France is a state in Western Europe with several of its overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is often referred to as L’Hexagone ("The Hexagon") because of the geometric shape of its territory. It is bordered (clockwise from the north) by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Spain and Andorra. France's overseas departments and collectivities also share land borders with Brazil and Suriname (bordering French Guiana), and the Netherlands Antilles (bordering Saint-Martin). France is linked to the United Kingdom by the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English Channel.
France is a member state of the European Union, the largest one by area. It is also the third largest in Europe behind Russia and Ukraine. It would be second if its extra-European territories like French Guiana were included. France has been a major power for many centuries with strong economic, cultural, military and political influence. During the 17th and 18th centuries, France colonised great parts of North America; during the 19th and early 20th centuries, France built the second largest empire of the time, including large portions of North, West and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and many Pacific islands.
France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its main ideals expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. France is one of the most developed countries and possesses the fifth largest economy by nominal GDP and seventh largest economy by purchasing power parity. France enjoys a high standard of living as well as a high public education level, it is one of the most globalised nations, has 2009's second best international reputation and has also one of the world's highest life expectancies, with its healthcare system rated as the best in the world. It is the most visited country in the world, receiving 82 million foreign tourists annually. France is one of the founding members of the European Union. It is also a founding member of the United Nations, and a member of the Francophonie, the G8, G20, NATO, OECD, WTO, and the Latin Union. It is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, possesses the third largest number of nuclear weapons in the world and the largest number of nuclear power plants in the European Union.
Origin of the name France
The name "France" comes from Latin Francia, which literally means "land of the Franks," or "Frankland". There are various theories as to the origin of the name of the Franks. One is that it is derived from the Proto-Germanic word frankon which translates as javelin or lance as the throwing axe of the Franks was known as a francisca.
Another proposed etymology is that in an ancient Germanic language, Frank means free as opposed to slave. This usage still survives in the name of the national currency prior to the adoption of the euro, the franc.
However, it is also possible that the word is derived from the ethnic name of the Franks, because as the conquering class only the Franks had the status of freemen. In German, France is still called Frankreich, which literally means "Realm of the Franks". In order to distinguish from the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne, Modern France is called Frankreich, while the Frankish Realm is called Frankenreich.
The word "Frank" had been loosely used from the fall of Rome to the Middle Ages, yet from Hugh Capet's coronation as "King of the Franks" ("Rex Francorum") it became usual to strictly refer to the Kingdom of Francia, which would become France. The Capetian Kings were descended from the Robertines, who had produced two Frankish kings, and previously held the title of "Duke of the Franks" ("dux Francorum"). This Frankish duchy encompassed most of modern northern France but because the royal power was sapped by regional princes the term was then applied to the royal demesne as shorthand. It was finally the name adopted for the entire Kingdom as central power was affirmed over the entire kingdom.
Rome to revolution
The borders of modern France are approximately the same as those of ancient Gaul, which was inhabited by Celtic Gauls. Gaul was conquered for Rome by Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, and the Gauls eventually adopted Roman speech (Latin, from which the French language evolved) and Roman culture. Christianity first appeared in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and became so firmly established by the fourth and fifth centuries that St. Jerome wrote that Gaul was the only region “free from heresy”.
In the 4th century AD, Gaul’s eastern frontier along the Rhine was overrun by Germanic tribes, principally the Franks, from whom the ancient name of “Francie” was derived. The modern name “France” derives from the name of the feudal domain of the Capetian Kings of France around Paris. The Franks were the first tribe among the Germanic conquerors of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire to convert to Catholic Christianity rather than Arianism (their King Clovis did so in 498); thus France obtained the title “Eldest daughter of the Church” (La fille ainée de l’Église), and the French would adopt this as justification for calling themselves “the Most Christian Kingdom of France”.
Existence as a separate entity began with the Treaty of Verdun (843), with the division of Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire into East Francia, Middle Francia and West Francia. Western Francia approximated the area occupied by modern France and was the precursor to modern France.
The Carolingian dynasty ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of France. His descendants, the Direct Capetians, the House of Valois and the House of Bourbon, progressively unified the country through a series of wars and dynastic inheritance. The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars of Occitania (the south of modern-day France). In the end, both the Cathars and the independence of southern France were exterminated.
In 1066, the Duke of Normandy became King of England, and separated Normandy from France and marked it as English territory. He then increased that territory to cover over half of what France is today, being the North, Centre and West of France. The height of this was around the reign of Henry II in the 1170s. However, after then, territories continued to change but since the Wars of the Roses held England weak, France won back that territory and the last territory England held in France was Calais, but after Henry VIII this was lost to the Spanish Netherlands.
Charles IV (The Fair) died without heir in 1328. Under the rule adopted in 1316, the crown of France could not pass to a woman, nor could the line of kinfship pass through the female line. This became known as the Salic Law. Accordingly, the crown passed to cousin of Charles, Philip of Valois, rather than passing though the female line to Charles' nephew, Edward, who would soon become Edward III of England. Under the reign of Phillip Valois who was then Philip IV, the French monarchy reached the height of its medieval power. However, Philip's seat on the throne was contested by Edward III of England and in 1337, on the eve of the first wave of the Black Death, England and France went to war in what would become known as the Hundred Years' War.
In the most notorious incident during the French Wars of Religion (1562–98), thousands of Huguenots were murdered in the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572.
The monarchy reached its height during the 17th century and the reign of Louis XIV. At this time France possessed the largest population in Europe and had tremendous influence over European politics, economy, and culture. French became, and remained until the 20th century, the common language of diplomacy in international affairs. Much of the Enlightenment occurred in French intellectual circles, and major scientific breakthroughs were achieved by French scientists in the 18th century. In addition, France obtained many overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa and Asia.
Monarchy to Republic
The monarchy ruled France until the French Revolution. It did not fall immediately after the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, but endured until the creation of the First Republic in September 1792. Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were executed (in 1793), along with thousands of other French citizens during the Reign of Terror. A guerrilla war and counterrevolution, known as the Revolt in the Vendée, cost more than 100,000 lives before it was crushed in 1796. After a series of short-lived governmental schemes, Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the Republic in 1799, making himself First Consul, and later Emperor of what is now known as the First Empire (1804–1814). In the course of several wars, his armies conquered most of continental Europe, with members of the Bonaparte family being appointed as monarchs of newly established kingdoms. About a million Frenchmen died during the Napoleonic wars.
Following Napoleon's final defeat in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, the French monarchy was re-established, but with new constitutional limitations. In 1830, a civil uprising established the constitutional July Monarchy, which lasted until 1848. The short-lived Second Republic ended in 1852 when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte proclaimed the Second Empire. Louis-Napoléon was unseated following defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and his regime was replaced by the Third Republic.
France had colonial possessions, in various forms, since the beginning of the 17th century until the 1960s. In the 19th and 20th centuries, its global overseas colonial empire was the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. At its peak, between 1919 and 1939, the second French colonial empire extended over 12,347,000 square kilometres (4,767,000 sq mi) of land. Including metropolitan France, the total area of land under French sovereignty reached 12,898,000 square kilometres (4,980,000 sq mi) in the 1920s and 1930s, which is 8.6% of the world's land area.
France was an occupied nation in World War I and World War II. The human and material losses in the first war, which left 1.4 million French soldiers dead, exceeded largely those of the second, even though only a minor part of its territory was occupied during World War I. The interbellum phase was marked by a variety of social reforms introduced by the Popular Front government. Following the German Blitzkrieg campaign in World War II metropolitan France was divided in an occupation zone in the north and Vichy France, a newly established authoritarian regime collaborating with Germany, in the south.
The Fourth Republic was established after World War II and, despite spectacular economic growth (les Trente Glorieuses), it struggled to maintain its political status as a dominant nation state. France attempted to hold on to its colonial empire, but soon ran into trouble. The half-hearted 1946 attempt at regaining control of French Indochina resulted in the First Indochina War, which ended in French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Only months later, France faced a new, even harsher conflict in Algeria.
The debate over whether or not to keep control of Algeria, then home to over one million European settlers, wracked the country and nearly led to civil war. In 1958, the weak and unstable Fourth Republic gave way to the Fifth Republic, which contained a strengthened Presidency. In the latter role, Charles de Gaulle managed to keep the country together while taking steps to end the war. The Algerian War was concluded with peace negotiations in 1962 that led to Algerian independence.
In recent decades, France's reconciliation and cooperation with Germany have proved central to the political and economic integration of the evolving European Union, including the introduction of the euro in January 1999. France has been at the forefront of the European Union member states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary union to create a more unified and capable European Union political, defence, and security apparatus. The French electorate voted against ratification of the European Constitutional Treaty in May 2005, but the successor Treaty of Lisbon was ratified by Parliament in February 2008.
While Metropolitan France is located in Western Europe, France also has a number of territories in North America, the Caribbean, South America, the southern Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and Antarctica. These territories have varying forms of government ranging from overseas department to overseas collectivity.
Metropolitan France covers 547,030 square kilometres (211,209 sq mi), having the largest area among European Union members and slightly larger than Spain. France possesses a wide variety of landscapes, from coastal plains in the north and west to mountain ranges of the Alps in the south-east, the Massif Central in the south-central and Pyrenees in the south-west. At 4,807 metres (15,771 ft) above sea-level, the highest point in Europe, Mont Blanc, is situated in the Alps on the border between France and Italy. Metropolitan France also has extensive river systems such as the Loire, the Garonne, the Seine and the Rhône, which divides the Massif Central from the Alps and flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the Camargue, the lowest point in France (2 m/6.56 ft below sea level). Corsica lies off the Mediterranean coast.
France's total land area, with its overseas departments and territories (excluding Adélie Land), is 674,843 km2 (260,558 sq mi), 0.45% of the total land area on Earth. However, France possesses the second-largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world, covering 11,035,000 km2 (4,260,637 sq mi), approximately 8% of the total surface of all the EEZs of the world, just behind the United States (11,351,000 km2/4,382,646 sq mi) and ahead of Australia (8,232,000 km2/3,178,393 sq mi).
Metropolitan France is situated between 41° and 51° North, on the western edge of Europe, and thus lies within the northern temperate zone. The north and northwest have a temperate climate, while a combination of maritime influences, latitude and altitude produce a varied climate in the rest of Metropolitan France. In the south-east a Mediterranean climate prevails. In the west, the climate is predominantly oceanic with a high level of rainfall, mild winters and cool to warm summers. Inland the climate becomes more continental with hot, stormy summers, colder winters and less rain. The climate of the Alps and other mountainous regions is mainly alpine, with the number of days with temperatures below freezing over 150 per year and snow cover lasting for up to six months.
The largest cities in France, in terms of metropolitan area population, are Paris (11,769,433), Lyon (1,748,271), Marseille (1,605,000), Lille (1,164,716), Nice (1,197,751), Toulouse (1,102,882), Bordeaux (999,149) and Nantes (804,000).
The French Republic is a unitary semi-presidential republic with strong democratic traditions. The constitution of the Fifth Republic was approved by referendum on 28 September 1958. It greatly strengthened the authority of the executive in relation to parliament. The executive branch itself has two leaders: the President of the Republic, currently Nicolas Sarkozy, who is head of state and is elected directly by universal adult suffrage for a 5-year term (formerly 7 years), and the Government, led by the president-appointed Prime Minister, currently François Fillon.
The French parliament is a bicameral legislature comprising a National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) and a Senate. The National Assembly deputies represent local constituencies and are directly elected for 5-year terms. The Assembly has the power to dismiss the cabinet, and thus the majority in the Assembly determines the choice of government. Senators are chosen by an electoral college for 6-year terms (originally 9-year terms), and one half of the seats are submitted to election every 3 years starting in September 2008.
The Senate's legislative powers are limited; in the event of disagreement between the two chambers, the National Assembly has the final say, except for constitutional laws and lois organiques (laws that are directly provided for by the constitution) in some cases. The government has a strong influence in shaping the agenda of Parliament.
French politics are characterised by two politically opposed groupings: one left-wing, centred around the French Socialist Party, and the other right-wing, centred previously around the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR) and now its successor the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The executive branch is currently composed mostly of the UMP.
Conventions and notations
France is the home of the International System of Units (the metric system). Some pre-metric units are still used, essentially the livre (a unit of weight equal to half a kilogram) and the quintal (a unit of weight equal to 100 kilograms).
In mathematics, France uses the infix notation like most countries. For large numbers the long scale is used. Thus, the French use the word billion for the number 1,000,000,000,000, which in countries using short scale is called a trillion. However, there exists a French word, milliard, for the number 1,000,000,000, which in countries using the short scale is called a billion. Thus, despite the use of the long scale, one billion is called un milliard (“one milliard”) in French, and not mille millions (“one thousand million”). It should also be noted that names of numbers above the milliard are rarely used. Thus, one trillion will most often be called mille milliards (“one thousand milliard”) in French, and rarely un billion.
In the French numeral notation, the comma (,) is the Decimal separator, whereas a space is used between each group of three digits (fifteen million five hundred thousand and thirty-two should be written as 15 500 032). In finance, the currency symbol is used as a decimal separator or put after the number. For example, €25,048.05 is written either 25 048€05 or 25 048,05 € (always with an extra space between the figure and the currency symbol).
In computing, a bit is called a bit yet a byte is called an octet (from the Latin root octo, meaning “8”). SI prefixes are used.
24-hour clock time is used, with h being the separator between hours and minutes (for example 2:30 p.m. is 14h30).
The all-numeric form for dates is in the order day-month-year, using a slash as the separator (example: 31/12/1992 or 31/12/92).
France uses a civil legal system; that is, law arises primarily from written statutes; judges are not to make law, but merely to interpret it (though the amount of judge interpretation in certain areas makes it equivalent to case law). Basic principles of the rule of law were laid in the Napoleonic Code. In agreement with the principles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen law should only prohibit actions detrimental to society. As Guy Canivet, first president of the Court of Cassation, wrote about the management of prisons:
Freedom is the rule, and its restriction is the exception; any restriction of Freedom must be provided for by Law and must follow the principles of necessity and proportionality.
That is, Law should lay out prohibitions only if they are needed, and if the inconveniences caused by this restriction do not exceed the inconveniences that the prohibition is supposed to remedy.
French law is divided into two principal areas: private law and public law. Private law includes, in particular, civil law and criminal law. Public law includes, in particular, administrative law and constitutional law. However, in practical terms, French law comprises three principal areas of law: civil law, criminal law and administrative law.
France does not recognise religious law, nor does it recognise religious beliefs or morality as a motivation for the enactment of prohibitions. As a consequence, France has long had neither blasphemy laws nor sodomy laws (the latter being abolished in 1791). However “offences against public decency” (contraires aux bonnes mœurs) or disturbing public order (trouble à l'ordre public) have been used to repress public expressions of homosexuality or street prostitution.
Criminal laws can only address the future and not the past (criminal ex post facto laws are prohibited) ; and to be applicable, laws must be officially published in the Journal Officiel de la République Française.
France is a member of the United Nations and serves as one of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with veto rights. It is also a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Indian Ocean Commission (COI). It is an associate member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and a leading member of the International Francophone Organisation (OIF) of fifty-one fully or partly French-speaking countries. It hosts the headquarters of the OECD, UNESCO, Interpol, Alliance Base and the International Bureau for Weights and Measures. In 1953 France received a request from the United Nations to pick a coat of arms that would represent it internationally. Thus the French emblem was adopted and is currently used on passports.
French foreign policy has been largely shaped by membership of the European Union, of which it was a founding member. In the 1960s, France sought to exclude the British from the organisation, seeking to build its own standing in continental Europe. Since the 1990s, France has developed close ties with reunified Germany to become the most influential driving force of the EU, but consequently rivaling the UK and limiting the influence of newly inducted East European nations.
France is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but under President de Gaulle, it excluded itself from the joint military command to avoid the supposed domination of its foreign and security policies by US political and military influence. In the early 1990s, the country drew considerable criticism from other nations for its underground nuclear tests in French Polynesia. France vigorously opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, straining bilateral relations with the US and the UK. France retains strong political and economic influence in its former African colonies (Françafrique) and has supplied economic aid and troops for peace-keeping missions in the Ivory Coast and Chad.
The French armed forces are divided into four branches:
Armée de Terre (Army)
Marine Nationale (Navy)
Armée de l'Air (Air Force)
Gendarmerie Nationale (A military force which acts as a National Rural Police and as a Military police for the entire French military)
After the Algerian War, conscription was steadily reduced and was finally suspended in 2001 by President Jacques Chirac. The total number of military personnel is approximately 359,000. France spends 2.6% of its GDP on defence, slightly more than the United Kingdom (2.4%) and the highest in the European Union where defence spending generally accounts to less than 1.5% of GDP. France and the U.K. account for 40% of EU defence spending. About 10% of France's defence budget goes towards its nuclear deterrence, or nuclear weapons force.
France has major military industries that have produced the Rafale fighter, the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, the Exocet missile and the Leclerc tank amongst others. Some weaponry, like the E-2 Hawkeye or the E-3 Sentry was bought from the United States. Despite withdrawing from the Eurofighter project, France is actively investing in European joint projects such as the Eurocopter Tiger, multipurpose frigates, the UCAV demonstrator nEUROn and the Airbus A400M.
France is a major arms seller as most of its arsenal's designs are available for the export market with the notable exception of nuclear-powered devices. Some of the French designed equipments are specifically designed for exports like the Franco-Spanish Scorpène class submarines. Some French equipments have been largely modified to fit allied countries' requirements like the Formidable class frigates (based on the La Fayette class) or the Hashmat class submarines (based on the Agosta class submarines).
Although it includes very competent anti-terrorist units such as the GIGN or the EPIGN, the gendarmerie is a military police force which serves for the most part as a rural and general purpose police force. Since its creation the GIGN has taken part in roughly one thousand operations and freed over five-hundred hostages; the Air France Flight 8969's hijacking brought them to the world's attention.
French intelligence constitutes of two major units: the DGSE (the external agency) and the DCRI (domestic agency). The latter being part of the police while the former is associated to the army. The DGSE is notorious for the Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, but it is also known for revealing the most extensive technological spy network uncovered in Europe and the United States to date through the mole Vladimir Vetrov.
The French deterrence, (formerly known as “Force de frappe”), relies on a complete independence. The current French nuclear force consists of four submarines equipped with M45 ballistic missiles. The current Triomphant class is currently under deployment to replace the former Redoutable class. The M51 will replace the M45 in the future and expand the Triomphants firing range. Aside of the submarines the French dissuasion force uses the Mirage 2000N; it is a variant of the Mirage 2000 and thus is designed to deliver nuclear strikes. Other nuclear devices like the Plateau d'Albion's Intermediate-range ballistic missile and the short range Hadès missiles have been disarmed. With 350 nuclear heads stockpiled France is the world's third largest nuclear power.
The Marine Nationale is regarded as one of the world's most powerful navies. The professional compendium flottes de combats, in its 2006 edition, ranked it world's 6th biggest navy after the American, Russian, Chinese, British and Japanese navies. It is equipped with the only non-American nuclear powered Aircraft Carrier in the world. Recently Mistral class ships joined the Marine Nationale, the Mistral itself having taken part to operations in Lebanon. For the 2004 centennial of the Entente Cordiale President Chirac announced the Future French aircraft carrier would be jointly designed with Great Britain. The French navy is equipped with the La Fayette class frigates, early examples of stealth ships, and several ships are expected to be retired in the next few years and replaced by more modern ships, examples of future surface ships are the Forbin and the Aquitaine class frigates. The attack submarines are also part of the Force Océanique Stratégique although they do not carry the nuclear dissuasion, the current class is the Rubis Class and will be replaced in the future by the expected Suffren Class.
The Armée de Terre employs 133,500 people. It is famous for the Légion Etrangère (French Foreign Legion) though the French special forces are not the Legion but the Dragons Parachutistes and the Marines Parachutistes. The French assault rifle is the FAMAS and future infantry combat system is the Félin. France uses both tracked and wheeled vehicles to a significant points, examples of wheeled vehicles would be the Caesar or the AMX 10 RC. Although its main battle tank is the Leclerc many older AMX 30 tanks are still operational. It uses the AMX 30 AuF1 for artillery and is equipped with Eurocopter Tigers helicopters.
The Armée de l'Air is the oldest and first professional air force worldwide. It still today retains a significant capacity. It uses mainly two aircraft fighters: the older Mirage F1 and the more recent Mirage 2000. The later model exists in a ground attack version called the Mirage2000D. The modern Rafale is in deployment in both the French air force and navy.
The railway network of France, which stretches 31,840 kilometres (19,784 mi) is the most extensive in Western Europe. It is operated by the SNCF, and high-speed trains include the Thalys, the Eurostar and TGV, which travels at 320 km/h (199 mph) in commercial use. The Eurostar, along with the Eurotunnel Shuttle, connects with the United Kingdom through the Channel Tunnel. Rail connections exist to all other neighbouring countries in Europe, except Andorra. Intra-urban connections are also well developed with both underground services and tramway services complementing bus services.
There are approximately 893,300 kilometres (555,071 mi) of serviceable roadway in France. The Paris region is enveloped with the most dense network of roads and highways that connect it with virtually all parts of the country. French roads also handle substantial international traffic, connecting with cities in neighboring Belgium, Spain, Andorra, Monaco, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. There is no annual registration fee or road tax; however, motorway usage is through tolls except in the vicinity of large communes. The new car market is dominated by domestic brands such as Renault (27% of cars sold in France in 2003), Peugeot (20.1%) and Citroën (13.5%). Over 70% of new cars sold in 2004 had diesel engines, far more than contained petrol or LPG engines. France possesses the world's tallest road bridge: the Millau Viaduct, and has built many important bridges such as the Pont de Normandie.
There are approximately 478 airports in France, including landing fields. Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport located in the vicinity of Paris is the largest and busiest airport in the country, handling the vast majority of popular and commercial traffic of the country and connecting Paris with virtually all major cities across the world. Air France is the national carrier airline, although numerous private airline companies provide domestic and international travel services. There are ten major ports in France, the largest of which is in Marseille, which also is the largest bordering the Mediterranean Sea. 14,932 kilometres (9,278 mi) of waterways traverse France including the Canal du Midi which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean through the Garonne river.
The Place du Capitole in Toulouse in the Midi-Pyrénées region
France is divided into 26 administrative regions. 22 are in metropolitan France (21 are on the continental part of metropolitan France; one is the territorial collectivity of Corsica), and four are overseas regions. The regions are further subdivided into 100 departments which are numbered (mainly alphabetically). This number is used in postal codes and vehicle number plates amongst others. The 100 departments are subdivided into 341 arrondissements which are, in turn, subdivided into 4,032 cantons. These cantons are then divided into 36,680 communes, which are municipalities with an elected municipal council. There also exist 2,588 intercommunal entities grouping 33,414 of the 36,680 communes (i.e. 91.1% of all the communes). Three communes, Paris, Lyon and Marseille are also subdivided into 45 municipal arrondissements.
The regions, departments and communes are all known as territorial collectivities, meaning they possess local assemblies as well as an executive. Arrondissements and cantons are merely administrative divisions. However, this was not always the case. Until 1940, the arrondissements were also territorial collectivities with an elected assembly, but these were suspended by the Vichy regime and definitely abolished by the Fourth Republic in 1946. Historically, the cantons were also territorial collectivities with their elected assemblies.
Metropolitan regions and departments
Overseas regions/departments, collectivities, and territories
Among the 100 departments of France, four (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Réunion) are in overseas regions (ROMs) that are also simultaneously overseas departments (DOMs) and are an integral part of France (and the European Union) and thus enjoy a status similar to metropolitan departments.
In addition to the 26 regions and 100 departments, the French Republic also has six overseas collectivities (French Polynesia, Mayotte, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna), one sui generis collectivity (New Caledonia), one overseas territory (French Southern and Antarctic Lands), and one island possession in the Pacific Ocean (Clipperton Island).
Overseas collectivities and territories form part of the French Republic, but do not form part of the European Union or its fiscal area. The Pacific Collectivities (COMs) of French Polynesia, Wallis and Fortuna, and New Caledonia continue to use the Pacific franc whose value is linked to that of the euro. In contrast, the four overseas regions used the French franc and now use the euro.
A member of the G8 group of leading industrialised countries, it is ranked as the fifth largest economy by nominal GDP. France joined 11 other EU members to launch the euro on 1 January 1999, with euro coins and banknotes completely replacing the French franc (₣) in early 2002.
France's economy combines extensive private enterprise (nearly 2.5 million companies registered) with substantial (though declining) state enterprise and government intervention . The government retains considerable influence over key segments of infrastructure sectors, with majority ownership of railway, electricity, aircraft, nuclear power and telecommunications. It has been gradually relaxing its control over these sectors since the early 1990s.The government is slowly corporatizing the state sector and selling off holdings in France Télécom, Air France, as well as the insurance, banking, and defence industries. France has an important aerospace industry led by the European consortium Airbus, and has its own national spaceport, the Centre Spatial Guyanais.
According to the WTO, in 2009 France was the world's sixth-largest exporter and the fourth-largest importer of manufactured goods. In 2008, France was the third-largest recipient of foreign direct investment among OECD countries at $117.9 billion, ranking behind Luxembourg (where foreign direct investment was essentially monetary transfers to banks located in that country) and the United States ($316.1 billion), but above the United Kingdom ($96.9 billion), Germany ($24.9 billion), or Japan ($24.4 billion). In the same year, French companies invested $220 billion outside of France, ranking France as the second most important outward direct investor in the OECD, behind the United States ($311.8 billion), and ahead of the United Kingdom ($111.4 billion), Japan ($128 billion) and Germany ($156.5 billion).
France is the smallest emitter of carbon dioxide among the seven most industrialized countries in the world, due to its heavy investment in nuclear power. As a result of large investments in nuclear technology, most of the electricity produced in the country is generated by 59 nuclear power plants (78% in 2006, up from only 8% in 1973, 24% in 1980, and 75% in 1990). In this context, renewable energies are having difficulties taking off the ground.
Large tracts of fertile land, the application of modern technology, and EU subsidies have combined to make France the leading agricultural producer and exporter in Europe. Wheat, poultry, dairy, beef, and pork, as well as an internationally recognized foodstuff and wine industry are primary French agricultural exports. EU agriculture subsidies to France have decreased for the last years, but still amounted to $8 billion in 2007.
Since the end of the Second World War the government made efforts to integrate more and more with Germany, both economically and politically. Today the two countries form what is often referred to as the “core” countries in favour of greater integration of the European Union.
The French GDP per capita is similar the GDP per capita of other comparable European countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom. GDP per capita is determined by (i) productivity per hour worked, which in France is the highest of the G8 countries in 2005, according to the OECD, (ii) the number of hours worked, which is one the lowest of developed countries, and (iii) the employment rate. France has one of the lowest 15–64 years employment rates of the OECD countries: in 2004, only 69% of the French population aged 15–64 years were in employment, compared to 80% in Japan, 79% in the UK, 77% in the US, and 71% in Germany.
This gap is due to the very low employment rates at both age extremes: the employment rate of people aged 55–64 was 38,3% in 2007, compared to 46,6% in the EU15; for the 15–24 years old, the employment rate was 31,5% in 2007, compared to 37,2% in EU25. These low employment rates are explained by the high minimum wages which prevent low productivity workers – such as young people – from easily entering the labour market, ineffective university curricula that fail to prepare students adequately for the labour market, and, concerning the older workers, restrictive legislation on work and incentives for premature retirement.
The unemployment rate decreased from 9% in 2006 to 7% in 2008 but remains one of the highest in Europe. In June 2009, the unemployment rate for France was 9.4%. Shorter working hours and the reluctance to reform the labour market are mentioned as weak spots of the French economy in the view of the right, when the left mentions the lack of government policies fostering social justice. Liberal economists have stressed repeatedly over the years that the main issue of the French economy is an issue of structural reforms, in order to increase the size of the working population in the overall population, reduce the taxes' level and the administrative burden. Keynesian economists have different answers to the unemployment issue, and their theories led to the 35-hour workweek law in the early 2000s, which turned out to be failure in reducing unemployment. Afterwards, between 2004 and 2008, the Government made some supply-oriented reforms to combat unemployment but met with fierce resistance, especially with the contrat nouvelle embauche and the contrat première embauche which both were eventually repealed. The current Government is experiencing the Revenu de solidarité active.
With 81.9 million foreign tourists in 2007, France is ranked as the first tourist destination in the world, ahead of Spain (58.5 million in 2006) and the United States (51.1 million in 2006). This 81.9 million figure excludes people staying less than 24 hours in France, such as Northern Europeans crossing France on their way to Spain or Italy during the summer. France features cities of high cultural interest (Paris being the foremost), beaches and seaside resorts, ski resorts, and rural regions that many enjoy for their beauty and tranquillity (green tourism). France also attracts many religious pilgrims to Lourdes, a town in the Hautes-Pyrénées département, that hosts a few million visitors a year.
Popular tourist sites include: (according to a 2003 ranking visitors per year): Eiffel Tower (6.2 million), Louvre Museum (5.7 million), Palace of Versailles (2.8 million), Musée d'Orsay (2.1 million), Arc de Triomphe (1.2 million), Centre Pompidou (1.2 million), Mont-Saint-Michel (1 million), Château de Chambord (711,000), Sainte-Chapelle (683,000), Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg (549,000), Puy de Dôme (500,000), Musée Picasso (441,000), Carcassonne (362,000).
With an estimated population of 65.4 million people (as of 1 Jan. 2010), France is the 20th most populous country in the world. In 2003, France's natural population growth (excluding immigration) was responsible for almost all natural population growth in the European Union. In 2004, population growth was 0.68% and then in 2005 birth and fertility rates continued to increase. The natural increase of births over deaths rose to 299,800 in 2006. The total fertility rate rose to 2.02 in 2008, from 1.88 in 2002.
In 2004, a total of 140,033 people immigrated to France. Of them, 90,250 were from Africa and 13,710 from Europe. In 2005, immigration level fell slightly to 135,890.
It is illegal for the French state to collect data on ethnicity and race, a law with its origins in the 1789 revolution and reaffirmed in the constitution of 1958. Nonetheless, France is an ethnically diverse nation with about six million North Africans and an estimated 2.5 million blacks. It is currently estimated that 40% of the French population descends at least partially from the different waves of immigration the country has received. Between 1921 and 1935 about 1.1 million net immigrants came to France. An estimated 1.6 million European pieds noirs returned to France as the country's North African possessions gained independence.
According to the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies, it has an estimated 4.9 million foreign-born immigrants, of which 2 million have acquired French citizenship. France is the leading asylum destination in Western Europe with an estimated 50,000 applications in 2005 (a 15% decrease from 2004). The European Union allows free movement between the member states. While UK and Ireland did not impose restrictions, France put in place controls to curb Eastern European migration.
A perennial political issue concerns rural depopulation. Over the period 1960–1999 fifteen rural départements experienced a decline in population. In the most extreme case, the population of Creuse fell by 24%.
According to Article 2 of the Constitution, amended in 1992, French is the sole official language of France. Therefore, France is the only Western European nation (excluding microstates) to have only one officially recognised language. However, 77 regional languages are also spoken, in metropolitan France as well as in the overseas departments and territories. Until recently, the French government and state school system discouraged the use of any of these languages, but they are now taught to varying degrees at some schools. Other languages, such as Portuguese, Italian, Maghrebi Arabic and several Berber languages are spoken by immigrants.
Christianity is the largest religion in France, which is a secular country, and freedom of religion is a constitutional right. According to a January 2007 poll by the Catholic World News: 51% identified as being Catholics, 31% identified as being agnostics or atheists (another poll sets the proportion of atheists equal to 27%), 10% identified as being from other religions or being without opinion, 4% identified as Muslim, 3% identified as Protestant, 1% identified as Buddhist, 1% identified as Jewish.
According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005, 34% of French citizens responded that “they believe there is a god”, whereas 27% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force” and 33% that “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force”. One other study shows 32% of people in France declaring themselves to be atheists, and another 32% declaring themselves “sceptical about the existence of God but not an atheist”.
Estimates of the number of Muslims in France vary widely. According to the 1999 French census returns, there were 3.7 million people of “possible Muslim faith” in France (6.3% of the total population). In 2003, the French Ministry of the Interior estimated the total number of Muslims to be between five and six million (8-10%). The current Jewish community in France numbers around 600,000 according to the World Jewish Congress and is the largest in Europe.
Since 1905 the French government has followed the principle of laïcité, in which it is prohibited from recognizing any religion (except for legacy statutes like that of military chaplains and the local law in Alsace-Moselle). Instead, it merely recognizes religious organizations, according to formal legal criteria that do not address religious doctrine. Conversely, religious organizations should refrain from intervening in policy-making.
Certain body of beliefs such as Scientology, Children of God, the Unification Church, or the Order of the Solar Temple are considered sects, and therefore do not have the same status as religions in France. "Sect" is considered a pejorative term in France.
The French healthcare system was ranked first worldwide by the World Health Organization in 1997 and then again in 2000. Care is generally free for people affected by chronic diseases (Affections de longues durées) such as cancer, AIDS or Cystic Fibrosis. Average life expectancy at birth is 79.73 years.
As of 2007, there are approximately 140,000 inhabitants (0.4%) of France who are living with HIV/AIDS.
France, as all EU countries, is under an EU directive to reduce sewage discharge to sensitive areas. As of 2006, France is only 40% in compliance with this directive, placing it as one of the lowest achieving countries within the EU with regard to this wastewater treatment standard.
The death of Chantal Sébire revived the debate over euthanasia in France. It was reported on 21 March 2008.
There is, technically speaking, no architecture named French Architecture, although that has not always been true. Gothic Architecture's old name was French Architecture (or Opus Francigenum). The term “Gothic” appeared later as a stylistic insult and was widely adopted. Northern France is the home of some of the most important Gothic cathedrals and basilicas, the first of these being the Saint Denis Basilica (used as the royal necropolis); other important French Gothic cathedrals are Notre-Dame de Chartres and Notre-Dame d'Amiens. The kings were crowned in another important Gothic church: Notre-Dame de Reims. Aside from churches, Gothic Architecture had been used for many religious palaces, the most important one being the Palais des Papes in Avignon.
During the Middle Ages, fortified castles were built by feudal nobles to mark their powers against their rivals. When King Philip II took Rouen from King John, for example, he demolished the ducal castle to build a bigger one. Fortified cities were also common, unfortunately most French castles did not survive the passage of time. This is why Richard the Lionheart's Château-Gaillard was demolished, as well as the Château de Lusignan. Some important French castles that survived are Chinon, Château d'Angers, the massive Château de Vincennes and the so called Cathar castles.
Before the appearance of this architecture France had been using Romanesque architecture like most of Western Europe (with the exception of the Iberian Peninsula, which used Mooresque architecture). Some of the greatest examples of Romanesque churches in France are the Saint Sernin Basilica in Toulouse and the remains of the Cluniac Abbey (largely destroyed during the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars).
The end of the Hundred Years' War marked an important stage in the evolution of French architecture. It was the time of the French Renaissance and several artists from Italy and Spain were invited to the French court; many residential palaces, Italian-inspired, were built, mainly in the Loire Valley. Such residential castles were the Château de Chambord, the Château de Chenonceau, or the Château d'Amboise. Following the renaissance and the end of the Middle Ages, Baroque Architecture replaced the gothic one. However, in France, baroque architecture found a greater success in the secular domain than in the religious one. In the secular domain the Palace of Versailles has many baroque features. Jules Hardouin Mansart can be said to be the most influential French architect of the baroque style, with his very famous baroque dome of Les Invalides. Some of the most impressive provincial baroque architecture is found in places that were not yet French such as the Place Stanislas in Nancy. On the military architectural side Vauban designed some of the most efficient fortresses of Europe and became a very influential military architect.
After the Revolution the Republicans favoured Neoclassicism although neoclassicism was introduced in France prior to the revolution with such building as the Parisian Pantheon or the Capitole de Toulouse. Built during the French Empire the Arc de Triomphe and Sainte Marie-Madeleine represent this trend the best.
Under Napoleon III a new wave of urbanism and architecture was given birth. If some very extravagant buildings such as the neo-baroque Palais Garnier were built, the urban planning of the time was very organised and rigorous. For example Baron Haussmann rebuilt Paris. The architecture associated to this era is named Second Empire in the English speaking world, the term being taken from the Second French Empire. These times also saw a strong Gothic-Revival trend across Europe, in France the associated architect was Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. In the late 19th century Gustave Eiffel designed many bridges (like the Garabit viaduct) and remains one of the most influential bridge designer of his time, although he is best remembered for the Eiffel Tower.
In the 20th century the Swiss Architect Le Corbusier designed several buildings in France. More recently French architects have combined both modern and old architectural styles. The Louvre Pyramid is a good example of modern architecture added to an older building. Certainly the most difficult buildings to integrate within French cities are skyscrapers, as they are visible from afar. France's largest financial district is La Defense, where a significant number of skyscrapers are located. Other massive buildings that are a challenge to integrate into their environment are large bridges; a good example of the way this has been done is the Millau Viaduct. Some famous modern French architects include Jean Nouvel or Paul Andreu.
The earliest French literature dates from the Middle Ages when the area that is modern France did not have a single, uniform language. There were several languages and dialects and each writer used his own spelling and grammar. The author of many French mediaeval texts is unknown, for example Tristan and Iseult and Lancelot and the Holy Grail. Much mediaeval French poetry and literature was inspired by the legends of the Matter of France, such as the The Song of Roland and the various Chansons de geste. The “Roman de Renart”, written in 1175 by Perrout de Saint Cloude tells the story of the mediaeval character Reynard ('the Fox') and is another example of early French writing. The names of some authors from this period are known, for example Chrétien de Troyes and Duke William IX of Aquitaine, who wrote in Occitan.
An important 16th century writer was François Rabelais who influenced modern French vocabulary and metaphor. During the 17th century Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine and Molière's plays, Blaise Pascal and René Descartes's moral and philosophical books deeply influenced the aristocracy leaving an important heritage for the authors of the following decades. Jean de La Fontaine was an important poet from this century.
French literature and poetry flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries. The 18th century saw the works of writers, essayists and moralists such as Voltaire, Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Charles Perrault was a prolific writer of children's stories such as: “Puss in Boots”, “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Bluebeard”.
At the turn of the 19th century symbolist poetry was an important movement in French literature, with poets such as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé. The 19th century saw the writing of many French novels of world renown with Victor Hugo (Les Misérables), Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte-Cristo), and Jules Verne (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) among the most well-known in France and beyond. Other 19th century fiction writers include Émile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Théophile Gautier and Stendhal.
The Prix Goncourt is a French literary prize first awarded in 1903. Important writers of the 20th century include Marcel Proust, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Antoine de Saint Exupéry wrote Little Prince which has remained popular for decades with children and adults around the world.
Popular sports include football, both codes of rugby football and in certain regions basketball and handball. France has hosted events such as the 1938 and 1998 FIFA World Cups, and hosted the 2007 Rugby Union World Cup. Stade de France in Paris is the largest stadium in France and was the venue for the 1998 FIFA World Cup final, and hosted the 2007 Rugby World Cup final in October 2007. France also hosts the annual Tour de France, the most famous road bicycle race in the world. France is also famous for its 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car endurance race held in the Sarthe department. Several major tennis tournaments take place in France, including the Paris Masters and the French Open, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments.
France has a close association with the Modern Olympic Games; it was a French aristocrat, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who suggested the Games' revival, at the end of the 19th century. After Athens was awarded the first Games, in reference to the Greek origins of the ancient Olympics, Paris hosted the second Games in 1900. Paris was also the first home of the International Olympic Committee, before it moved to Lausanne. Since that 1900 Games, France has hosted the Olympics on four further occasions: the 1924 Summer Olympics, again in Paris and three Winter Games (1924 in Chamonix, 1968 in Grenoble and 1992 in Albertville).
Both the national football team and the national rugby union team are nicknamed “Les Bleus” in reference to the team’s shirt color as well as the national French tricolor flag. The football team is among the most successful in the world, particularly at the turn of the 21st century, with one FIFA World Cup victory in 1998, one FIFA World Cup second place in 2006, and two European Championships in 1984 and 2000. The top national football club competition is the Ligue 1. Rugby is also very popular, particularly in Paris and the southwest of France. The national rugby team has competed at every Rugby World Cup, and takes part in the annual Six Nations Championship. Following from a strong domestic tournament the French rugby team has won sixteen Six Nations Championships, including eight grand slams; and have reached the semi-finals and final of the Rugby World Cup.
Marianne is a symbol of the French Republic. She is an allegorical figure of liberty and the Republic and first appeared at the time of the French Revolution. The earliest representations of Marianne are of a woman wearing a Phrygian cap. The origins of the name Marianne are unknown, but Marie-Anne was a very common first name in the 18th century. Anti-revolutionaries of the time derisively called her La Gueuse (the Commoner). It is believed that revolutionaries from the South of France adopted the Phrygian cap as it symbolised liberty, having been worn by freed slaves in both Greece and Rome. Mediterranean seamen and convicts manning the galleys also wore a similar type of cap.
Under the Third Republic, statues, and especially busts, of Marianne began to proliferate, particularly in town halls. She was represented in several different manners, depending on whether the aim was to emphasise her revolutionary nature or her “wisdom”. Over time, the Phrygian cap was felt to be too seditious, and was replaced by a diadem or a crown. In recent times, famous French women have been used as the model for those busts. Recent ones include Sophie Marceau, and Laetitia Casta. She also features on everyday articles such as postage stamps and coins.
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