République française
French Republic
Flag of France Coat of arms of France
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
Anthem: La Marseillaise
Capital Paris
Largest city Paris
Official language French
Government Unitary republic
 - President Jacques Chirac
 - Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin
 - French State 843 (Treaty of Verdun) 
 - Current constitution 1958 (5th Republic) 
Accession to EU March 25 1957
 - Total 1 674,843 km² (40th)
260,558 sq mi 
 - Metropolitan France 551,695 km² 2 (47th)
213,010 sq mi
 - Land area 6 [[{{{FR_land_area_magnitude}}} m²|{{{FR_land_area}}} km²]] 3 ({{{FR_land_area_rank}}})
{{{FR_land_areami²}}} sq mi
 - Jan 2007 estimate
 - Total1 64,102,140 4 (20th)
 - Metropolitan France 61,538,322 5 (20th)
 - Density 113/km² (89th)
293/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $1.830 trillion (7th)
 - Per capita $29,316 (20th)
HDI  (2004) 0.942 (high) (16th)
Currency Euro (€)7, CFP Franc8
(EUR,    XPF)
Time zone CET6 (UTC+1)
 - Summer (DST) CEST6 (UTC+2)
Internet TLD .fr9
Calling code +33
1 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.
2 French National Geographic Institute data.
3 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.
4 Official INSEE source
5 Official INSEE source
6 Metropolitan France only.
7 Whole of the French Republic except the overseas territories in the Pacific Ocean.
8 French overseas territories in the Pacific Ocean only.
9 In addition to .fr, several other Internet TLDs are used in French overseas départements and territories: .re, .mq, .gp, .tf, .nc, .pf, .wf, .pm, .gf and .yt. France also uses .eu, shared with other members of the European Union.

France (French: IPA: [fʁɑ̃s]), officially the French Republic (French: République française, IPA: [ʁepyblik fʁɑ̃sɛz]), is a country whose metropolitan territory is located in Western Europe and that also comprises various overseas islands and territories located in other continents.[1] Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. French people often refer to Metropolitan France as L'Hexagone (The "Hexagon") because of the geometric shape of its territory.

France is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra, and Spain. In some of its overseas departments, France also shares land borders with Brazil, Suriname, and the Netherlands Antilles. France is also linked to the United Kingdom via the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English Channel.

The French Republic is a democracy that is organised as a unitary semi-presidential republic. It is a developed country with the sixth-largest economy in the world.[2] Its main ideals are expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. France is one of the founding members of the European Union, and has the largest land area of all members. France is also a founding member of the United Nations, and a member of La Francophonie, the G8, and the Latin Union. It is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council wielding veto power, and it is also an acknowledged nuclear power. It is considered as one of the post World War II great powers. France is the most popular international tourist destination in the world, receiving over 75 million foreign tourists annually.[3]

The name France originates from the Franks, a Germanic tribe that occupied the region after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. More precisely, the region around Paris, called Île-de-France, was the original French royal demesne.



Origin and history of the name

See also: List of meanings of countries' names

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. Much the same as the Saxons are named after a a variety of single-edged knives called the seax.

Another proposed etymology is that in an ancient Germanic language, Frank means free. However, rather than the ethnic name of the Franks coming from the word frank, it is more probable that the word is derived from the ethnic name of the Franks, the connection being that only the Franks, as the conquering class, had the status of freemen. The Merovingian kings claimed descent of their dynasty from the Sicambri, a Scythian or Cimmerian tribe, asserting that this tribe had changed their name to "Franks" in 11 BC, following their defeat and relocation by Drusus, under the leadership of a certain chieftain called Franko. In German, France is still called Frankreich, which literally means Reich (realm) of the Franks". In order to distinguish from the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne, France is called Frankreich, while the Frankish Empire 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" or "Rex Francorum" it became more precisely used to stricly talk of the Kingdom of Francia, which would be what France was. These Capetian kings were descending from the Robertines, who had given birth to two Frankish kings, and previously held the title of "duces francorum" or "Dukes of Franks". 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 a shorthand. It was finally the name adopted for all of the Kingdom as central power affirmed itself over all the kingdom.[4]




Rome to Revolution

The borders of modern France are roughly 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, which evolved into the French language) and Roman culture. Christianity took root in the 2nd century and 3rd century 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 Middle Ages, the French would adopt this as a justification for calling themselves "the Most-Christian Kingdom of France".

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. 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 Western Francia. Western Francia approximated the area occupied by modern France.

The Carolingians ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of France. His descendants, the Capetian, Valois and Bourbon dynasties progressively unified the country through a series of wars and dynastic inheritance. 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 (see Demographics of France) and had tremendous influence over European politics, economy, and culture. Towards the end of this era, France played a major role in the American Revolution by providing capital and some military assets to the anti-British rebels. The decisive French victory over Britain at the Battle of the Chesapeake followed by the French-led Siege of Yorktown in 1781 ended the American Revolutionary War and allowed the American independence over the British.


Monarchy to Republic

The Chambord castle
The Chambord castle

The monarchy ruled France until the French Revolution, in 1789. King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were executed, along with thousands of other French citizens. 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 French 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.

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 French Empire. Louis-Napoléon was unseated following defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and his regime was replaced by the Third Republic.

Eugène Delacroix - La Liberté guidant le peuple ("Liberty leading the People"), a symbol of the French Revolution of 1830.
Eugène Delacroix - La Liberté guidant le peuple ("Liberty leading the People"), a symbol of the French Revolution of 1830.

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 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.

Though ultimately a victor in World War I, France suffered enormous human and material losses that weakened it for decades to come. The 1930s were marked by a variety of social reforms introduced by the Popular Front government. During World War II, after a series of unsuccessful rescue campaigns in Norway, Belgium and The Netherlands from 1939 to 1940, followed by the May-June 1940 metropolitan German Nazi blitzkrieg, which was supported by the Fascist Italy in its final phase, France's political leadership chose to surrender to Germany. The policy of collaboration with the enemy, a move that some disagreed with, led to the formation of the Free French Forces outside of France and of the French Resistance inside. France was liberated with the joint effort of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Free French Forces and the French resistance in 1944. Soon the Nouvelle Armée Française ("new French army") was established with the massive help of US-built material and equipment, and pursued the fight along the Allies in various battles including the campaign of Italy.

The French Fourth Republic was established after World War II and struggled to maintain its economic and 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 its oldest major colony, 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 of Independence and Franco-French civil war that resulted in the capital Algiers, 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. However, the French electorate voted against ratification of the European Constitutional Treaty in May 2005, leaving the future of Europe, and the role of France within it, uncertain [citations needed].



Logo of the French government
Logo of the French government

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, who is elected directly by universal adult suffrage for a 5-year term and is the Head of State, and the Government, led by the president-appointed Prime Minister.

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.[5]

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 around the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR) and its successor the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). The far right-wing Front National is the third party in France with its share of the vote remaining stable at 16%. The executive branch is currently composed entirely of the UMP.



The basic principles that the French Republic must respect are found in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
The basic principles that the French Republic must respect are found in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

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:[1]

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 may 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 moeurs") or breach of the peace ("trouble a l'ordre public") have been used to repress public expressions of homosexuality or street prostitution.

Laws can only address the future and not the past (ex post facto laws are prohibited); and to be applicable, laws must be officially published in the Journal Officiel de la République Française.


Foreign relations

French foreign policy has been largely shaped by membership of the European Union, of which France was a founding member. France is also a member of the United Nations, NATO, the 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, and the International Bureau for Weights and Measures.

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Charles de Gaulle nuclear aircraft carrier.
Charles de Gaulle nuclear aircraft carrier.

The French armed forces are divided into four branches:

The gendarmerie is a military police force which serves for the most part as a rural and general purpose police force. Since the Algerian War of Independence, conscription was steadily reduced and was finally suspended in 2001 by Jacques Chirac. The total number of military personnel is approximately 359,000. However, 100,000 of these are in the Gendarmerie, and are thus unfit for external operations. France spends 2.6% of its GDP on defence, slightly more than the United Kingdom (2.4%), and is the highest in the European Union where defence spending is generally less than 1.5% of GDP. Together they account for 40% of EU defence spending. About 10% of France's defence budget goes towards its force de frappe, or nuclear weapons. A significant part of French military equipment is made in France. Examples include the Rafale fighter, the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, the Exocet missile, and the Leclerc tank. 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.



A TGV Atlantique.
A TGV Atlantique.

The railway network in France totals 31,840 km, the most extensive in Europe, and is operated by the SNCF. High speed trains include the Thalys, the Eurostar and the TGV, which travels at 320 km/h (200 mph) in commercial use. The Eurostar, along with the Eurotunnel Shuttle, connects with the United Kingdom through the Channel Tunnel. Rail connections to all other neighbouring countries in Europe (except Andorra) have been developed. Intra-urban connections are also well developed with both underground services and tramway services complementing bus services.

There is approximately 893,300 km of servicable roadway in France. There is no annual registration fee or road tax, however, motorway usage is through tolls except in the vicinity of large communes. The world's tallest road bridge is the Millau Viaduct. The new car market is dominated by national brands such as Renault (27% of cars sold in France in 2003), Peugeot (20.1%) and Citroën (13.5%).[6] Also, with 70% of new cars sold in 2004 being diesel, it is becoming the preferred choice over petrol or LPG.[7]

There are approximately 478 airports in France, including landing fields. The most important and largest being Charles de Gaulle International Airport just outside Paris; it is also the seat of Air France, the French national airline. There are ten major ports in France, the largest is in Marseille, which is also the largest bordering the Mediterranean Sea. 14,932 km of waterways traverse France.



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[8]. These territories have varying forms of government ranging from overseas department to overseas collectivity.

Metropolitan France covers 551,695 km² (213,010 sq mi) and 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 m (15,770 ft) above sea-level, the highest point in western Europe, Mont Blanc, is situated in the Alps on the border between France and Italy.[9] 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 /6.5 ft below sea level).[9] Corsica lies off the Mediterranean coast.

Satellite picture of metropolitan France, August 2002
Satellite picture of metropolitan France, August 2002

France's total land area, with its overseas departments and territories, 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 (4,260,000 sq mi), approximately 8% of the total surface of all the EEZs of the world, just behind the United States (11,351,000 km²/4,383,000 sq mi) and ahead of Australia (8,232,000 km²/3,178,000 sq mi).[10]

Metropolitan France is situated between 41° and 52° North, on the western edge of Europe and thus lies within the northern temperate zone. The north and northwest have a temperate climate, however, a combination of maritime influences, latitude and altitude produce a varied climate in the rest of Metropolitan France.[11] 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 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 are mainly alpine in nature with the number of days with temperatures below freezing over 150 per year and snowcover lasting for up to six months.


Administrative divisions

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 are numbered (mainly alphabetically). This number is used in postal codes and vehicle number plates amongst others. Four of these departments are found in the overseas regions and are simultaneously overseas regions and overseas departments and are an integral part of France (and the European Union) and thus enjoy a status similar to metropolitan departments. The metropolitan departments are subdivided into 342 arrondissements which are, in turn, subdivided into 4,035 cantons. These cantons are then divided into 36,682 communes, which are municipalities with an elected municipal council. Three communes, Paris, Lyon and Marseille are also subdivided into 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.

In addition to the 26 regions and 100 departments, the French Republic also has four overseas collectivities, one sui generis collectivity (New Caledonia), and one overseas territory. 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 territories 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.

France also maintains control over a number of small non-permanently inhabited islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean: Bassas da India, Clipperton Island, Europa Island, Glorioso Islands, Juan de Nova Island, Tromelin Island.



The first completed Airbus A380 at the "A380 Reveal" event in Toulouse on January 18, 2005
The first completed Airbus A380 at the "A380 Reveal" event in Toulouse on January 18, 2005

France's economy combines extensive private enterprise (nearly 2.5 million companies registered) 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 sixth largest economy in the world in 2005, behind the United States, Japan, Germany, The People's Republic of China and the United Kingdom. France joined 11 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 OECD, in 2004 France was the world's fifth-largest exporter and the fourth-largest importer of manufactured goods. In 2003, France was the 2nd-largest recipient of foreign direct investment among OECD countries at $47 billion, ranking behind Luxembourg (where foreign direct investment was essentially monetary transfers to banks located in that country) but above the United States ($39.9 billion), the United Kingdom ($14.6 billion), Germany ($12.9 billion), or Japan ($6.3 billion). In the same year, French companies invested $57.3 billion outside of France, ranking France as the second most important outward direct investor in the OECD, behind the United States ($173.8 billion), and ahead of the United Kingdom ($55.3 billion), Japan ($28.8 billion) and Germany ($2.6 billion).

In the 2005 edition of OECD in Figures, the OECD also noted that France leads the G7 countries in terms of productivity (measured as GDP per hour worked).[12] In 2004, the GDP per hour worked in France was $47.7, ranking France above the United States ($46.3), Germany ($42.1), the United Kingdom ($39.6), or Japan ($32.5).[13]

La Défense, Paris is the heart of the French economy.
La Défense, Paris is the heart of the French economy.

Despite figures showing a higher productivity per hour worked than in the US, France's GDP per capita is significantly lower than the US GDP per capita, being in fact comparable to the GDP per capita of the other European countries, which is on average 30% below the US level. The reason for this is that a much smaller percentage of the French population is working compared to the US, which lowers the GDP per capita of France, despite its higher productivity. In fact, France has one of the lowest percentages of its population aged 15-64 years at work among the OECD countries. In 2004, 68.8% of the French population aged 15-64 years was in employment, compared to 80.0% in Japan, 78.9% in the UK, 77.2% in the US, and 71.0% in Germany.[14] This phenomenon is the result of almost thirty years of massive unemployment in France, which has led to three consequences reducing the size of the working population: about 9% of the active population is without a job; students delay as long as possible their entry into labour market; and finally, the French government gives various incentives to workers to retire in their early 50s, though these are now receding.

As many economists have stressed repeatedly over the years, the main issue with the French economy is not an issue of productivity. In their opinion, it is an issue of structural reforms, in order to increase the size of the working population in the overall population. Liberal and Keynesian economists have different answers to that issue. Lower 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 and lack of government policies fostering social justice by the left. Recent government attempts at adjusting the youth labour market, to combat unemployment, have met with fierce resistance.

With over 75 million foreign tourists in 2003, France is ranked as the first tourist destination in the world, ahead of Spain (52.5 million) and the United States (40.4 million). It 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 has an important aerospace industry led by the European consortium Airbus and is the only European power (excluding Russia) to have its own national spaceport (Centre Spatial Guyanais). 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. As a result of large investment in nuclear technology, nearly nine tenths of the energy needs of the country are met by nuclear power plants (86.9% in 2005).[15]

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 recognised foodstuff and wine industry are primary French agricultural exports. EU agriculture subsidies to France total almost $14 billion.

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


Metropolitan French cities over 100,000 inhabitants
Metropolitan French cities over 100,000 inhabitants

With an estimated population of 61 million people, France is the 23rd most populous country in the world. Population growth is largely accomplished through natural growth, and to a lesser extent, immigration.[16] 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 270,100. The lifetime fertility rate rose to 1.94 in 2005, from 1.92 in 2004. Net immigration fell slightly in 2005 to 97,500.[17][18] Despite this, France is an ethnically diverse nation. 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.[19] France is the leading asylum destination in Western Europe with an estimated 50,000 applications in 2005 (a 15% decrease from 2004).[20]

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%. France's largest cities are Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Nice, Toulouse and Nantes.

Demography evolution from 1961 up to 2003 (according to the FAO, 2005). Population in thousands of inhabitants.
Demography evolution from 1961 up to 2003 (according to the FAO, 2005). Population in thousands of inhabitants.

According to Article 2 of the Constitution, French is the sole official language of France since 1992. This makes France unique among the Western European nations (excluding microstates) as the only country with just one officially recognised language. However 77 regional languages are also spoken, in metropolitan area as well in the overseas departments and territories. Up until recently the French government and state school system discouraged the use of any of these languages [citations needed], however, they are now taught at some schools. Other languages, such as Portuguese, Italian, Maghreb Arabic and several Berber languages are spoken by immigrants.

A variety of religions are practised in France, as freedom of religion is a constitutional right. Although many religious doctrines such as Scientology, Children of God, the Unification Church, or the Order of the Solar Temple are considered as sects. According to a January 2007 poll: [21][22]

The concept of laïcité exists in France and because of this the French government is legally prohibited from recognising any religion (except for legacy statutes like those of military chaplains and Alsace-Moselle). Instead, it merely recognises religious organisations, according to formal legal criteria that do not address religious doctrine. Conversely, religious organisations should refrain from intervening in policy-making. Tensions occasionally erupt about alleged discrimination against minorities, especially against Muslims (see Islam in France).


Public health

The French healthcare system has been ranked first worldwide by the World Health Organisation[23]. It is almost entirely free for people affected by chronic diseases (Affections de longues durées) such as cancers, AIDS or Cystic Fibrosis. Stastistical life expectancy at birth is 79.73 years.

As of 2003, there are approximately 120,000 inhabitants of France who are living with AIDS[2]

France, as all EU countries, is under an EU directive to reduce sewage discharge to sensitive areas. As of 2006, France is only 40 per cent in compliance with this directive, placing it as one of the lowest achieving countries within the EU with regard to this wastewater treatment standard[3].



Cartesianism is prominent in France.
Cartesianism is prominent in France.

Literature and Poetry

The French literature tracks its origins to the middle ages. French was not yet a uniform language but was divided into several oil dialects. Each writer then used his own orthography and grammar. Several French medieval texts are not signed such as Tristan and Iseult or Lancelot-Grail. A significant part of the medieval French poetry and literature is inspired by the Matter of France such as the The Song of Roland and the Chanson de geste. The "Roman de Renart" was writen in 1175 by Perrout de Saint Cloude told the story of the medieval character Reynard and is an early example of French text too. There were though some medieval writers that became famous, for example the Chrétien de Troyes. Oc culture also had a strong culture in the middle ages. There is a distinction between the trouvères and the troubadours, it was at some point a mark of education for the aristocracy to be a troubadour.

About the French language history one of the most important writer is without a doubt François Rabelais. The modern French language took a lot from this writer. His most famous work being Gargantua and Pantagruel without a doubt. Later Jean de La Fontaine wrote the "Fables", an ensemble of short stories writen in verse often ending by a "morale".

It is in the 18th and 19th centuries that French literature and poetry reached its pinacle. The 18th century saw Voltaire, Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Many stories were also writen for children in French, Charles Perrault had been most productive and wrote stories such as: "Hop o' My Thumb, Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Bluebeard". The 19th century saw some of the most famous French stories writen down. Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Jules Verne all became famous worldwide. Offering the world's heritage stories such as: The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Symbolist poetry was a strong movement of the French poetry of the time with artists such as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé.

The 20th century saw several French writers reaching a high level too. Gaston Leroux wrote The Phantom of the Opera for example, less famous outside of France are Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Albert Camus.



Tour de France
Tour de France

Popular sports include basketball, football (soccer), handball and rugby union. France has hosted events such as the 1998 FIFA World Cup, and will host the upcoming 2007 Rugby 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 will host the 2007 Rugby World Cup final. France also hosts the annual Tour de France, the most famous and prestigious 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.

Both the national football team and the national rugby team are nicknamed "Les Bleus" in reference to the team's shirt colour as well as the national French tricolor flag. The football team is regarded as one of the most skilful teams in the world with one FIFA World Cup victory in 1998 and two European Championships in 1984 and 2000. The top national club competition is the Ligue 1. Rugby union is particularly strong in the south west of France. The national rugby team have competed at every Rugby World Cup, and take part in the annual Six Nations Championship. The French rubgy team has never won a world cup, yet it won eight grandslam in the Six Nations Championship. The top national club competition is the Top 14.



Masonic Marianne bronze.
Masonic Marianne bronze.

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.


Miscellaneous topics

Mont Saint Michel, a popular tourist site in France
Mont Saint Michel, a popular tourist site in France
Symbol of France, the Eiffel tower
Symbol of France, the Eiffel tower
Palais des papes (Palace of the Popes), Avignon
Palais des papes (Palace of the Popes), Avignon
This day is considered by French Republicans as the real birth of France: France is no more a country made up of provinces conquered by kings, but a country of provinces and men who freely agree to form a common Nation. This concept of a Nation agreed upon is opposed to the German concept of a Nation based on ethnicity and race, and it was responsible for much of the conflicts between France and Germany in the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Alsace was a German land that had been annexed by the conquest of the French kings, while France considered that although Alsace had indeed been a conquered province in the first place, it had legitimately and freely become a part of France by the oath of 14 July 1790. It is thus no surprise that the 14th of July was proclaimed the National Holiday of France in 1880, 9 years after Germany had reunited with Alsace-Lorraine.
Despite being associated with the Fête de la Fédération, 14 July irked many French monarchists, to whom it recalled the bloody memory of the storming of the Bastille. French monarchists formely wore a black armband each 14 July in defiance of the national holiday.

International rankings


See also


Notes and references

  1. For more information, see Category:French overseas departments, territories and collectivities.
  2. Rank by nominal GDP: 6 (2006); Rank by GDP per capita: 17 (2005); Rank by GDP at purchasing power parity per capita: 21 (2005).
  3. As of 2004, the most recent statistics compiled by the World Tourism Organization; see World Tourism Rankings.
  4. Elizabeth M. Hallam & Judith Everard - Capetian France 937-1328, chapter 1 "The origins of Western Francia" page 7: "What did the name Francia mean in the tenth and eleventh centuries? It still retained a wide general use; both Byzantine and western writers at the time of the crusades described the western forces as Franks. But it was also taking on more specific meanings. From 911 onwards the west Frankish king was known as the Rex Francorum -king of the Franks- and the name Francia could be used to describe his kingdom, as it was also used by the east Frankish, or German, kingdom... The Robertines, forerunners of the Capetians, were duces francorum, dukes of the Franks, and their 'duchy' covered in theory most of northern France. Then as royal power contracted further, leaving the early Capetian only a small bloc of lands around Paris and Orleans, the term Francia was used for this region."
  5. (French) French Senate (2006). Rôle et fonctionnement du Sénat. Retrieved on 2006-04-20.
  6. L'automobile magazine, hors-série 2003/2004 page 294
  8. Sovereignty claims in Antarctica are governed by the Antarctic Treaty System
  9. 9.0 9.1 CIA (2006). The World Factbook: Field Listing - Elevation extremes. Retrieved on 2006-12-14.
  10. According to a different calculation cited by the Pew Research Center, the EEZ of France would be 10,084,201 square kilometres (3,893,532 sq mi), still behind the United States (12,174,629 km²/4,700,651 sq mi), and still ahead of Australia (8,980,568 km²/3,467,416 sq mi) and Russia (7,566,673 km²/2,921,508 sq mi).
  11. Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2005). Discovering France: Geography. Retrieved on 2006-12-29.
  12. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2005). Labour productivity 2003 (Microsoft Excel). Retrieved on 2006-04-20.
  13. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2005). Differentials in GDP per capita and their decomposition, 2004 (Microsoft Excel). Retrieved on 2006-04-20.
  14. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2005). OECD Employment Outlook 2005 - Statistical Annex (PDF format). Retrieved on 2006-06-29.
  15. Électricité de France (2006). Palette énergétique (image). Retrieved on 2006-11-22.
  16. Dorozynski, A. (2002). "France's birth rate matches high Irish levels". BMJ 324 (7334): 385.
  17. Pape, E. (2006). Unexpected Baby Boom. What can Europe learn from the 'exception francaise'?. Newsweek Inc. Retrieved on 2006-04-20.
  18. (French) Planchard, C. (2006). Natalité : la nouvelle exception française ?. L'Internaute. Retrieved on 2006-04-20.
  19. (French)INSEE (2005-01-25). Enquêtes annuelles de recensement 2004 et 2005. Retrieved on 2006-12-14.
  20. UNHCR (2006). UNHCR Global Report 2005: Western Europe (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-12-14.
  21. Catholic World News (2003). France is no longer Catholic, survey shows. Retrieved on 2007-01-11.
  22. (Romanian) Franţa nu mai e o ţară catolică, Cotidianul, 2007-01-11
  23. the ranking, see spreadsheet details for a whole analysis
  24. French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The symbols of the Republic and Bastille Day. Retrieved on 2006-04-20.

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