France, formally the French Republic, is a unitary Sovereign State as well as a transcontinental country comprising an area located in Western Europe with several overseas territories and regions. The European or metropolitan territory of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. France’s overseas territories include French Guiana on the South American continent and several island territories in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. France covers 643,801 square kilometers and has a total population of 66.7 million. It is a semi-presidential republic with the capital city of Paris, which is the largest city in the country and its most important cultural and commercial center. Other important urban centers are Marseille, Lyon, Lille, Nice, Toulouse and Bordeaux.
The area now known as metropolitan France had been inhabited by the Gauls, a Celtic people, during the Iron Age. In 51 BC, the territory was annexed by Rome, which held Gaul till 486, in which time the Germanic Franks had conquered the region and established the Kingdom of France. France emerged as a major European power in the late Middle Ages, with victory in the Hundred Years’ War (1337 to 1453) strengthening state formation and political centralization. During the Renaissance, French culture flourished and a global colonial empire emerged that would be the second largest in the world by the 20th century. During the 16th century, the country experienced religious civil wars between Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). During the reign of Louis XIV, France became the dominant cultural, political and military power in Europe. In the late 18th century, the French Revolution overthrew absolute monarchy, established one of the earliest republics in modern history, and drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which still expresses the ideals of the nation today.
During the 19th century, Napoleon seized control and created the First French Empire, whose subsequent Napoleonic Wars would shape the course of continental Europe. After the collapse of the Empire, France experienced a turbulent succession of governments, culminating in the establishment of the Third French Republic in 1870. France was a major participant in World War I, from which it emerged victorious, and was one of the Allied powers in World War II, but was occupied by the Axis powers in 1940. After liberation in 1944, a Fourth Republic was established, which was later dissolved during the Algerian War. The Fifth Republic, led by Charles de Gaulle, was established in 1958 and continues to exist today. Algeria and nearly all other colonies became independent in the 1960s with minimal controversy and generally retained close economic and military ties to France.
France has long been a global center for the arts, sciences, and philosophy. The country is host to the 4th largest number of UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites in Europe and welcomes approximately 83 million foreign tourists each year, outnumbering all other countries in the world. France is a developed country with the sixth largest economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP and the ninth largest in terms of purchasing power parity, and ranks fourth in the world in terms of total household wealth. In international rankings, France performs very well in the areas of education, health care, life expectancy, and human development. France remains a major power in the world, a founding member of the United Nations, where it serves as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and a founding and leading member of the European Union (EU). It is also a member of the Group of 7, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and La Francophonie.
Geography of France
The European part of France is called Metropolitan France and is located at one of the western ends of Europe. It is bordered by the North Sea to the north, the English Channel to the northwest, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the southeast. To the northeast, it borders Belgium and Luxembourg. It also borders Germany and Switzerland to the east, Italy and Monaco to the southeast, and Spain and Andorra to the southwest. The borders in the south and in the east of the country are mountain ranges: the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Jura, the border in the east is formed by the Rhine, while the border in the north and northeast does not merge into any natural elements. Metropolitan France includes several islands: Corsica and offshore islands.
France has overseas territories all over the world. These territories have a different status in the territorial administration of France.
It has land borders with Brazil and Suriname in French Guiana as well as with the Kingdom of the Netherlands across the French part of Saint Martin.
The European territory of France covers 551,500 square kilometers, making it the largest among the members of the European Union. Including all its overseas departments and territories, the total area of France is 643,801 km2, which represents 0.45% of the world’s entire land area. Featuring a vast diversity of landscapes, ranging from the coastal plains located in the north and west to the Alpine mountain ranges in the southeast, Massif Central located in the south, as well as the Pyrenees in the southwest.
Because of its numerous overseas departments and territories scattered throughout the world’s oceans, France has the second largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world at 11,035,000 km2, just behind the EEZ of the US (11,351,000 km2) but in front of the EEZ of Australia (8,148,250 km2). The EEZ covers about 8% of the total area of all EEZs in the world.
The highest point in Western Europe, Mont Blanc, is 4,810.45 meters above sea level in the Alps on the border between France and Italy. France also has extensive river systems such as the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne and the Rhone, which separates the Massif Central from the Alps and flows into the Mediterranean at Camargue. Off the Mediterranean coast is Corsica.
Demographics of France
France is the 20th most populous country in the world and the 3rd most populous country in Europe, with a population of approximately 66.6 million.
France stands out among the developed countries in general and European countries in particular because it has a relatively high natural population growth rate: in 2006, due to birth rates alone, France accounted for almost the entire natural population growth rate in the European Union, with the natural growth rate (more births than deaths) reaching 300,000. This was the highest figure since the end of the baby boom in 1973 and coincides with the rise in the overall fertility rate from a low of 1.7 in 1994 to 2.0 in 2010.
From 2006 to 2011, population growth averaged +0.6% per year. Immigrants also contribute significantly to this trend; in 2010, 27% of newborns in metropolitan France had at least one parent born abroad and 24% had at least one parent born outside Europe (parents born in overseas territories are considered to be born in France).
Ethnic groups in France
Most French people are of Celtic (Gallic) origin, with a mixture of Latin (Roman) and Germanic (Franconian) groups. Several regions reflect this diverse heritage.
Mass immigration over the last century and a half has led to a multicultural society. In 2004, the Montaigne Institute estimated that within European France 51 million people were white (85% of the population), 6 million North African (10%), 2 million black (3.3%) and 1 million Asian (1.7%).
A law dating back to the Revolution of 1789, reaffirmed in the French Constitution of 1958, prohibits the French state from collecting data on ethnicity and origin. In 2008, the TeO (“Trajectories and origins”) study carried out jointly by INED and the French National Statistical Institute estimated that 5 million people were of Italian origin (the largest immigrant community), followed by 3 to 6 million people of North African origin, 2.5 million people of Sub-Saharan African origin and 200,000 people of Turkish origin. There are more than 500 000 ethnic Armenians in France. There are also significant minorities of other European ethnic groups, namely Spaniards, Portuguese, Poles and Greeks.
France has a significant gypsy population (Gitan) of around 400 000 people. Among the famous French gypsies (gitans) are Django Reinhardt, Gipsy Kings and Kendji Girac. However, many Roma are often deported, deported and sent back to Bulgaria and Romania.
Currently, it is estimated that 40% of the French population is at least partly descended from the various waves of immigration that the country has received since the beginning of the 20th century; some 1.1 million net immigrants arrived in France between 1921 and 1935 alone. In the 1960s, the next major wave came when around 1.6 million peak rivets returned to France following an independence of the North African territories from Algeria and Morocco. They were accompanied by numerous former colonial subjects from North and West Africa, as well as many immigrants from Spain and Portugal.
France remains an important destination country for immigrants, receiving around 200 000 legal immigrants every year. It is also the main recipient of asylum seekers in Western Europe, with an estimated 50,000 applications in 2005 (a decrease of 15% compared to 2004). The European Union allows free movement between Member States, although France has introduced controls to curb Eastern European migration, and immigration remains a controversial political issue.
In 2008, the INSEE estimated the total number of immigrants born abroad at around 5 million (8% of the population), while their offspring born in France accounted for 6.5 million, or 11% of the population. Thus, almost a fifth of the country’s population was either of the first or second generation, of which more than 5 million were of European origin and 4 million of Maghreb origin.
In 2014, the National Institute of Statistics (INSEE, for its acronym in French) published a study that reported a doubling of the number of Spanish immigrants, Portuguese and Italians in France between 2009 and 2012. According to the French institute, this increase is the result of the financial crisis which affected several European countries during this period and which increased the number of Europeans residing in France. The statistics on Spanish immigrants in France show an increase of 107% between 2009 and 2012, which means that the number has risen from 5300 to 11 000 during this period.
Religion in France
As a secular country, religious freedom is a constitutional right in France. French religious policy is based on the concept of laïcité, a strict separation of church and state, keeping public life completely secular.
Catholicism has been the dominant religion in France for more than a millennium, although today it is not practised as actively as it used to be. Of the 47,000 religious buildings in France, 94% are Roman Catholic. While in 1965, 81% of French people described themselves as Catholic, in 2009 the figure was 64%. And while in 1952 27% of French people went to Mass once a week or more, by 2006 that percentage had dropped to 5%. The same survey found that 3% of the population is Protestant, an increase over previous surveys, and 5% belong to other religions, while the remaining 28% say they do not belong to any religion. Evangelism is perhaps the fastest growing religious category in France.
During the French Revolution, activists carried out a brutal campaign of de-Christianization, which ended the established state status of the Catholic Church. In some cases, clergy and churches were attacked, with churches being stripped of statues and ornaments through iconoclasm. After the back and forth of Catholic royal and secular republican governments in the 19th century, France established secularism by adopting the law on the separation of church and state in 1905.
According to an opinion poll conducted in January 2007, only 5% of the French population regularly attended church (of those who identified themselves as Catholics, 10% attended services regularly). The poll found that 51% of citizens identified themselves as Catholic, 31% as agnostic or atheist (another poll puts the percentage of atheists at 27%), 10% said they belonged to a different religion or had no opinion, 4% identified themselves as Muslim, 3% as Protestant, 1% as Buddhist, and 1% as Jewish.
According to a 2012 Eurobarometer survey, Christianity is the largest religion in France, with 60% of French citizens. Catholics are the largest Christian group in France, accounting for 50% of French citizens, while Protestants account for 8% and other Christians for 2%. Non-belies/agnostics make up 20%, atheists 13% and Muslims 6%.
Assessments of total Muslims in France vary widely. In 2003, the French Ministry of the Interior estimated the total number of people with a Muslim background at between 5 and 6 million (8-10%).
The current Jewish community in France, according to the World Jewish Congress, has around 600 000 members and is the largest in Europe. It is the third largest in the world, after Israel and the United States.
Since 1905, the French government has followed the principle of laicité, according to which it may not recognise any specific right to a religious community (with the exception of legacies such as those of military chaplains and local law in Alsace-Moselle). It recognises religious organisations according to formal legal criteria that do not refer to religious doctrines. Conversely, religious organisations are expected not to interfere in political decision-making. Certain groups, such as Scientology, Children of God, the Unity Church or the Order of the Sun, are considered sects (“cults” in French) and therefore do not have the same status in France as recognised religions.
Economy of France
As a member of the Group of 7 (formerly G8) leading industrialized countries, it is since 2014 the ninth largest economy in the world and the second largest in the EU in terms of purchasing power parity. In 2015, France ranked fourth on the Fortune Global 500 list with 31 of the world’s 500 largest companies, ahead of Germany and the United Kingdom. France joined eleven other EU Member States in 1999 by adopting the euro, completely replacing the French franc with euro bills and coins in 2002 (₣).
France has a mixed economy, which is a combination of large private enterprises with significant public enterprise and public intervention. The government retains considerable influence over important segments of the infrastructure sector, with a majority stake in railroads, electricity, aircraft, nuclear power and telecommunications. Since the early 1990s, it has relaxed its control over these sectors. The government is gradually privatizing the public sector by divesting shareholdings in France Télécom, Air France and the insurance, banking and defence industries. Under the leadership of the European consortium Airbus, the French Republic has a significant aerospace industry and has its own national spaceport, the Centre Spatial Guyanais.
In 2009, France was the world’s 6th largest exporter and the 4th largest importer of manufactured goods, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In 2008, with 118 billion U.S. dollars, France was the third largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) among the OECD countries, after Luxembourg (where FDI mainly related to remittances to the banks located there) and the United States (316 billion U.S. dollars), but before the United Kingdom (96.9 billion U.S. dollars), Germany (25 billion U.S. dollars) or Japan (24 billion U.S. dollars).
In the same year, French companies invested $220 billion outside France, making France the second largest foreign direct investor in the OECD, after the U.S. ($311 billion) and before the United Kingdom ($111 billion), Japan ($128 billion) and Germany ($157 billion).
Financial services, banking and insurance are an important part of the economy. The Paris Stock Exchange (French: La Bourse de Paris) is an ancient institution founded in 1724 by Louis XV. In 2000, the stock exchanges of Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels merged to become Euronext. In 2007, Euronext merged with the New York Stock Exchange to become NYSE Euronext, the largest stock exchange in the world. Euronext Paris, the French subsidiary of the NYSE Euronext group, is Europe’s second largest stock exchange after the London Stock Exchange.
France is part of the European internal market and represents more than 500 million consumers. Different national trade policies are governed by agreements between the members of the European Union (EU) and by EU legislation. France adopted the single European currency, the euro, in 2002. It is a member of the euro zone, representing about 330 million citizens.