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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.

République française
Flag of France
(In Detail) (In Detail)

National motto: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
(English: Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood)

Location of France
Official language French1
Capital Paris
Largest City Paris
President: Jacques Chirac
Prime Minister: Jean-Pierre Raffarin
 - Total 2

 - Metropolitan France3

 - % water
Ranked 42nd
674,843 km²
(260,558 sq. mi.)
Ranked 47th
551,695 km² 4
(213,011 sq. mi.)
543,965 km² 5
(210,026 sq. mi.)
(January 1, 2004)
 - Total 2
 - Metropolitan France3
 - Density3
Ranked 20th

  - Total (2003)
  - GDP/head
Ranked 5th
$1.661 Trillion
Currency Euro(€)6, CFP Franc7,
Time zone
 - in summer
CET (UTC+1)3
National anthem La Marseillaise
Internet TLD .fr
Calling Code 33

(1) See #Demographics for regional languages
(2) Whole territory of the French Republic, including all the overseas departments and territories, but excluding the French territory of Terre Adélie in Antarctica where sovereignty is suspended since the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959
(3) Metropolitan (i.e. European) France only
(4) French National Geographic Institute data
(5) French Land Register data, which exclude lakes, ponds, and glaciers larger than 1 km² (0.386 sq. mi. or 247 acres) as well as the estuaries of rivers
(6) Whole of the French Republic except the overseas territories in the Pacific Ocean
(7) French overseas territories in the Pacific Ocean only



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, 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 9th-century division of Charlemagne's Frankish empire into an eastern and a western part. The eastern part 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, starting with the Capetian dynasty, 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, monarchial rule was restored to France, 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 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 (amendements 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, centered around the French Socialist Party, and one right-wing, centered 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.

See also:

Administrative divisions

Main articles: Administrative divisions of France, List of regions in France

France has 26 regions (French: région), which 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.

Map of France with cities

The departments are further subdivided into 342 Censored page.

The overseas departments are former colonies outside 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 region 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 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 southeast (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 Telecom, Air France, as well as the insurance, banking, and defence industries.

A member of the G8 group of leading industrialized 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 tranquility.

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 WWII 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

Foreign relations

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 (InOC), and an associate member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). France is also a leading member or the International Organization 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, with several regional languages (including Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Dutch (Flemish), Alsatian, Occitan and Oïl languages), but the French government and 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.

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 behavior 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 inhabitants. Statistics dating from an unknown period cited in the CIA World Factbook gives the following number: Roman Catholic 83-88%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 5-10%. 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 attends places of worship.

Miscellaneous topics

Description of the flag: three equal vertical bands of blue (hoist side), white, and red; known as the drapeau tricolore (Tricolor Flag); the design and colors inspired a number of other flags, including those of Belgium, Chad, Ireland, Côte d'Ivoire, and Luxembourg; the official flag for all French dependent areas

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 home to the Eiffel Tower, a tower of girdered puddled iron constructed in 1889.

The Palace of Versailles is the number one tourist destination in France followed by the great châteaux of the Loire Valley.

See also

International rankings

External links

  • Official site of the Office of the French President - The Elysée Palace
  • Official site of the Office of the French Prime Minister - Main governmental site
  • Assemblée Nationale - The French National Assembly
  • Sénat - The French Senate
  • Official site of the French public service - Contains many links to various administrations and institutions
  • Phonebook of France - Residential and Business Phonenumbers
  • French Newspapers
  • Map of France - Maps of France and its regions
  • France travel guide
  • France Pictures Geographic guide: France
  • Photographs of the Lot and Dordogne regions of France
  • Images of France - image gallery
  • About France - Information about France

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Last updated: 01-28-2005 06:08:09
Last updated: 02-28-2005 11:24:10