The French Republic or France (French: République française or France) is a country whose metropolitan territory is located in western Europe, and which is further made up of a collection of overseas islands and territories located in other continents.
France is a democracy organised as a unitary semi-presidential republic. It is a developed nation whose modern economy is the fifth-largest in the world in 2003. Its main values are expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
France is a founding member of the European Union, and its largest member state with respect to land area. France is also a founding member of NATO and the UN, and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It is one of only seven acknowledged nuclear powers in existence.
Main article: History of France
The borders of modern France closely align with those of the ancient territory of Gaul, inhabited by the Gauls, a Celtic people. Gaul was conquered by the Romans in the first century BC, and the Gauls eventually adopted Romance speech and culture. Christianity also took root in the second and third centuries AD. Gaul's eastern frontiers along the Rhine were overrun by Germanic tribes in the fourth century AD, principally the Franks, from which the ancient name of "Francie" derived. The modern name "France" derives from the name of the feudal domain of the Capetian Kings of France around Paris (see now Île-de-France).
Although the French monarchy is often dated to the 5th century, France's continuous existence as a separate entity begins with the division, in 843, of Charlemagne's Frankish empire into eastern, central and western parts. The eastern part (which would soon unite with the central portion as the Holy Roman Empire) can be regarded the beginnings of what is now Germany, the western part that of France.
Charlemagne's descendants ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of France. His descendants (which formed the Capetian, Valois and Bourbon dynasties) ruled France until 1792, when the French Revolution established a Republic, in a period of increasingly radical change that began in 1789.
Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the republic in 1799, making himself First Consul. His armies engaged in several wars across Europe, conquered many countries and established new kingdoms with Napoleon's family members at the helm. Following his defeat in 1815, the French monarchy was re-established, which was then legislatively abolished and followed by a Second Republic in 1848. The Second Republic ended when the late Emperor's nephew, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected President and proclaimed a Second Empire in 1852. Less ambitious than his uncle, the second Napoleon was also ultimately unseated, and republican rule returned for a third time in the Third Republic (1870).
Although ultimately a victor in World Wars I and II, France - much like Britain - suffered extensive losses in its empire, comparative economic status, working population, and status as a dominant nation-state. Since 1958, it has constructed a semi-presidential democracy (known as the Fifth Republic) that has not succumbed to the instabilities experienced in earlier, more parliamentary regimes.
In recent decades, France's reconciliation and cooperation with Germany have proved central to the economic integration of Europe, including the introduction of the Euro in January 1999.
Today, France is at the forefront of European states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary union to advance the creation of a more unified and capable European political, defence and security apparatus.
It is also one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and holds nuclear weapons.
Main articles: Government of France (about government structures) and Politics of France (about political groups and tendencies).
The constitution of the Fifth Republic was approved by public referendum on September 28 1958. It greatly strengthened the authority of the executive in relation to Parliament. Under the constitution, the president is elected directly for a 5-year (originally 7-year) term. Presidential arbitration assures regular functioning of the public powers and the continuity of the state. The president names the prime minister, presides over the cabinet, commands the armed forces, and concludes treaties.
The National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) is the principal legislative body. Its deputies are directly elected to 5-year terms, and all seats are voted on in each election. 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, and one half of the Senate is renewed every 3 years (starting 2007). The Senate's legislative powers are limited; the National Assembly has the last word in the event of a disagreement between the two houses, except for constitutional laws (amendments to the constitution & "lois organiques"). The government has a strong influence in shaping the agenda of Parliament.
French politics, for the past 30 years, have been characterised by the opposition of two political groups: one left-wing, centred around the French Socialist Party, and one right-wing, centred around the RPR, then its successor the UMP. The Front National far-right party, advocating tougher law-and-order and immigration policies, has made inroads since the early 1980s and seems to remain stable at around 16% of the votes.
- Main articles: Administrative divisions of France
France has 26 régions: 21 of these are in the continental part of metropolitan France, one is Corse on the island of Corsica (although strictly speaking Corse is in fact a "territorial collectivity", not a région, but is referred to as a région in common speech), 4 are overseas. The région are further subdivided into 100 départements. The departments are numbered (mainly alphabetically) and this number is used, for instance, in postal codes and vehicle number plates.
The departments are further subdivided into 342 arrondissements.
The overseas departments are former colonies outside metropolitan France that now enjoy a status similar to European or metropolitan France. They are considered to be a part of France (and the EU) rather than dependent territories, and each of them is a région at the same time.
The overseas territories and countries form part of the French Republic, but do not form part of the Republic's European territory or the EU fiscal area. They continue to use the French Pacific Franc as their currency, which was not replaced by the euro like the French franc was in 2002. The French Pacific Franc's value is, however, now tied to that of the euro.
The departmental and territorial collectivities have an intermediate status between overseas department and overseas territory.
France also maintains control over a number of other small islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, including Bassas da India, Clipperton Island, Europa Island, Glorioso Islands, Juan de Nova Island, Tromelin Island. See Islands controlled by France in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
Main article: Geography of France
While the main territory of France (la métropole) is located in Western Europe, France is also constituted from territories in North America, the Caribbean, South America, the western and southern Indian Ocean, the northern and southern Pacific Ocean, and Antarctica (sovereignty claims in Antarctica are not recognised by most countries, see Antarctic Treaty).
Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the North Sea, and from the Rhine River to the Atlantic Ocean; it is bordered by the United Kingdom, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra, and Spain. The French Republic also shares land borders overseas with Brazil, Suriname, and the Netherlands.
France possesses a large variety of landscapes, ranging from coastal plains in the north and west, where France borders the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, to the mountain ranges in the south (the Pyrenees) and the south-east (the Alps), of which the latter contains the highest point of Europe, the Mont Blanc at 4810 m.
In between are found other elevated regions such as the Massif Central or the Vosges mountains and extensive river basins such as those of the Loire River, the Rhone River, the Garonne and Seine.
Maritime territory (EEZ)
Due to its numerous overseas departments and territories scattered on all oceans of the planet, France possesses the second-largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world, covering 11,035,000 km² (4,260,000 sq. miles), just behind the EEZ of the United States (11,351,000 km² / 4,383,000 sq. miles), but ahead of the EEZ of Australia (8,232,000 km² / 3,178,000 sq. miles). According to a different calculation cited by the Pew Research Center, the EEZ of France would be 10,084,201 km² (3,893,532 sq. miles), behind the United States (12,174,629 km² / 4,700,651 sq. miles), but ahead of Australia (8,980,568 km² / 3,467,416 sq. miles) and Russia (7,566,673 km² / 2,921,508 sq. miles).
The EEZ of France covers approximately 8% of the total surface of all the EEZs of the world, whereas the land area of the French Republic is only 0.45% of the total land area of the Earth.
Main article: Economy of France
France's economy combines extensive private enterprise with substantial (though declining) government intervention (see dirigisme). The government retains considerable influence over key segments of infrastructure sectors, with majority ownership of railway, electricity, aircraft, and telecommunication firms. It has been gradually relaxing its control over these sectors since the early 1990s. The government is slowly selling off holdings in France Télécom, Air France, as well as the insurance, banking, and defence industries.
A member of the G8 group of leading industrialised countries, it ranked as the fifth-largest economy in the world in 2003, behind the United States, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom. France joined 10 other EU members to launch the Euro on January 1 1999, with euro coins and banknotes completely replacing the French franc in early 2002.
According to the WTO, in 2003, France was the world's fifth-largest exporter, behind the United States, Germany, Japan, and China, (but ahead of the United Kingdom). It was also the fourth-largest importer (behind the United States, Germany, and China, but ahead of the United Kingdom and Japan). According to the OECD, in 2003 France received the largest percentage of foreign international investment, ahead of the United States and Belgium.
With over 77 million tourists a year, France is ranked as the major tourist destination in the world, ahead of Spain (51.7 million) and United States (41.9 million). It features cities of high cultural interest (Paris being the foremost), beaches and seaside resorts, ski centres and rural regions that many enjoy for their beauty and tranquillity.
France has an important aerospace industry (lead by Airbus Industrie) and is the only European power to have its own national space centre. France is also the most energy independent Western country due to heavy investment in nuclear power, which also makes France the smallest producer of carbon dioxide among the seven most industrialised countries in the world. Large tracts of fertile land, the application of modern technology, and EU subsidies have combined to make France the leading agricultural producer in Western Europe.
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.
See also: List of French companies
See also main article: Foreign relations of France.
France's founding membership in the European Union largely defines France's current foreign policy. The French Republic is furthermore a member of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and of the Indian Ocean Commission (COI), and an associate member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). France is also a leading member or the International Organisation of Francophonie (OIF) which gathers 51 fully or partly French-speaking countries.
France hosts the headquarters of the OECD and UNESCO, as well as those of the International Bureau for Weights and Measures in charge of the international metric system, and Interpol.
Main article: Demographics of France
The official language is French. Several regional languages (including Alsatian, Basque, Breton, Caribbean Creole, Catalan, Corsican, Dutch (Flemish), Franco-Provençal dialects, Gascon, Lorraine German dialect, Occitan, and some Oïl dialects) are also occasionally understood and spoken, mostly by elderly people, but the French government and public school system discouraged the use of any of them until recently. The regional languages are now taught at some schools, though French remains the only official language in use by the government, local or national. Some languages spoken by immigrants are also frequently heard, especially in large cities: Portuguese, Maghreb Arabic, several Berber languages, several languages of Black Africa, Turkish, several Chinese dialects (most notably Wu dialects, Cantonese, Min Nan, and Mandarin), Vietnamese, and Khmer are the most frequently heard.
Starting with the 19th century, the historical evolution of the population in France has been extremely atypical in the Western World. Unlike the rest of Europe, France did not experience a strong population growth in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. Conversely, it experienced a much stronger growth in the second half of the 20th century than the rest of Europe or indeed its own growth in the previous centuries.
It has been the third most populous country of Europe, behind Russia and Germany, since the late 1990s.
The principal cities by population include:
Aix-en-Provence, Ajaccio, Albi, Amiens, Angers, Angouleme, Bastia, Belfort, Besançon, Bordeaux, Brest, Caen, Calais, Cannes, Carcassonne, Charleville-Mézières, Clermont-Ferrand, Colmar, Dijon, Dunkerque, Evreux, Grenoble, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Le Mans, Lille, Limoges, Lyon, Marseille, Metz, Montpellier, Mulhouse, Nancy, Nantes, Nice, Nîmes, Orléans, Paris, Perpignan, Poitiers, Quimper, Reims, Rennes, Roubaix, Rouen, Saint-Étienne, Saint-Nazaire, Strasbourg, Tarbes, Toulon, Toulouse, Tourcoing, Tours and Valence.
See also List of fifteen largest French metropolitan areas by population and List of towns in France.
Main article: Culture of France
Traditionally a predominantly Roman Catholic country, with anticlerical leanings, France is since the 1970s a very secular country. Freedom of religion is a constitutional right, as reflected by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The dominant concept of the relationships between the public sphere and religions is that of laïcité, which implies that the government does not intervene in religious dogma, and that religions should refrain from intervening in policy-making. Tensions occasionally erupt about the alleged or real behaviour of some part of the Muslim minority, or about alleged or real discrimination against that community; see Islam in France.
The government does not maintain statistics as to the religion of its inhabitants. Statistics from an unspecified source and date given in the CIA World Factbook gives the following number: Roman Catholic 83-88%, Muslim 5-10%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%. However, a 2003 poll 41% said that the existence of God was "excluded" or "unlikely". 33% declared that "atheist" described them rather or very well, and 51% for "Christian". When questioned about their religion, 62% answered Roman Catholic, 6% Muslim, 2% Protestant, 1% Jewish, 2% "other religions" (except for Orthodox or Buddhist, which were negligible), 26% "no religion" and 1% declined to answer. A Gallup poll established that 15% of the French population attend places of worship.
Description of the flag: three equal vertical bands of blue (hoist side), white, and red; known as the drapeau tricolore (Tricolour Flag); the design and colours inspired a number of other flags, including those of Belgium, Chad, Ireland, Côte d'Ivoire, and Luxembourg.
The foundation of France may be dated to 486 (unified by Clovis I).
France's motto "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" was first used as the rebels' motto during the French Revolution.
The national holiday is the Fête Nationale (National Day), celebrating the Fête de la Fédération, July 14 1790 and not the taking of the Bastille (July 14 1789) as is often mistakenly believed, even by a majority of the French, and is the reason why the holiday is referred to as Bastille Day in English.
The capital and most populous city, Paris, is one of the most famous and beautiful cities in the world, and home to numerous historical buildings and monuments.
The Palace of Versailles is the prime tourist destination in France followed by the great châteaux of the Loire Valley.