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.

Covid: France schools to close under third lockdown

French schools will close for at least three weeks as part of new national restrictions to fight rising Covid cases, President Emmanuel Macron says.

Mr Macron said that schools would move to remote learning from next week.

Lockdown measures, introduced in some areas of France earlier this month, are also being extended to other districts.

All non-essential shops are to close from Saturday and there will be a ban on travelling more than 10km (six miles) from home without good reason.

The country is facing a peak of over 5,000 people in intensive care.

France has so far reported more than 4.6 million cases of coronavirus and 95,495 Covid-related deaths.

What measures has Macron announced?

In his live televised address on Wednesday, Mr Macron described the situation in the country as “delicate” and said that April would prove crucial. “We will lose control if we do not move now,” he said.

The 43-year-old president said it was a race between vaccinations on the one hand and attempting to control the spread of the virus on the other.

He said that while schools would be closing from next week, classes would remain open for the children of key workers.

Mr Macron said that measures introduced in 19 districts earlier this month – including the closure of non-essential businesses, exercise restricted to within 10km of an individual’s home and a ban on travel to other parts of the country without a valid reason – would be extended nationwide.

“Everyone should limit their contacts with other people,” he said, adding that people would be given the Easter weekend to get themselves to where they want to spend the lockdown.

He described “light at the end of the tunnel” if people respected the new measures.

Parliament will debate the measures announced by Mr Macron before voting on them on Thursday, according to the prime minister’s office.

Analysis box by Hugh Schofield, Paris correspondent

More than at previous turning-points, the politics of Covid in France is becoming interesting.

For one thing, President Macron has opened up a much clearer target now for the opposition – they can argue that his decision back in January to overrule the scientists and not launch a third lockdown was a blunder.

He was warned then that the so-called British variant would sweep all before it by the end of March – and lo and behold that is what has happened. And now he is eating his hat.

For his enemies, it is the result of Macron’s hubris – the insufferable self-belief that makes him think he knows better than the doctors.

The other reason it’s getting sensitive is the UK. Everyone in France can see how much better the vaccination programme is going there. If the UK starts resuming ordinary life while France is still struggling, tough questions will be asked of the president.

And elections are only a year away.

How serious is the situation in France? 

With serious cases of coronavirus increasing in France, the pressure on hospitals in the greater Paris region has resulted in a surge in demand for beds at intensive care units (ICUs). Hospitals in and around Paris have also been reducing non-Covid treatments.

The French hospital federation (FHF) last week warned that wards across the country were facing an “unprecedented violent shock” in the coming weeks if authorities were unable to curb the rise in cases. It urged the government to issue a “strict lockdown” or risk hospitals becoming overwhelmed. 

In an interview with France Inter radio on Tuesday, head of infectious diseases at the Tenon hospital in Paris, Gilles Pialoux, said that lockdown restrictions should have been implemented sooner.

“We’ve lost so much time that the measures now will be harder and last for longer,” Gilles Pialoux said, adding that hospital staff were “tired of being tired”.

Public support for a new national lockdown has reportedly been increasing in recent days, with an Elabe Institute poll published on Wednesday suggesting that 54% of citizens questioned backed the move.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Wednesday backed the closure of schools, saying the move – which had been seen by the government as a last resort – was necessary because of the “very serious situation”.

A group of French school teachers had earlier filed a legal complaint against Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer for “endangering the lives of others”, accusing him of failing to protect staff in regular contact with children in classrooms.

Covid: Germany warns of ‘exponential’ rise in coronavirus cases

Coronavirus cases are rising exponentially in Germany, officials warn, as continental Europe braces for a third wave of infections.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was likely that the country would now need to apply an “emergency brake” and re-impose lockdown measures.

France, Poland and other nations are also reintroducing restrictions.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said that Europe lacks the vaccines needed to significantly reduce cases.

“We have to be honest about the situation – in Europe we don’t have enough vaccines to stop a third wave through vaccinations alone,” he told reporters. 

The vaccine rollout across the EU has been hindered by delayed deliveries as well as the suspension in several countries of the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, over fears of possible side effects.

On Friday, Ms Merkel defended Germany’s decision to temporarily suspend the rollout of the vaccine and said she did not believe its reputation had been damaged.

“I would get vaccinated with AstraZeneca,” she said, adding: “I would like to wait until it’s my turn.”

What’s the situation in Germany? 

The increase in reported cases in Germany is said to be fuelled by outbreaks among younger people. 

“The numbers are rising, the share of mutations is large and there are some fairly challenging weeks ahead of us,” Mr Spahn said.

Ms Merkel said she had hoped lockdown measures would not need to be reintroduced so soon after easing restrictions, but that “sadly” developments meant that it was looking unavoidable.

“We agreed that, should the seven-day incidence rate exceed 100 per 100,000 people in a region or state, we will go back to the restrictions which were in place until 7 March – we called it the emergency brake.”

Ministers are particularly concerned about the Easter holidays. They are urging people not to travel and to limit gatherings to immediate family.

Just 8% of Germany’s population has so far received a first dose of vaccine, although the government on Friday resumed the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

Vice-president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, Lars Schaade, warned of the possibility of “many severe cases and deaths, and hospitals that are overwhelmed”.

The RKI has said that cases in Germany are rising at a “very clearly exponential rate”. 

What’s the latest on the AstraZeneca vaccine?

Despite assurances from the European medicines regulator that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective, some countries remain reluctant to resume their campaigns using the jab. 

Finland’s health authority has announced a pause in its use of the vaccine that will last at least a week. 

The move, which follows two reports of blood clots in patients who had received the jab in the country, was said to be a precautionary measure. 

Meanwhile, Sweden, Denmark and Norway said on Friday that they needed more time to determine whether they should resume AstraZeneca inoculations. 

Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands are among the countries that have restarted their AstraZeneca vaccination campaigns. 

Health authorities in France have recommended that the vaccine be offered only to people aged 55 and over. 

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) reviewed the jab after 13 European countries suspended use of the vaccine over fears of a link to blood clots.

It found the jab was “not associated” with a higher risk of clots.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

On Friday, experts at the WHO said the vaccine had “tremendous potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths across the world”. 

“The available data do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions such as deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism following administration of Covid-19 vaccines,” the WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety said in a statement.

What’s happening in France and Poland?

Some 21 million people in 16 areas of France, including the capital Paris, will be placed under Covid lockdown measures from midnight on Friday as the country fears a third wave.

Trains leaving Paris for parts of the country where lockdown restrictions do not apply, such as Brittany and Lyon, were reportedly fully booked hours before the measures were due to come into effect. Traffic jams were reported on several roads leaving the capital. 

In Poland, coronavirus cases are continuing to surge with new daily infections reaching levels not seen since the second wave peaked in November. 

A three-week partial lockdown is being introduced on Saturday to try to slow the spread of Covid-19. Shops, hotels, cultural and sporting facilities will close across the country.

Covid: Paris lockdown as France fears third wave

The French capital is set to go into a month-long Covid lockdown as the country fears a third wave.

Some 21 million people in 16 areas of France will be placed under the measures from midnight on Friday.

These measures will not be as strict as the previous lockdown, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, with people allowed to exercise outdoors. 

France has recorded more than 35,000 new infections within the past 24 hours.

Mr Castex said a “third wave” of infections in the country was looking increasingly likely.

The situation in Paris is particularly worrying with 1,200 people in intensive care there, more than at the peak of the second wave in November, Health Minister Olivier Véran said. 

Under the new measures, non-essential businesses will be forced to close, but schools will remain open, along with hairdressers if they follow a “particular sanitary protocol”. 

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal stressed there would be differences with the two earlier lockdowns and said further details would be given of which business could stay open or would have to shut.

People will be allowed to exercise outdoors within 10km (6 miles) of their home and are not allowed to travel to other parts of the country unless they have a valid reason. Those in the affected areas will have to fill out a form to explain why they have left their homes. 

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Parisians prepare for lighter lockdown

Analysis box by Hugh Schofield, Paris correspondent

There is a weary resignation about Paris, as people prepare for another four weeks of tedium. Yes, we know this third lockdown won’t be quite as bad as the second – which was itself a lighter version of the first. But still.

Another month of bits of paper for the police; another month of having to justify a trip to the supermarket; another month without meaningful social contact. It’s enough to drive you to distraction.

Passengers wait before boarding trains at Montparnasse railway station in Paris, on March 19, 2021
image captionFrance’s SNCF train company reported a surge in bookings ahead of the new lockdown

Except it hasn’t. In general, most Parisians simply knuckle under. Those who can are leaving by train or car, but because schools are staying open, most families will stick it out in the city.

Everyone’s made the calculation. The long Easter weekend in two weeks is a bust. But the Paris school holidays start on 17 April – exactly when the lockdown is supposed to end.

That’s the light that will keep people going. Spring break.

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As well as the greater Paris region, the northern Hauts-de-France, Seine-Maritime and Eure areas will go under lockdown as well as the Alpes-Maritimes on the French Riviera.

France’s nationwide curfew will remain in place. However, it will begin an hour later at 19:00 (18:00 GMT), taking into account the longer hours of daylight. 

Fears of a third wave come as the French government faces criticism for its slow vaccine rollout. 

From Friday, France will resume vaccinating using the AstraZeneca jab following the EMA’s announcement that it was fit for use. Mr Castex said he would be getting the vaccine straight away to prove that it was OK.

France had suspended the jab after a number of people in Europe reported blood clots developing after the vaccine was administered. 

A survey conducted just as the suspension was announced found that only 20% of the French have confidence in AstraZeneca.

French Industry Minister: AstraZeneca CEO is ‘on a hot seat’

PARIS (Reuters) – The chief executive of AstraZeneca – whose COVID-19 vaccine has been temporarily suspended in several European countries – is “on a hot seat and knows it”, said French Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher.

Pannier-Runacher also told France Info radio on Tuesday that France needed more details from AstraZeneca regarding its COVID-19 vaccine production plans.

French drone tourist in Iran Benjamin Briere ‘facing spy charges’

A French tourist detained in Iran ten months ago is facing two charges of “spying and propaganda against the system”, according to his lawyer.

Benjamin Briere, 35, was arrested after flying a drone near the Iran-Turkmenistan border.

His lawyer Saeid Dehghan said Mr Briere could face a long prison sentence if found guilty.

It comes at a time of rising tensions between Iran and European countries and the US over Iran’s nuclear capacity.

Mr Briere is being held in a prison in the city of Mashhad and is in good health, Mr Dehghan said, adding that “his spying charges [are] because of taking pictures in forbidden areas”. 

The charge of “propaganda against the system”, the lawyer said, was the result of a social media post by Mr Briere that said “the hijab is mandatory” in Iran but not in other Islamic countries.

“My colleagues and I believe that these charges are false and baseless, but we have to wait for the judge to conduct a full investigation in the next few days and announce his verdict,” Mr Dehghan added.

Last month, France’s foreign ministry confirmed a French citizen was being held in Iran and that it was monitoring the situation.

It has not commented on the charges.

France is part of a group of countries – along with the US, UK, China, Russia and Germany – that say they are trying to restore a nuclear deal that was struck with Iran in 2015 but was abandoned by US President Donald Trump in 2018.

The Trump administration then reinstated sanctions that Iran has said must be lifted before it will agree to restore the pact.

Iran has insisted that its nuclear programme is peaceful, but suspicions by other nations, including France, that it may be being used as a cover for building a nuclear bomb led to sanctions being imposed in 2010.

Human rights activists in the past have accused Iran of detaining foreign or dual-nationality citizens to use as leverage against other countries.

The charges against Mr Briere come after British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared in court in Tehran on propaganda charges. The charity worker has already served five years in prison in Iran.

French startup lobby to file privacy complaint against Apple

PARIS (Reuters) – France Digitale will file a complaint against iPhone maker Apple with data privacy watchdog CNIL on Tuesday over alleged breaches of European Union rules, France’s leading startup lobby said in a statement.

In the seven-page complaint seen by Reuters, the lobby, which represents the bulk of France’s digital entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, alleges Apple’s latest operating software, iOS 14, does not comply with EU privacy requirements.

France Digitale argues that while iPhone owners are asked whether they are ready to allow installed mobile apps to gather a key identifier used to define campaign ads and send targeted ads, default settings allow Apple to carry its own targeted ad campaigns without clearly asking iPhone users for their prior consent.

Under EU data privacy rules, all organisations must ask visitors online if they agree to have some of their data collected via trackers or other tools.

The same rules also provide the right to anyone to ask for information on the purposes of such data collection and how they are collected.

The lobby also alleges that Apple’s tracking functionality allows it to share the data it collects with affiliated companies without telling users ahead.

“It’s a startup version of David versus Goliath, but we are determined,” France Digitale CEO Nicolas Brien in a statement.

“The allegations in the complaint are patently false and will be seen for what they are, a poor attempt by those who track users to distract from their own actions and mislead regulators and policymakers,” Apple said in a written statement.

The complaint by France Digitale follows similar litigation against Apple filed by French online advertising lobbies with the antitrust authority last October.

It also comes after complaints filed by Austrian advocacy group Noyb with data protection watchdogs in Germany and Spain alleging that Apple’s tracking tool illegally enabled the U.S. tech giant to store users’ data without their consent.

Apple also rebutted those claims.

France’s OVHcloud kicks off process for a potential IPO: spokeswoman

French cloud computing services provider OVHcloud has started the process for a potential of listing of the company, a spokeswoman said on Monday.

Founded by Octave Klaba in 1999, OVHcloud is the biggest France-based cloud services provider.

Whatever the outcome of the potential initial public offering (IPO), Klaba and his family would retain a majority of the company’s shares, the spokeswoman said.

French IT monitoring company was targeted by hackers, cyber agency says

(Reuters) – Hackers have spent up to three years breaking into organizations by targeting monitoring software made by the French company Centreon, France’s cybersecurity watchdog said on Monday.

The watchdog, known by its French acronym ANSSI, stopped short of identifying the hackers but said that they had a similar modus operandi as the Russian cyberespionage group often nicknamed “Sandworm.”

ANSSI, Centreon, and the Russian embassy in Paris did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The targeting of Centreon, a Paris-based company which specializes in information technology monitoring, further highlights how attractive such firms are to digital spies.

Cybersecurity officials in the United States are still trying to get their hands around an ambitious espionage campaign that hijacked IT monitoring software made by the Austin, Texas-based firm SolarWinds. American officials, who have blamed Moscow for the hacking, have hinted that other firms have also been hit in similar ways.

Earlier this month Reuters reported that suspected Chinese hackers also targeted SolarWinds customers, using a different and less serious bug to help spread it across their victims’ networks.

The initial vector for the campaign of intrusions that targeted Centreon software was not known, ANSSI said in a 40-page report posted on its website. It said it had discovered intrusions dating back to late 2017 and stretching into 2020.

The watchdog did not identify the names or number of victims involved but said they were mainly IT services firms such as internet hosting providers.

France: More than 2,500 break virus restrictions at illegal rave

More than 2,500 people have attended an illegal rave in France, as the country continues to grapple with coronavirus.

The event, held in a warehouse at Lieuron near Rennes in Brittany, began on Thursday and is still going on.

A number of ravers are from the UK and Spain, police said.

Attendees have clashed with police, setting fire to a car and throwing objects at officers attempting to shut the event down. At least three officers have been injured.

A statement from local authorities said police had tried to “prevent this event but faced fierce hostility from many partygoers”.

One of the party-goers, who gave his name as Jo, told the AFP news agency that “very few had respected social distancing” at the event.

People stand in front of speakers inside the warehouse
image captionSome revellers said they were hoping to stay until Tuesday

A number of people slept in their cars before returning to dance, Le Monde reports.

Some attendees said they were planning to stay until Sunday while others said they hoped to remain until Tuesday.

One reveller told Le Monde that the rave was “very well organised” with food stalls inside.

Late on Friday, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin held a crisis meeting to discuss the event.

He said that all vehicle exits were blocked and more than 200 people had been given verbal warnings by police. 

People leave the rave
image captionMore than 200 verbal warnings have been issued so far

France introduced strict rules ahead of the New Year including a curfew from 20:00 until 06:00. 

More than 100,000 police officers were deployed across the country to break up parties and enforce the curfew. 

Officers were instructed to break up underground parties as soon as they were reported, fine participants and identify the organisers.

France has recorded more than 2.6 million coronavirus cases and 64,892 deaths since the pandemic began.