French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that he intended to scrap one of the country's most prestigious post-graduate schools, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, which counts four heads of state among its graduates.
"We will need to abolish the ENA, among others, to be able to build something else," he said of the institution in the eastern city of Strasbourg that has educated top French politicians and public officials since 1945.
ENA graduates, known as "Enarques" in France, form a network of influence that stretches across the top echelons of politics and business, making it a target for critics of the French establishment for decades.
Macron said he was against making other reforms to the institution, which has been criticised for failing to admit a diverse group of students.
"If you keep the same structures, then the habits are too strong, the habits remain," Macron said.
Macron is the fourth French president to have been schooled at the ENA after Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Jacques Chirac and Francois Hollande.
Macron was expected to announce the decision to abolish the ENA last week in a speech that was cancelled because of a fire at the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Cutting the ENA is part of wider efforts announced by Macron to reform the vast French public administration which he believes needs to be leaner and more diverse.
The ENA was created in 1945 in the aftermath of World War II when France needed to rebuild its civil service, parts of which had collaborated with France's Nazi occupiers during the conflict.
It succeeded initially in opening up the vast public administration to people drawn from different backgrounds, rather than the bourgeoisie and aristocracy which had traditionally dominated the French state.
But in recent decades studies have shown its intake narrowing increasingly to the children of wealthy families, often those with past links to the school, despite an entrance exam which is open to everyone and supposedly meritocratic.
Patrick Gerard, the school's director, acknowledged on Wednesday that only 19 per cent of current students had a parent from a blue-collar background.
"We need to do better," he said in a column for Le Figaro newspaper which pleaded for the school to be spared.
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