A Star Graduate of France’s Elite School Wants to Close Its Doors

President Emmanuel Macron suggests shutting the École Nationale d’Administration, a symbol of cronyism for many protesters

STRASBOURG, France—One school has been the cradle of the French establishment for decades, grooming future presidents, prime ministers and chief executives.

Now, one of its most illustrious alumni, President Emmanuel Macron, wants to shut his alma mater, the École Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, an institution that has become a symbol of France’s close-knit elite and persistent class divide.

Mr. Macron aims to placate yellow-vest protesters who have bedeviled his government for months, accusing him of paying too little heed to the economic pain of the working and rural class.

ENA has become a particular target, along with its graduates, known as énarques.

The president’s proposal comes at the end of months of high-profile public debates he organized in response to the demonstrations.

“We need to abolish ENA,” Mr. Macron said in April.

The school’s closure would be part of a broader push to overhaul France’s education system for high-ranking civil servants in an effort to improve opportunities for the underprivileged. Mr. Macron has pledged “to build something new that works better,” but hasn’t provided further details.

ENA was designed as a meritocracy to open better opportunities to all students regardless of their background. But critics say the school has become a breeding ground for cronyism, perpetuating a social pecking order that allows énarques to monopolize top positions in society. They run the prime minister’s office, the finance ministry, the central bank, two of the highest courts and many top private-sector companies. Three of France’s past four presidents are graduates of the two-year program.

“It’s a very French hypocrisy. The system is egalitarian on paper but unequal in practice,” said Jean-Pascal Lanuit, a senior official at the culture ministry and a former ENA student.

But many believe shutting ENA won’t change an elitist culture perpetuated by a two-tier education system. On one side, there are highly competitive institutions known as grandes écoles, public and private schools that are akin to the U.S. Ivy League schools, including engineering school École Polytechnique and business school HEC Paris.

On the other are universities open to almost everyone, but with sometimes crowded classrooms and crumbling facilities.

ENA was founded after World War II to better train high-ranking civil servants and open top government positions that had been reserved for “wealthy students living in Paris,” according to a 1945 government document. The creation was orchestrated by the then-general secretary of the French communist party, under Charles de Gaulle’s temporary government.

.. The Strasbourg-based school recruits about 80 students every year—compared with 2,000 undergraduates at Harvard University—based on a rigorous competitive entrance exam that includes five written tests lasting as long as five hours each in law, economy, social issues and public finances.

Tuition is free and students receive a monthly stipend to pay for books and housing.

But critics say ENA counts few students from rural, low-income families, and most current students are young white men.

The main reason, critics say, is the growing inequality of the French education system. Indeed, most ENA students have attended France’s top high schools and one of the best preparatory classes for the entrance exam. As a result, instead of promoting social mobility, the system ends up subsidizing the education of the rich with taxpayers’ money.

Many ENA students come from similar neighborhoods and attended the same schools. “I knew almost everyone there when I arrived in school,” said Florian Paret, a 27-year-old Parisian and second-year student at ENA, who graduated from the elite Paris Institute of Political Studies.

There are fewer opportunities for social advancement today compared with 40 years ago, said Ségolène Royal, a former minister and socialist candidate for the 2007 presidential elections who attended ENA and graduated in 1980.

“I’m not sure that it would have been possible for me today to follow the same path because there’s a kind of state aristocracy that has established itself,” said Ms. Royal, who came from a middle-income family in eastern France, recently. While at ENA, she met François Hollande, who would become her long-term partner and French president.

Once inside ENA, competition is fierce because top-ranked students can cherry-pick the most prestigious government posts upon graduation, including working at France’s highest courts or powerful state auditing bodies.

“Competition is part of the school’s DNA,” said Alexandre Allegret-Pilot, 30, who had degrees in biology, law and business before entering ENA.

After they graduate, énarques must work for the government for at least 10 years. If they leave earlier, they need to partly reimburse the school for tuition; usually private companies that hire young énarques pay back ENA as part of the hiring compensation.

Today, more former students move between the private and public sectors, deepening the perception that énarques monopolize top positions. After joining the state auditing body, Mr. Macron worked for private bank Rothschild & Cie. from 2008 to 2012, before moving back to government.

The vast majority of énarques, however, work for the government for their entire career. Few actually run for office, even if the school is known for producing presidents and ministers.

“ENA is being used as a scapegoat,” said Joachim Bitterlich, a former German diplomat and member of ENA’s board, who graduated in 1974.

More recently, ENA, which accepts a few international students a year, has sought to broaden its student body, notably by creating preparatory classes for the entrance exam for students from underprivileged areas.

“ENA can change,” said Daniel Keller, who heads the alumni association. “But I’m all for preserving the ENA brand. It’s a label that has value.”

It will be up to Frédéric Thiriez, an énarque Mr. Macron chose in April to lead the overhaul of France’s civil servants’ training.

Even if ENA were to close, it isn’t clear if that will be enough to appease the yellow vests.

“That’s secondary,” said Theo Feugueur, a 19-year-old law student in the Paris region, who takes part in yellow-vest protests every Saturday. “He should abolish all the grandes écoles.”

 

House Democratic Campaign Arm Nears War With Liberals Over Primary Fights

WASHINGTON — The House Democratic campaign arm is nearing open warfare with the party’s rising liberal wing as political operatives close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi try to shut down primary challenges before what is likely to be a hard-fought campaign next year to preserve the party’s shaky majority.

Progressive Democrats were infuriated last month when Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois, the chairwoman of the campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, moved to protect centrist incumbents by formally breaking committee business ties with political consultants and pollsters who go to work for primary challengers.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, who owes her seat to a successful primary challenge, went so far as to encourage her 3.8 million Twitter followers to “pause” their donations to the campaign committee in protest. She also started a fund-raising push on her official Twitter account for Representatives Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, Katie Hill of California and Mike Levin of California. That initiative, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter, raised $30,000 in roughly two hours. She also helped raise money for Representatives Katie Porter of California and Lauren Underwood of Illinois.

The open hostilities are just the latest in the rising tensions between an experienced party establishment focusing on what is possible in the short run and a group of young liberals chafing at such restraint. House Democrats have divided over single-payer “Medicare for all” versus incremental legislation to bolster the Affordable Care Act and over Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal versus less ambitious climate change policies. Liberal Democrats and more moderate newcomers from Republican-leaning districts have fought over Republican procedural motions.

And divisions on health care, climate change, military spending and tax policy convinced the House Budget Committee chairman, John Yarmuth of Kentucky, last week to give up on drafting a budget that would have laid down a broad legislative agenda for the new Democrat-controlled House.

Now that tension has migrated to the mechanics of the 2020 campaign.

Ms. Bustos’s rule prohibits Democratic consultants and vendors working for a primary challenger to an incumbent from receiving work from the committee. It comes as ardent liberal organizations like Justice Democrats, emboldened by a pair of high-profile wins in 2018 — Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez — are aggressively gearing up to challenge centrist or old-line Democrats with liberal candidates.

In the latest swipe in a fight that has erupted into open hostilities, a coalition of progressive groups on Friday introduced an online database of go-to vendors for insurgent candidates emblazoned with the heading, “Despite the D.C.C.C.’s bullying, we’re still going to work on primaries.”

One group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said Friday that it was exploring a challenge against Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, because he has not committed to holding hearings on the single-payer health care system known as “Medicare for all.” At the helm of that panel, Mr. Neal has been on the front lines of conducting oversight on President Trump’s finances, and last week requested six years of his personal tax returns.

“We reject the D.C.C.C.’s attempt to hoard power, which will only serve to keep that talent pool — and Congress itself — disproportionately white and male,” María Urbina, the national political director for Indivisible, a progressive grass-roots group, said of the campaign committee. “Incumbents who engage fully with their constituents shouldn’t fear primaries and shouldn’t rely on the national institutions like the D.C.C.C. to suppress challenges before voters ever have a say.”

The ‘Rotten Equilibrium’ of Republican Politics

the 20 most prosperous districts are now held by Democrats, while Republicans represent 16 of the 20 least prosperous, measured by share of G.D.P. The accompanying chart illustrates their analysis.

.. The authors’ calculation of the contribution to the G.D.P. of every congressional district showed that Democratic districts produce $10.2 trillion of the nation’s goods and services and Republican districts $6.2 trillion.

This trend creates a significant dilemma for Trump and the Republican Party. Candidates on the right do best during hard times and in recent elections, they have gained the most politically in regions experiencing the sharpest downturn. Electorally speaking, in other words, Republicans profit from economic stagnation and decline.

Let’s return to John Austin of the Michigan Economic Center. In an email he describes this unusual situation succinctly: “A rising economic tide tends to sink the Trump tugboat,” adding

“Certainly more people and communities that are feeling abandoned, not part of a vibrant economy means more fertile ground for the resentment politics and ‘blaming others’ for people’s woes (like immigrants and people of color) that fuel Trump’s supporters.”

The small- and medium-sized factory towns that dot the highways and byways of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin have lost their anchor employers and are struggling to fill the void. Many of these communities, including once solidly Democratic-voting, union-heavy, blue collar strongholds, flipped to Trump in 2016.

This pattern is not limited to the United States. There are numerous studies demonstrating that European and British voters who are falling behind in the global economy, and who were hurt by the 2008 recession and the subsequent cuts to the welfare state, drove Brexit as well as the rise of right-wing populist parties.

..In a July 2018 paper, “Did Austerity Cause Brexit?” Thiemo Fetzer, an economist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, argues that austerity policies adopted in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse were crucial both to voter support for the right-wing populist party UKIP in Britain and to voter approval of Brexit.

the EU referendum (Brexit) could have resulted in a Remain victory had it not been for a range of austerity-induced welfare reforms. These reforms activated existing economic grievances. Further, auxiliary results suggest that the underlying economic grievances have broader origins than what the current literature on Brexit suggests. Up until 2010, the UK’s welfare state evened out growing income differences across the skill divide through transfer payments. This pattern markedly stops from 2010 onward as austerity started to bite

.. The results here and in England reinforce the conclusion that the worse things get, the better the right does.

As a rule, as economic conditions improve and voters begin to feel more secure, they become more generous and more liberal. In the United States, this means that voters move to the left; in Britain, it means voters are stronger in their support for staying in the European Union.

Trump Taps William Barr to Be Next Attorney General

Nominee served in the post for two years during the first Bush administration

Mr. Barr spent two years as attorney general under former Republican President George H.W. Bush. One of the people who served under Mr. Barr during that time was Pat Cipollone, whom Mr. Trump named White House counsel in October.

Mr. Barr has also called for “more balance” among the prosecutors working for Mr. Mueller, noting that some of them have made political contributions to Democrats. Mr. Mueller is a registered Republican. Mr. Barr also publicly supported Mr. Trump’s call last year for the Justice Department to investigate 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, saying there was “nothing inherently wrong” with such a call. Presidents typically avoid public calls for investigations to avoid the appearance of interfering with matters of justice.
.. As Mr. Trump mulled his choices for the job, some of the president’s advisers opposed Mr. Barr, saying he was the sort of establishment figure the president often derides on the campaign trail.
..  Mr. Whitaker also had told CNN that if Mr. Sessions were succeeded by an acting attorney general, he could imagine a scenario in which that person would reduce Mr. Mueller’s budget “so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.”