said.