Chapter 14: The Civil Service in France: Contested Complacency?
Michael Duggett with Manueline Desbouvries 14.1 POITIERS The town of Poitiers in the left-centre of France has three cathedrals, one of which was built by Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and when you tour all three of them there is a definite sense that it is another city that ‘whispers the last enchantments of the Middle Age’.1 But at the top of the hill, directly opposite the city’s Mairie,2 stands the Prefecture for the town and its region.3 The building is eighteenth century, faced by stern iron gates, with a gravel-driveway made for the ministerial Citroëns, and rational enlightenment architecture. This is the French State – l’Etat – which rules from here, and is in an easy position of superiority over the anachronistic past and the romantic regional present. The State in France, represented by the Prefect, who is appointed from Paris and reports to it, embodies all that is rational, modern, unifying, and egalitarian. It descends from the rigour of the Jacobins, the creative fire of Napoleon and the technocratic genius of the Fifth Republic, with just a touch of the grandeur of the Sun King, Louis XIV. In the August of 2007, when one of us (Michael Duggett) walked its tourist route, Poitiers had just seen its favourite daughter, Ségolène Royale, soundly beaten for the Presidency by Nicolas Sarkozy, and its students and professors – it is an old university town with old leftist traditions – were licking their wounds before the battles of the autumn began....
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