Reform of the civil service

Marking as it did the collapse of the Vichy regime, the Liberation posed the problem of how the restored Republic was to be legally and effectively administered. As early as 14 March 1944, in Algiers, General de Gaulle had laid down the principles according to which this administration would function, as and when the country was liberated. On 9 April, the 1941 civil service act was abrogated, but the General made it clear he had no intention of removing the vast majority of civil servants, most of whom during the terrible years of war… "had sought above all to serve the public good to the best of their ability". The purge would therefore be limited, generally to those in higher grades who had lacked either the courage or the foresight to rally to the cause of liberation. Early in 1945, the General noted that the Republic had restored the regional and departmental administrations, and established provisional local authorities in all the communes. 

The Resistance, for its part, prompted its contemporaries to examine in depth the issue of service to the state, and its patriotic, democratic and professional demands. Although defined while the Resistance was still a clandestine movement, by the general research committee to which de Gaulle refers in his War Memoirs, these imperatives served as the guidelines for reform.

On 25 July 1944, the General announced to the Provisional Consultative Assembly that "the government intends to implement certain necessary reforms in the recruitment and employment of several, if not all categories of civil servant". In his view, the lessons of war and occupation, the needs of reconstruction and the necessary restoration of a strong executive required the placing of competent and efficient men at every level and in every sector of the administration.

The civil service reform programme

On 22 March 1945, the General described to the Assembly the main components of his policy for reconstruction, participation and nationalisation, and announced that his government's programme included the reform of the civil service. In April, he called Michel Debré to his office and gave him the task of implementing the general directive. He would be required in particular to define, on behalf of the government, "the means of recruiting and training a corps of public administrators and controllers". The resulting creation of the provisional task force for civil service reform was a major innovation at the time, given the highly traditional nature of government structures in the 1930s and 40s. Such a task could only succeed if it reported directly to the head of the executive: in this case, it did.

In reality, the plans had been drawn up even before the task force for reform was instituted, largely along lines developed by Michel Debré and his friends. The task therefore went ahead rapidly and efficiently. A preliminary proposal was circulated and discussions held with the school of political science, the École Libre des Sciences Politiques, represented by André Siegfried and Roger Seydoux (with whom the General discussed the issues on 25 June); in early June a select inter-ministerial committee discussed the general outlines of the project which was ratified by inter-ministerial council on 8 June.

On 12 June, the project was submitted to the Consultative Assembly and also to the Council of State. The Assembly examined the paper, first in committee chaired by P. Bastid and with P. Cot as secretary, then  in full session. On 22 June, the slightly modified proposal was unanimously adopted. In June, the Council of State under René Cassin examined the proposal in principle, and then a second time over the summer in order to put the final touches to the bill itself.  On 14 September, the proposal was approved in the Council of Ministers on the report of Jules Jeanneney. The press avidly reported the proposals, particularly because they abolished the entrance examinations which had hitherto decided admission into the major civil services and the ministries. On 9 October, by virtue of the powers he exercised temporarily in the name of the Republic, Charles de Gaulle signed the two orders and twelve decrees which made up the reform, subject to a subsequent decree (18 October) concerning civil administrators.

The creation of the ENA and the Direction de la Fonction Publique

At the heart of the reform lay the creation of the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA), a concept which, as the General was to say, sprang fully-armed from the brain and the work of Michel Debré. It was this innovation that attracted the greatest interest in political, administrative and trade union circles, in the press and hence in public opinion. Designed to modify the conditions of recruitment to the state's major administrative corps, the general inspectorates or inspections générales, in particular for the departments of Finance, Foreign Affairs and central government, (but not the magistracy or the technical corps), ENA was set up to unify the process of preparing and selecting candidates for the senior civil service. It also opened the process to women and to serving civil servants who met certain conditions.

The effects of a unification of entrance examinations could clearly not be restricted to the higher echelons of the civil service; it must inevitably lead to root and branch reform of the organisation and management of all the government departments concerned. The creation of the Direction de la Fonction Publique, or civil service department, at the pinnacle of the governmental edifice, met the legal and administrative needs created by the reform itself: establishing the ENA school, defining fields of study, creating cadres of civil administrators and administrative secretaries subject to a common hierarchy and common rules, integration of staff already in place. While traditional reflexes were beginning to reappear in government ministries, the measures being introduced were tending in their turn to extend the scope of the reform: by instituting management committees and bodies, for example, by applying the consequences of the emerging distinction between grade and post, by modifying the overall balance between the various corps and the government departments, as well as modifying job gradings, by preparing the way for an overall civil service policy and legislative and regulatory texts. One of the most important of these was what would eventually become the civil service general statute.

The civil service general statute

On 23 November 1945, after being elected unanimously by the Assembly as President of the Provisional Government, the general declared to the Constituent National Assembly elected one month earlier that "the reform of the administration and of the civil service must be completed by the end of this parliament, in such a way that an administration renewed in its methods of recruitment, in its spirit and in its functioning, reduced in size by the gradual removal of the constraints placed by the state on the activity of its citizens, but honoured and encouraged for its noble traditions of devotion to the service of the state, should be implemented at the earliest possible date at both central and local levels". 

It was in November 1945 that the construction of the civil service general statute was finally completed. The constituent Assembly adopted it hurriedly during its last sitting. The statute was promulgated on 19 October 1946, several months after the General's resignation.

On his return to power in 1958, General de Gaulle once again turned his attention to the wider problems affecting the civil service. The Constitution of 4 October 1958 had instituted a separation of powers between the legislative and the executive, giving the legislative control over rules regarding the fundamental guarantees extended to civilian and military servants of the state (art. 34); the government was therefore forced to use its special powers under this Constitution for a brief period (art. 92) to redistribute the provisions of the civil service general statute between the domains of legislation and regulation.

The order of 4 February 1959 set out the fundamental guarantees extended to civil servants and reiterated, for each field in which they were engaged, the underlying principles set out in the provisions of the law of 1946. All other provisions were dealt with by decree. This restructuring of the civil service, signed by General de Gaulle as Head of State, still largely prevails today.