French Language Blog

What is an “Énarque” ? (2ème partie) Posted by on Apr 14, 2010 in Culture, Vocabulary

We have seen, il y a deux jours (two days ago), a “special species” of people in France called “les énarques.” We found out that they in fact represent the French élite, the crème de la crème of the civil servants, a position in la société française (the French society) which naturally earns them both admiration and outrage.

At the beginning, the É.N.A., standing for L’École Nationale d’Administration, where the énarques graduate from, was created by Le Président Charles de Gaulle (note that the “s” in Charles is silent in French!), with the explicit purpose of making the high administrative jobs more accessible to le menu peuple (the common folks.)

We have seen what a tâche dantesque (daunting task) it is to get into the ÉNA, with the cornucopia of obstacles varying from l’examen externe to l’examen oral, and the 45 minutes of le Grand O !

Once you have made it inyou start your ÉNA journey as a stagiaire (trainee or intern) with a stage professionnel (internship) in some Ambassade de France (French embassy) for example. If you like to travel, then the embassy choice would definitely be a great experience, opening many possibilities for a future diplomatic work. Or, more typically, you can perform your stage in a big entreprise such as Total or BNP Paribas, where les chefs d’entreprises (the company officers) will petit à petit (little-by-little) train you in les ficelles du métiers (the tricks of the trade.)  In any case, you also have to do work and gain experience in l’administration centrale, such as in a Préfecture. All in all, the stage professionnel lasts about one year.

For les débouchés, the graduates, or the énarques if you prefer, they get to pick their jobs in the most peculiar way… at least to the rest of the world!
The method of recruitment is completely unseen in the United States, except maybe at the Naval Academy or a Federal Service Academy.  And comment ça marche ? (how does it work?) From all the prestigious jobs in the different levels of the French administration that we have mentioned on Monday, namely the Conseil d’État (Council of State), the Cour des Comptes (The Court of Audit), and the IGF, the major de promotion (the valedictorian) gets “first dibs”, choosing whatever position he or she pleases, then the second selects the second best job, et ainsi de suite (and so on.) This ranking formula is supposed to guarantee, at least in theory of course, that France would be une méritocratie (a meritocracy), eliminating the risks of cronyism and nepotism in the French administration.

You probably have seen many énarques before without even knowing it: Former president Jacques Chirac is an énarque, and so is Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, also a former French president. Dominique de Villepin, the former Prime Minister of France that we mentioned last time about his discours at the UN is also a pure product of the ÉNA. Many of the CEOs and captains of the French industry like France Télécome, AXA, Lafarge, and Crédit Agricole are des énarques.  The head of the European Central Bank (ECB) is an énarque, and so is the director of the Organisation Mondiale du Commerce or OMC (the WTO, or the World Trade Organization.)

The énarques usually are not so much into being exposed in the spotlight, and many of them do not necessarily go into politics. That’s probably why most of the French people know them but very little about them. Hopefully these articles have helped you discover a little bit who they are, so that you can finally answer the question: What is an “énarque”?

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  1. Secil:


    I found this article very informative. Reading it I learned a lot.
    I like your style of writing!