ENA: Macron to scrap French leaders’ elite training school

One of France’s top colleges – the Ecole Nationale d’Administration – will be shut down, French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce, under plans to boost social mobility.

A degree from the ENA has been the passport to the upper echelons of French politics for generations.

Its graduates include Mr Macron himself and ex-presidents François Hollande and Jacques Chirac.

However, it has become the target of populist anger at perceived elitism.

The entrance exams are notoriously tough, and the ENA’s intake is dominated by students from privileged backgrounds.

It admits fewer than 100 students a year, who are fast-tracked into prestigious civil service jobs. 

Speaking in the western city of Nantes in February, Mr Macron said it was time to open up access to top colleges for students from modest backgrounds. The aim, he said, was that “no kid in our republic should say: this is not for me”.

He deplored the current state of social mobility in France, saying it was “worse than 50 years ago”.

A picture shows the building of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration (National School of Administration) (ENA) on January 14, 2013 in Strasbourg, eastern France.
image captionThe ENA in Strasbourg is world-famous for intellectual rigour

His announcement is expected in a video conference with several hundred top civil servants. But he first suggested closing the ENA in 2019, after months of gilets jaunes (“yellow vest”) street protests which severely challenged his presidency.

Those protests were triggered by a rise in fuel tax, but morphed into a much wider social protest against a perceived Parisian elite neglecting the needs of provincial communities.

Before becoming president, Mr Macron attended the prestigious Sciences Po university, then the ENA, before obtaining a plum job at the Financial Inspectorate – part of the finance ministry.

The ENA was established in Strasbourg in 1945 by then-President Charles de Gaulle, whose aim was to rebuild a modern French state from the wreckage of World War Two.

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,” said Prof Jean-Michel Eymeri-Douzans, a political scientist who has studied the ENA extensively and now works with it.

Mr Macron is under pressure to improve his ratings ahead of next year’s presidential election, and France’s painful struggle with Covid-19 has exposed shortcomings in the state administration. 

France’s vaccination rate remains relatively sluggish, and its long-admired health service has looked vulnerable in the crisis, especially intensive care.

French Europe 1 news says Mr Macron aims to attack what is widely seen as a French civil service job-for-life culture, dominated by academic qualifications. 

The reforms could mean more staff turnover, job mobility and a sharper focus on pressing issues such as French secular values, poverty and the environment.

Emmanuel Macron: French president tests positive for Covid

France’s Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for Covid-19, forcing several European leaders to self-isolate after coming into contact with him.

Emmanuel Macron

The 42-year-old president was tested after developing symptoms and will now self-isolate for seven days, the Elysée Palace said in a statement.

He “is still in charge” of running the country and will work remotely.

EU chief Charles Michel and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez are among the leaders having to self-isolate.

France this week ended a six-week national lockdown, replacing the measure with a curfew to help deal with soaring cases.

There have been nearly 2.5 million confirmed cases in the country since the epidemic began, with more than 59,400 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

France plans to start rolling out its coronavirus vaccination programme from 27 December. 

Who has met Macron?

“The President of the Republic has been diagnosed positive for Covid-19 today,” the Elysée said on Thursday morning. The diagnosis was made following a “test performed at the onset of the first symptoms”, the statement added.

It is not yet known how Mr Macron caught the virus but his office said it was identifying any close contacts he had made in recent days. 

These include Prime Minister Jean Castex, 55, and parliamentary speaker Richard Ferrand, 58, who are both self-isolating, their offices confirmed.

Mr Castex, who is not showing any symptoms and has tested negative, was due to introduce the government’s Covid vaccination policy in the Senate on Thursday – now Health Minister Olivier Véran is doing it instead. 

Mr Macron’s wife Brigitte, who is 67, is also self-isolating but has no symptoms. 

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at the Elysee Palace as part of events marking the 60th anniversary of the signing of the OECD convention in Paris, France, on 14 December 2020.
image captionPresident Macron (L) met Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez on Monday

Spain’s Pedro Sánchez, 48, and the EU’s Charles Michel, 44, are both self-isolating after meeting the French president for lunch on Monday.

The Spanish prime minister’s office said he would be tested “without delay” and would “respect the quarantine until 24 December”.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, 59, has also cancelled all official trips, and is isolating and awaiting test results, after a working lunch in Paris with President Macron on Wednesday. 

Mr Macron attended a two-day European Council heads of state summit, which started last Thursday.

However, the French president is being considered a potential risk of contagion as of Monday evening, a senior EU official has told the BBC.

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) speaks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban (R) speaks with Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at the start of a two days face-to-face EU summit , in Brussels, Belgium, 10 December 2020.
image captionMr Macron (L) attended two days of face-to-face meetings with other EU leaders last week, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

All sanitary measures were observed during last week’s meeting and the council has not been informed of any other participants testing positive, the source added.

A presidential spokeswoman confirmed that all of Mr Macron’s forthcoming trips, including a visit to Lebanon on 22 December, had been cancelled.

What’s the latest on vaccines in the EU?

On Thursday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen confirmed EU countries could start vaccinating people against the virus from 27 December, if the EU regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is due to meet on Monday to evaluate the vaccine which is already being rolled out in the US and UK.

The EU says it plans to carry out a co-ordinated vaccination campaign across its 27 member states to ensure fair access to doses. However, it will be down to each state to determine who gets priority for the injections.

Earlier this week, France eased national lockdown restrictions imposed to tackle its second wave of the pandemic. 

However, infection rates still remain high and a daily 20:00-06:00 curfew was imposed. The new measures have forced restaurants, cafes, theatres and cinemas to close. 

On Wednesday, France registered more than 17,700 new cases. 

Which other world leaders have caught Covid?

Combo pic of world leaders how have caught Covid-19
image captionFrom left to right: Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro, Ambrose Dlamini and Donald Trump
  • Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini of Eswatini(formerly Swaziland) died on Monday, four weeks after he tested positive
  • US President Donald Trump contracted the virus in October. He was given an experimental drugs cocktail and returned to the White House after three nights in hospital
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda contracted the virus in October and went into self-isolation
  • Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has spent two months in hospital in Germany after catching the disease in October – last week he appeared in video for the first time since testing positive, saying he hopes to return to Algeria soon
  • Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei tested positive in September – despite calling himself “high-risk” he did not appear to suffer a severe case
  • Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil tested positive in July and spent more than two weeks quarantining in his residence
  • In June, the outgoing President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, died of an illness suspected by many to be Covid-19
  • Russia’s Prime Minster Mikhail Mishustin contracted the virus in April and was admitted to hospital with moderate to severe symptoms
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive in March – he spent three nights in intensive care in a London hospital, later saying he owed the health workers there his life

Source: BBC News