French Civil Service

The French Civil Service (fonction publique) is the set of civil servants (fonctionnaires) working for the French government.

Not all employees of the state and public institutions or corporations are civil servants; however, the media often incorrectly equates "government employee" or "employee of a public corporation" with fonctionnaire. For instance, most employees of RATP and SNCF are not civil servants. The Civil Service is also sometimes incorrectly referred to as the administration, but, properly said, the administration is the compound of public administrations and public administrative establishments, not their employees.

About half of the civil servants are employed in the public education system.



The Civil Service is divided into:

  • the civil service of the State (fonction publique de l'État, see particular statutes (;
  • the judiciary (magistrature) (see particular statutes (;
  • the civil service of public hospitals (fonction publique hospitalière, see particular statutes (;
  • the civil service of local governments (fonction publique territoriale, see particular statutes (

Technically, fonction publique may also refer to fonction publique militaire, the personnel of military status. They are generally counted apart. There also exist ouvriers d'État - that is, State Workers - for industrial functions.

Corps and ranks

Civil servants are divided into corps, which may themselves be divided into ranks (grades) (called classes in certain corps). Corps are grouped in 4 categories named A to D, in decreasing order of educational knowledge theoretically required, A meaning "college graduate". For instance, the corps of professors of the universities is a category A corps divided into 3 classes, in increasing order of seniority: second class (equivalent to an American associate professor), first class (full professor), exceptional class (leading full professor in his area). Generally, to avoid rank inflation, the number of civil servants in the higher ranks (especially "exceptional class") is contrained by a maximal percentage of the total number of civil servants of the corps. Each corps has a set of possible job or task descriptions and may have its own particular statutes.

Great corps of the State

Certain corps enjoying particular prestige are called "the great corps of the State" [1] (

High-level administrative positions are typically paid much less than the equivalent positions in private industries. However, members of great Corps often practice pantouflage — that is, they take temporarily (and sometimes permanent) leaves from government work and go work in industry. Occasionally, people from a ministry supervising some industry would later go to work in that same industry; this practice was later prohibited. Pantouflage however still exists, and the cozyness between some industrial, political and administrative circles is regularly denounced.

Members of the great administrative corps are well represented in politics. This is facilitated by civil servants (of any level) being able to exerce elected office on a temporary leave (détachement) from government.


Civil servants have duties; failure to carry them out may result in disciplinary action, up to discharge. The main duties are:

Full commitment to professional activity

A civil servant should devote his full professional activity to his appointed task. By exception, a civil servant may in addition to his regular activities write books; he may also accomplish certain tasks (teaching...) with the permission of his hierarchical supervisor.


One cannot be a civil servant if one has been convicted of a crime incompatible with one's functions.

In certain exceptional cases, certain aspects of the private life of a civil servant may be termed incompatible with his functions. For instance, it is inappropriate for a member of the police or the judiciary to live with a delinquent partner or a prostitute. Appreciation of what is appropriate or not is largely a matter of jurisprudence.


A civil servant should not, by his actions and especially by his declarations, cause harm to institutions. Appreciation of what is appropriate or not is largely a matter of jurisprudence.

Generally speaking, a civil servant should always refrain from enunciating personal opinions in a manner that can be construed as expressing the official opinion of the French government or a public institution. Obviously, this is more of a matter for the higher managerial positions. Agents operating abroad should be especially prudent. For instance, an ambassador should refrain from making any private comment on international issues.

The academic freedom of university professors is a fundamental principle recognized by the laws of the Republic, as defined by the Constitutional Council; furthermore, statute law declares about higher education that teachers-researchers [university professors and assistant professors], researchers and teachers are fully independent and enjoy full freedom of speech in the course of their research and teaching activities, provided they respect, following university traditions and the dispositions of this code, principles of tolerance and objectivity (Education Code, L952-2 (

Hierarchical obedience

A civil servant must accomplish the orders given by his hierarchical supervisor, unless those orders are evidently illegal and contrary to public interest.

While the hierarchical authority is normally responsible for assigning civil servants to positions and evaluating their work, certain corps of civil servants follow specific rules regarding the management, evaluation and discipline of their members. For instance, professors and researchers are evaluated by elected committees of their peers.

Professional discretion

Civil servants must not reveal private or secret information that they have gained in the course of their duties.


Civil servants must not use the means at his professional disposal for private gain.


Civil servant must be neutral with respect to the religious or political opinions, origin, or sex, and should refrain from expressing their own opinions.

Recruitment and career

As an exception to the general rules concerning workers, civil servants do not sign contracts; their situation is defined by statutory and regulatory dispositions, most notably the General Statute of the Civil Servants ( (Statut Général des Fonctionnaires).

The general rule is that civil servants are recruited through competitive exams, either:

  • external, reserved to competitors fulfilling certain conditions of diplomas and age;
  • internal, reserved to civil servants in certain positions;
  • external, reserved to competitors having certain professional experience and age.

The most common method is to organize written and/or oral exams in subjects pertaining to the tasks to be accomplished. For certain positions, such as professorships in universities, the exam, organized locally for each position or each set of similar positions, consists in the submission of a file listing the professional qualifications and experience of the candidate, followed by an interview. In all cases, a committee ranks candidates by order of preference; the positions are filled by the candidates accepting them called in that order of preference. For some top managerial positions, nominations are at the discretion of the executive.

High lever nominations are made by the President of the Republic in the council of ministers. The rest are by the head of the agency they belong to, or by a minister; in fact, they are in general appointed by some person who has received from the head of agency or minister the authority to do so.


On December 31, 1999, official statistics ( give for the state civil service:


Civil servants

Ouvriers d'État

Other civilian employees

Military personnel


Foreign affairs

7 159


6 767


15 050


29 724


8 316


38 097

Veteran affairs

1 934




2 367

Cooperation with foreign countries

1 851


1 660


4 096


12 212


2 532


14 744


33 324

49 763

7 979

318 057

409 123

Economy, finances and industry

187 728


16 005


204 820

National education

942 651


96 487


1 039 142

Employment and solidarity

22 928


7 158


30 108

Higher education

117 411


17 088


134 507

Equipment, housing, transportation

95 797

9 508

11 359


117 211

Interior (including police)

161 978

1 593

20 410 (1)


184 015

Youth and sports

6 411


4 093


10 504


61 232


4 764


65 998

Overseas affairs

2 171




3 504




9 041


9 061

Services of the prime minister

1 367


1 127


3 160


1 685 898

62 537

215 591

321 481

2 285 507

(1) Including 12,000 young employees on limited time contracts.

External link

fr:fonction publique


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