The Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) was set up on 9th October 1945 by the government of General Charles de Gaulle. ENA's function is to train top level civil servants, preparing its graduates for careers in the upper echelons of the French civil administration, the Council of State, (“Conseil d’Etat”) the Court of Auditors (Cour des Comptes), various Inspectorates e.g. for Finance or Social Affairs and the diplomatic and overseas trade promotion services.
The aims of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration are:
- to standardize the recruitment of civil servants destined for a wide variety of careers that hitherto were accessible via separate competitive examinations,
- to ensure professional training of the highest quality for these civil servants, who generally rise
to the highest levels of public service.
While it's not explicitly stated, there is a greater degree of meritocracy. Successful candidates will have proved what they know - not who they know.
Contrary to what I'd believed before, most graduates (les énarques) don't end up in politics. Many of them are the proverbial éminences grises who pull strings and set policies behind the scenes. Nevertheless, the list of prominent graduates really does look like a who's who of French politics in the late 20th century or early 21st century: Giscard d'Estaing, Jacques Chirac, Francois Hollande, Laurent Fabius, Michel Rocard, Édouard Balladur, Alain Juppé, Lionel Jospin, Dominique de Villepin, Pierre Moscovici, Michel Sapin, Fleur Pellerin, Ségolène Royal, Pascal Lamy, Jean-Claude Trichet, Michel Camdessus along with many who went on to become major figures in French business and industry.
Could Ireland do with such an institution for the purposes of training future leaders? I've often felt that Irish politicians are less polished than they could be and while I wouldn't see an Irish ENA as being the only way in which one could enter politics, it would certainly be an improvement on what seems to be the current route for many: cumann >> council >> candidate for Dáil seat. We all know about the dynasties and the mediocre bumblers who are in politics because their father was or because they're particularly good at networking in their own constituency and "getting things done" - this all being regardless of their ignorance of economics, social affairs, foreign policy etc.
The énarques system is certainly not without its critics but if - in the Irish context - it would bring in a few more people of real ability while squeezing out the Jackie Healy-Rae types, it would be well worth it.