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Bureaucratic Elites in Western European StatesA Comparative Analysis of Top Officials$
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Edward C. Page and Vincent Wright

Print publication date: 1999

Print ISBN-13: 9780198294467

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198294468.001.0001

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The Senior Civil Service in France

The Senior Civil Service in France

(p.65) 4 The Senior Civil Service in France
Bureaucratic Elites in Western European States

Luc Rouban

Oxford University Press

In France, the notion of a senior civil servant is a social rather than a legal one, and senior civil servants may be defined through their role as privileged partners of political power and participation in government decision‐making; they are a heterogeneous group of senior managers of the state public administration, whose members share neither the same careers nor prestige nor professional culture, and regard themselves generally as intellectuals rather than as managers. The relationship between senior civil servants and politicians is more ambiguous and closer in the 1990s than it was during the 1960s, and the politicization of the senior civil service has been considerably strengthened, but senior civil servants still consider themselves as representing the permanence of the state, and are still reluctant to talk freely about their political involvements. Whatever the social changes that have occurred during the last 15 years and whatever the political changes, the senior civil service remains strong. An overview of the higher French civil service has to take into account three variables that interact simultaneously: the fundamentally individualistic culture acquired during years of professional training; the decisive role of the grand corps in the career path and in the representation of what is ‘good administrative work’; and the privileged social rank of the higher civil service. This chapter presents the main characteristics of senior public managers in France by trying to highlight signs of an evolution since the 1960s; the different sections look at recruitment and promotion methods, the political activity and mobility of senior civil servants, the internal hierarchy of the civil service, the sociological characteristics of senior public managers, the professional relationships of senior civil servants, the absence of any higher civil service policy, and the debated question of the erosion of higher civil service social status.

Keywords:   France, grand corps, higher civil service, individualistic culture, internal hierarchy, mobility, political activity, politicization, professional relationships, professional training, promotion, recruitment, senior civil servants, senior civil service, senior public managers, social rank, social status, sociological characteristics, state public administration

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