The École Nationale d'Administration (ÉNA), one of the most prestigious French schools (Grandes écoles), was created in 1945 by Charles de Gaulle to democratize access to high administration. It is now entrusted with the selection and initial training of senior French officials. The ENA is one of the symbols of the Republican meritocracy, offering its alumni access to high positions within the state. It has now been almost completely decentralised to Strasbourg to emphasize its European character.
The ENA produces fewer than 90 graduates every year, known as énarques. ENA is seen as the method of choice to reach the great administrative corps of the State.
ENA and politics
The main reason for entering ENA is that it has a legal quasi-monopoly over access to some of the most prestigious positions ("Catégorie A
") in the French state civil service (the École polytechnique
fulfills this role for other prestigious and technical positions, while some schools like the École Nationale des Impôts allow access to very specific "Catégorie A" positions). The school was created in a move to make the recruitment for various high administrative bodies more rational and democratic. By having a system solely based on academic proficiency and competitive examinations, the reasoning went, recruitment for top positions could be made more transparent, without suspicion of political or personal preference.
French law makes it relatively easy for civil servants to enter politics: civil servants who are elected or appointed to a political position do not have to resign their position in the civil service; instead, they are put in a situation of "temporary leave" known as disponibilité. If they are not re-elected or reappointed, they may ask for their reintegration into their service (see Lionel Jospin, Bruno Mégret and Philippe Séguin for examples). In addition, ENA graduates are often recruited as aides by government ministers and other politicians; this makes it easier for some of them to enter a political career. As an example, Dominique de Villepin entered politics as an appointed official, after serving as an aide to Jacques Chirac, without ever having held an elected position.
The énarques were criticized as early as the 1960s for their technocratic and arrogant ways. Young énarque Jacques Chirac was, for instance, lampooned in an album of the Asterix series. Such criticism has continued up to present times, with the énarques being accused of monopolizing positions in higher administration and politics, without having to show real efficiency. It has become a recurrent theme for many French politicians to criticize ENA, even when they are former graduate themselves.
John Kenneth Galbraith and Pierre Bourdieu have studied the way this school shapes French industry and politics. The key point is that these "enarques" profit from two main privileges: not only do they have a monopoly of the top administrative positions within the civil service, but also they can go into politics and industry without risk.
However, only a small proportion of "enarques" (around 10%) actually get involved in politics. Most ENA alumni hold neutral, technical positions in the French civil service.
ENA also participates in international Technical Assistance programs, funded by the EU or other donors.
Recruitment and exit procedures
Entrance to ENA is granted on a competitive exam at the beginning of September, which people generally take after completing studies at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris
(more widely known as Sciences Po
). The "concours externe" exam is in two parts :
- The written part includes
- - an essay on public law
- - an essay on the economy
- - an essay on "general knowledge" (culture générale, extremely common in French competitive exams),
- - a note de synthèse (summarizing 40 to 70 pages of documents) in either (at the candidate's choice) European Law and Policies (Questions Européennes) or Social Law and Policies (Questions Sociales)
- - a cinquième épreuve chosen by the candidate among many different subjects ranging from mathematics to "administrative sciences" or language.
- The oral exam, taken only by those with the highest marks in the written exam, consists of
- - An oral examination on Public Finances
- - An oral examination on International Politics (Questions Internationales)
- - An oral examination either on Questions Européennes or on Questions Sociales (whichever subject the candidate did not choose on the written test)
- - An oral examination to test the skill of the candidate in a foreign language.
- - A physical test
- - the famous 45-minute long Grand Oral during which any question can be asked, from general knowledge to very personal questions.
Results of this exam process are published by the end of December.
Other exam processes govern admission for career civil servants training themselves for high-level positions (concours interne) and for political or union leaders who need specific training (troisième concours).
ENA ranks students according to their academic merit; students are then asked, in order of decreasing merit, the service that they want to join. While the first ranked join prestigious corps like the Inspection of Finances, Conseil d'État or Cour des Comptes, and some enter national politics, many end up in middle-level administrative positions. To quote site:
- In fact, although these famous alumni are the most visible, the majority are largely unknown, lead quiet and useful careers in our civil service, and don't recognise themselves in the stereotyped images about our school.
In addition, ENA offers courses for foreign students. So far, 1800 young public servants from all parts of the world have taken part in the "cycle long", which lasts 18 months. They spend part of the time studying alongside their French counterparts and part working in a Préfecture.
According to a international classification, the École nationale d'administration
is the ninth higher education institutions in the world, with regard to the performance of their training programmes, based on the number of alumni among the Chief Executive Officers of the 500 leading worldwide companies..
Since its creation 60 years ago, the ENA trained 5600 French senior officials and 2600 foreigners. Some famous alumni include:
- Head of state: Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (France), Jacques Chirac (France), Nicéphore Soglo (Benin)
- Head of government: Laurent Fabius (France), Michel Rocard (France), Édouard Balladur (France), Alain Juppé (France), Lionel Jospin (France), Dominique de Villepin (France), Edem Kodjo (Togo), Alfred Sant (Malta), André Milongo (Republic of the Congo), Patrick Leclercq (Monaco), Jean-Paul Proust (Monaco).
- Current French ministers: Laurent Wauquiez, Martin Hirsch, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Valérie Pécresse and Anne-Marie Idrac (typically one-third of every French cabinet since the 1960s and one-half of the Cabinet for recent administrations until Sarkozy's are ENA's alumni)
- Other political leaders: Ségolène Royal and François Hollande, who met at ENA
- Industry leaders: Michel Bon, Jean-Marie Messier, Ernest-Antoine Seillière, Louis Schweitzer, Gérard Mestrallet, Louis Gallois, Henri de Castries, Baudouin Prot etc.
- International organisations presidents: Pascal Lamy (World Trade Organization), Jean-Claude Trichet (European Central Bank), Michel Camdessus, Jacques de Larosière
- Intellectuals: Jacques Attali, Françoise Chandernagor, Jean-François Deniau, Gabriel de Broglie etc