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Emmanuel Macron announces the closure of ENA, the High School for the Training of Cadres of the French Republic, built by Charles de Gaulle in the aftermath of the Second World War. It was the sanctuary of republican principles, the breeding ground of the French ruling class, right and left. For years in crisis in its symbolic image, closing becomes in turn the new symbol of a period passage.
To understand this we need to take a few steps back and go back to nineteen years ago, just these days, when Jean-Marie Le Pen, duce of black France, was voted by 17 percent of the French, overcoming the socialist Lionel Jospin and qualifying for the ballot with Jacques Chirac. The event was baptized as “the shock” of 21 April. There followed a great national mobilization to “barrage” the lepenist wave, something comparable to an anti-fascist front, in which left-wing voters holding their noses were called to vote for the Gaullist Chirac. The result of the ballot was a historic 82 percent for the Republican right-wing candidate, confirmed at the Elysée after his first and stormy years.
Chirac’s first decision was to appoint as prime minister a man of the province, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, president of Poitou-Charente, an Atlantic and rural region, outside the usual routes of great French politics. An unusual feature for a prime minister stood out in Raffarin’s curriculum: He did not attend ENA. That electoral shock and the discovery of an unprecedented consensus for the black man had had the effect of making an anthropological subject always kept on the margins of the Republic appear on the public scene: the anti-cast, populist and – let’s say today – sovereign voter. Chirac, by appointing a provincial man from the “France d’en bas” to the top of the government, as it was said at the time, intended to break the idea that France was governed by an eternal caste that reproduced itself and that was symbolized in the recruitment to all ‘École Nationale d’Administration. For forty years, presidents, prime ministers, ministers, “grand commis” of state had been carrying that mark which was equivalent to a stamp, a seal, to the anointing of the République.
The symbolic tear made then by Chirac was soon stitched up. Out of fashion Raffarin, a former “enarca” (as Ena’s former students are called) Dominique de Villepin, former foreign minister, protagonist of the memorable battle at the UN when France said no to George W. Bush for the war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein. And in the following presidential elections, 2007, the first woman candidate for the Elysée, the socialist Ségolène Royal exhibited her 1980 “Voltaire” promotion (every year at ENA is named after a great Frenchman) in the clash with Nicolas Sarkozy, candidate of the right that instead – like Raffarin – made a curricular pride of not having passed through ENA. But the Sarkozy era also passed quickly, five years at a pace that was called “bling-bling”, like in a pinball machine and ended up in a new duel against another ex-enarca François Hollande, who also graduated in that “Voltaire” promotion. where he met Ségolène, who later became the mother of his four children, never married but – perhaps – and also forever companions from afar.
“Mythical” and emblematic promotion of a generation that grew up under Mitterrand that conquered power and knew how to keep it, Ena was the fluid that transmitted this power, a magical potion that is transmitted by custom, as Hollande told in an interview with ‘Express of 1998: “We see each other often, we spend the holidays together, parties and New Year’s Eve parties. Our children know each other. It is above all a bond of friendship that has allowed us to remain strong even in the difficult moments of our career ”. In 2009 the director Raoul Peck made a television saga, “L’école du pouvoir”, starring three young people in which it was easy to see Hollande, Ségolène and de Villepin, in the fiction represented by an aristocratic don Juan. And it should not be surprising that in reality Gaullist de Villepin spent a few words in favor of the socialist henarch Hollande (“He has what it takes to be president”) against the non-Gaullist Sarkozy.
Right and left are confused in the Ena transmission. Lionel Jospin, socialist prime minister and two-time presidential candidate (in 1995 after a narrow defeat by Chirac) had also been an Ena pupil while continuing – in secret – to be a Trotskyist militant. The teaching of Ena was the idea of ”general interest”. As François Miquel, a very high official, explained to Parisien, “at the center of everything is the defense of the role of the state”.
With Emmanuel Macron, who in his curriculum as top of the class has not only Ena but also Sciences-Po (another great school of the Parisian elite circuit) former enarchi were his two prime ministers Edouard Philippe and Jean Castex (now in office), is Bruno Le Maire, minister of the economy. In Parliament there are seventeen other former enarchi, many of whom are the first critics of the school and of the chain of power that was born to “democratize the République” in the last twenty years has become increasingly elitist. Le Maire himself said that this chain has “confiscated the power of the French and the system must now be deeply reformed”. A macronist and former enarca deputy, Sylvain Waserman, who supports Macron’s decision, was even more explicit: “We have to get out of the mechanism by which we reach the top of the administration with a kind of obligatory path to great Parisian high schools / Sciences Po / Ena who brings brilliant 26-year-old children of former enarchi to leading positions but without any experience “.
Macron himself spoke of breaking the “copinage” between senior officials and re-establishing the method of recruiting cadres for high state functions. A year after the presidential elections in which all the polls give Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie and the shock of April 21, 2002, close to 50 percent, the former enarch Macron closing a sanctuary like Ena plays a card to high symbolic value. It is a bet, which can win or lose, but we will know it in April 2022 which already promises to be fateful.