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The École nationale d'administration (ENA; French pronunciation: [ekɔl nasjɔnal dadministʁasjɔ̃]; English: National School of Administration) is a French grande école, created in 1945 by Michel Debré to democratise access to the senior civil service.
The ENA selects and undertakes initial training of senior French officials. It is considered to be one of the most elite French schools, both because of its low acceptance rates and because a large majority of its candidates have already graduated from other elite schools in the country. Thus, within French society, the ENA stands as one of the main pathways to high positions in the public and private sectors.
Originally located in Paris, it has now been almost completely relocated to Strasbourg to emphasise its European character. It is based in the former Commanderie Saint-Jean, though continues to maintain a Paris campus. ENA produces around 80 to 90 graduates every year, known as étudiants-fonctionnaires, "enaos" or "énarques " (IPA: [enaʁk]) for short. In 2002 the Institut international d'administration publique (IIAP) which educated French diplomats under a common structure with the ENA was fused with it. The ENA shares several traditions with the College of Europe, which was established shortly after.
The École Nationale d'Administration was formally established in October 1945 at the decree of Michel Debré as part of his project to reform the recruitment and training of high-ranking officials.
The ENA was designed to democratize access to the higher ranks of the French civil service. Until then, each ministry had its own hiring process and selection standards. The examinations for particular ministries were often extremely specialized, meaning that few candidates possessed the knowledge to pass. In addition, the narrow expertise required meant few officials were capable of serving in a variety of roles.
The school was designed to broaden and standardize the training provided to senior public servants, and to ensure they possessed extensive knowledge of policy and governance. Debré’s stated intention was to create “a body of officials proven to be highly competent, especially in financial, economic and social matters.” The new system, based on academic proficiency and competitive examination, was also intended to guard against nepotism and make recruitment to top positions more transparent.
Access to senior positions of the French civil service is threefold: first, through generalist civil service positions; second, through "technical" (engineering) positions; and third, through internal promotion.
In November 1991 the government of Prime Minister Edith Cresson announced that the ENA would be relocated to Strasbourg. The Commanderie Saint-Jean, a former barracks and prison dating back to the 14th century, was chosen as its new site. The move was designed to emphasize the school’s symbolic proximity to the numerous European institutions based in the city. However, though the school was officially relocated, it maintained many of its facilities in Paris. It remained split between the two cities, requiring students to complete studies in both locations, until it was fully re-located to Strasbourg in January 2005.
Admission to the ENA is granted based on a competitive examination taking place from the end of August to November, which people generally take after completing studies at the Institut d'études politiques de Paris or any Prép'Ena (preparatory classes for the ENA examination for people coming from universities or grandes écoles). The "concours externe" exam is divided into two parts:
Results of this exam process are published by the end of December.
Other exam processes govern admission for career civil servants (concours interne) and for all other people, already active in business, political or union activities (troisième concours).
Following a two-year intensive programme combining high-responsibility internships and examinations, the ENA ranks students according to their results. Students are then asked, by order of merit, the position/body they want to join. Top-ranked students (between 12 and 15 students) usually join the so-called "grands corps" Inspection générale des finances, Conseil d'État or Cour des comptes, usually followed by the French Treasury and the diplomatic service. Other students will join various ministries and administrative justice or préfectures. To quote the ENA's site:
Academic years at the ENA are known as promotions, and are named by the students after outstanding French (Vauban, Saint-Exupéry, Rousseau), Foreigners (Mandela), characters (Cyrano de Bergerac), battles (Valmy), concepts (Croix de Lorraine, Droits de l'homme) or values (liberté-égalité-fraternité).
This tradition comes from old French military schools such as the Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr.
The Promotion Voltaire of 1980 has attracted particular attention, since numerous graduates that year went on to become significant figures in French politics. François Hollande, Dominique de Villepin, Ségolène Royal, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and Michel Sapin were all members of this promotion.
In 2011, the Mines ParisTech : Professional Ranking World Universities ranked the ENA third in France and ninth in the world according to the number of alumni holding the position of CEO at Fortune Global 500 companies.
Few énarques (around 1%) actually get involved in politics. Most ENA alumni hold apolitical, technical positions in the French civil service. Researchers at the French National Centre for Scientific Research have shown that many ENA alumni become business executives in France.
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 (well-known examples include Lionel Jospin and Philippe Séguin). 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 ENA also participates in international Technical Assistance programmes, funded by the EU or other donors.
According to an international classification, the École nationale d'administration ranks ninth among 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 has trained 5600 French senior officials and 2600 foreigners. Some famous alumni include:
An agreement was signed in Paris on 16 October 2012 between the ENA and the Uzbek Academy of administration; it allows for cooperation in the modernization of state administration and improving skills of public servants in Uzbekistan. The first cooperation was due to begin in January 2013.
According to these critics, the ENA discourages its students from innovative thinking and pushes them to take conventional, middle-of-the-road positions. Peter Gumbel, a British academic, has claimed that France’s grande école system, and especially the ENA, has the effect of perpetuating an intellectually brilliant yet out-of-touch ruling elite. Yannick Blanc, a former senior civil servant, has also suggested that énarques have often been too ‘intellectually conformist'.
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