France, officially the French Republic , is a unitary sovereign state and transcontinental country comprising territory in western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The European, or metropolitan, area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. Overseas France include French Guianaon the South American continent and several island territories in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indianoceans. France spans 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and has a total population of 66.7 million. It is a semi-presidential republicwith the capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban centres include Marseille, Lyon, Lille, Nice, Toulouse and Bordeaux.
During the Iron Age, what is now metropolitan France was inhabited by the Gauls, a Celticpeople. The area was annexed in 51 BC by Rome, which held Gaul until 486, when the Germanic Franks conquered the region and formed the Kingdom of France. France emerged as a major European power in the Late Middle Ages, with its victory in the Hundred Years' War(1337 to 1453) strengthening state-building and political centralisation. During the Renaissance, French culture flourished and a global colonial empire was established, which by the 20th century would be the second largest in the world. The 16th century was dominated by religious civil wars between Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). France became Europe's dominant cultural, political, and military power under Louis XIV. In the late 18th century, the French Revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy, established one of modern history's earliest republics, and saw the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which expresses the nation's ideals to this day.
In the 19th century Napoleon took power and established the First French Empire, whose subsequent Napoleonic Wars shaped the course of continental Europe. Following the collapse of the Empire, France endured a tumultuous succession of governments culminating with the establishment of the French Third Republic in 1870. France was a major participant in the First World War, from which it emerged victorious, and was one of the Allied Powers in the Second World War, but came under occupation by the Axis Powers in 1940. Following liberation in 1944, a Fourth Republic was established and later dissolved in the course of the Algerian War. The Fifth Republic, led by Charles de Gaulle, was formed in 1958 and remains to this day. Algeria and nearly all the other colonies became independent in the 1960s with minimal controversy and typically retained close economic and military connections with France.
France has long been a global centre of art, science, and philosophy. It hosts Europe's fourth-largest number of cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites and receives around 83 million foreign tourists annually, the most of any country in the world. France is a developed countrywith the world's sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and ninth-largest by purchasing power parity.In terms of aggregate household wealth, it ranks fourth in the world. France performs well in international rankings of education, health care, life expectancy, and human development. France remains a great power in the world, being 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 leadingmember state of the European Union (EU). It is also a member of the Group of 7, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and La Francophonie.
France, officially the French Republic (French: République française), is a country with which almost every traveller has a relationship. Many dream of its joie de vivre shown by the countless restaurants, picturesque villages and world-famous gastronomy. Some come to follow the trail of France's great philosophers, writers and artists. And others still are drawn to the country's geographical diversity with its long coastlines, massive mountain ranges and beautiful farmland vistas.
France has been the world's most popular tourist destination for over twenty years. It received 83.7 million visitors in 2014, although these figures are highly skewed by the number of people who frequent the country for the weekend, particularly to visit Disneyland Paris, Europe's most popular visitor attraction. All these people come to France for many a reason: its cities contain some of the greatest treasures on the continent, its countryside is prosperous and well-tended and it boasts dozens of major tourist attractions. France is one of the most geographically diverse countries in Europe, containing areas as different from each other as urban chic Paris, the sunny French Riviera, long Atlantic beaches, the winter sports resorts of the French Alps, the castles of the Loire Valley, rugged Celtic Brittany and the historian's dream that is Normandy.
France is a country of rich emotions and turbulent politics but also a place of rational thinking and Enlightenment treasures. Above all, it is renowned for its cuisine, culture and history. Whatever you want from a holiday, you're about to find it in France.
Location and borders
The European part of France is called Metropolitan France and it is located in one of the occidental ends of Europe. It is bordered by the North Sea in the north, the English Channel in the north-west, the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Mediterranean sea in the south-east. It borders Belgium and Luxembourg in the north east. It also borders Germany and Switzerland in the east, Italy and Monaco in the south-east, Spain and Andorra in the south west. 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 from the Rhine river, while the border in the north and the north east melts in no natural elements. Due to its shape, it is often referred to in French as l'Hexagone("The Hexagon"). Metropolitan France includes various islands: Corsica and coastal islands. Metropolitan France is situated mostly between latitudes 41° and 51° N, and longitudes 6° W and 10° E, on the western edge of Europe, and thus lies within the northern temperate zone. Its continental part covers about 1000 km from north to south and from east to west.
France has Overseas regions across the world. These territories have varying statuses in the territorial administration of France and are located:
- In South America: French Guiana.
- In the Atlantic Ocean: Saint Pierre and Miquelon and, in the Antilles: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy.
- In the Pacific Ocean: French Polynesia, the special collectivity of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and Clipperton Island.
- In the Indian Ocean: Réunion island, Mayotte, Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean, Crozet Islands, St. Paul and Amsterdam islands.
- In the Indian Ocean: Kerguelen Islands.
- In the Antarctic: Adélie Land.
France has land borders with Brazil and Suriname in French Guiana and also with the Kingdom of the Netherlands through the French part of Saint Martin.
The European territory of France covers 551,500 square kilometres (212,935 sq mi), the largest among European Union members. France's total land area, with its overseas departments and territories (excluding Adélie Land), is 643,801 km2 (248,573 sq mi), 0.45% of the total land area on Earth. France possesses a wide variety of landscapes, from coastal plains in the north and west to mountain ranges of the Alps in the southeast, the Massif Centralin the south central and Pyrenees in the southwest.
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 mi2), just behind the EEZ of the United States (11,351,000 km2 / 4,383,000 mi2), but ahead of the EEZ of Australia (8,148,250 km2 / 4,111,312 mi2). Its EEZ covers approximately 8% of the total surface of all the EEZs of the world.
At 4,810.45 metres (15,782 ft) above sea level, the highest point in Western Europe, Mont Blanc, is situated 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 divides the Massif Central from the Alps and flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the Camargue. Corsica lies off the Mediterranean coast.
Most of the low-lying areas of metropolitan France excluding Corsica are located in the oceanic climate zone, Cfb, Cwb and Cfc in the Köppen classification. A small part of the territory bordering the mediterranean basin lies in the Csa and Csb zones. As the French metropolitan territory is relatively large, the climate is not uniform, giving rise to the following climate nuances:
- The west of France has strictly oceanic climate – it extends from Flanders to the Basque Country in a coastal strip several tens of kilometres wide, narrower to the north and south but wider in Brittany, which is almost entirely in this climate zone.
- The climate of the South is also oceanic but warmer.
- The climate of the Northwest is oceanic but cooler and windier.
- Away from the coast, the climate is always oceanic but it characteristics change a little. In the Paris sedimentary basin and more in the intra mountain basins the seasonal amplitude becomes a little stronger, the autumn rains and winter especially are less marked; therefore, most of the territory has qualified climate gradient semi-oceanic climate. This is a transition zone between the strict oceanic climate and continental climate:
- The oceanic degraded climate of plain in the centre.north, sometimes called "parisien" due tot eh fact that corresponds approximately to the Paris basin where the oceanic climate is slightly altered;
- and the semi-continental climate in the north and in the centre-west (Alsace, plains of Saône or of middle-Rhône, plains "dauphinoises", "auvergnates" ou "savoyardes" which features further modified by the neighbouring mountain ranges.
- Due to the provision of air masses, especially in summer, and mountain borders that isolate some of the rest of the country, the Mediterranean and the lower Rhone valley, swept by the Mistral and Tramontana experiencing Mediterranean climate.
- The mountain (or alpine) climate is presented mainly in the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Massif Central, the Jura and the Vosges.
- In the overseas regions, there are three broad types of climate:
- A tropical climate in most overseas regions: high constant temperature throughout the year with a dry and a wet season
- An equatorial climate in French Guiana: high constant temperature throughout the year with even precipitation throughout the year
- A subpolar climate in Saint Pierre and Miquelon and in most of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands: short mild summers and long very cold winters
With an estimated total population of around 66.6 million people as of January 2016, with 64.5 million in metropolitan France, France is the 20th most populous country in the world and the third-most populous in Europe.
France is an outlier among developed countries in general, and European countries in particular, in having a fairly high rate of natural population growth: by birth rates alone, France was responsible for almost all natural population growth in the European Union in 2006, with the natural growth rate (excess of births over deaths) rising to 300,000. This was the highest rate since the end of the baby boom in 1973, and coincides with the rise of the total fertility rate from a nadir of 1.7 in 1994 to 2.0 in 2010.
From 2006 to 2011 population growth was on average +0.6% per year. Immigrants are also major contributors to this trend; in 2010, 27% of newborns in metropolitan France had at least one foreign-bornparent and 24% had at least one parent born outside of Europe (parents born in overseas territories are considered as born in France).
Most French people are of Celtic (Gauls) origin, with an admixture of Latin (Romans) and Germanic (Franks) groups. Different regions reflect this diverse heritage, with notable Breton elements in western France, Aquitanian in the southwest, Scandinavian in the northwest, Alemannic in the northeast and Ligurian influence in the southeast.
Large-scale immigration over the last century and a half has led to a more multicultural society. In 2004, the Institut Montaigne estimated that within Metropolitan France, 51 million people were White (85% of the population), 6 million were North African (10%), 2 million were Black (3.3%), and 1 million were Asian (1.7%).
A law originating from the 1789 revolution and reaffirmed in the 1958 French Constitution makes it illegal for the French state to collect data on ethnicity and ancestry. In 2008, the TeO ("Trajectories and origins") poll conducted jointly by INED and the French National Institute of Statistics estimated that 5 million people were of Italian ancestry (the largest immigrant community), followed by 3 million to 6 million people of North African ancestry, 2.5 million people of Sub-Saharan African origin, and 200,000 people of Turkish ancestry. There are over 500,000 ethnic Armenians in France. There are also sizeable minorities of other European ethnic groups, namely Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Greek.
France has a significant Gypsy (Gitan) population, numbering around 400,000. Famous French Gypsies (Gitans) include Django Reinhardt, Gipsy Kings and Kendji Girac. Gypsies inspired the French novel Hunchback of Notre Dame. However, many Romani people get deported, expelled and kicked back to Bulgaria and Romania frequently.
It is currently estimated that 40% of the French population is descended at least partially from the different waves of immigration the country has received since the early 20th century; between 1921 and 1935 alone, about 1.1 million net immigrants came to France. The next largest wave came in the 1960s, when around 1.6 million pieds noirs returned to France following the independence of its North African possessions, Algeria and Morocco. They were joined by numerous former colonial subjects from North and West Africa, as well as numerous immigrants from Spain and Portugal.
France remains a major destination for immigrants, accepting about 200,000 legal immigrants annually. It is also Western Europe's leading recipient of asylum seekers, with an estimated 50,000 applications in 2005 (a 15% decrease from 2004). The European Union allows free movement between the member states, although France established controls to curb Eastern European migration, and immigration remains a contentious political issue.
In 2008, the INSEE estimated that the total number of foreign-born immigrants was around 5 million (8% of the population), while their French-born descendants numbered 6.5 million, or 11% of the population. Thus, nearly a fifth of the country's population were either first or second-generation immigrants, of which more than 5 million where of European origin and 4 million of Maghrebi ancestry. In 2008, France granted citizenship to 137,000 persons, mostly to people from Morocco, Algeria and Turkey.
In 2014 The National Institute of Statistics (INSEE, for its acronym in French) published a study which reported doubling of the number of Spanish immigrants, Portuguese and Italians in France between 2009 and 2012. According to the French Institute, this increase resulting from the financial crisis that hit several European countries in that period, has pushed up the number of Europeans installed in France. Statistics on Spanish immigrants in France show a growth of 107 percent between 2009 and 2012, i.e. in this period went from 5300 to 11,000 people. Of the total of 229,000 foreigners who were in France in 2012, nearly 8% were Portuguese, 5% British, 5% Spanish, 4% Italians, 4% Germans, 3% Romanians, and 3% Belgians.
France is a secular country, and freedom of religion is a constitutional right. French religious policy is based on the concept of laïcité, a strict separation of church and state under which public life is kept completely secular.
Catholicism has been the predominant religion in France for more than a millennium, though it is not as actively practised today as it was. Among the 47,000 religious buildings in France, 94% are Roman Catholic. While in 1965, 81% of the French declared themselves to be Catholics, in 2009 this proportion was 64%. Moreover, while 27% of the French went to Mass once a week or more in 1952, only 5% did so in 2006. The same survey found that Protestants accounted for 3% of the population, an increase from previous surveys, and 5% adhered to other religions, with the remaining 28% stating they had no religion. Evangelicalism may be the fastest growing religious category in France.
During the French Revolution, activists conducted a brutal campaign of de-Christianisation, ending the established state status of the Catholic Church. In some cases clergy and churches were attacked, with iconoclasm stripping the churches of statues and ornament. After the back and forth of Catholic royal and secular republican governments during the 19th century, France established laïcité by passage of the 1905 law on the Separation of the Churches and the State.
According to a survey in January 2007, only 5% of the French population attended church regularly (among the respondents who identified as Catholic, 10% attend church services regularly). The poll showed that 51% of citizens identified as being Catholic, 31% identified as agnostic or atheist (another poll sets the proportion of atheists equal to 27%), 10% identified as being from other religions or being without opinion, 4% identified as Muslim, 3% identified as Protestant, 1% identified as Buddhist, and 1% identified as Jewish. Meanwhile, an independent estimate by the political scientist Pierre Bréchon in 2009 concluded that the proportion of Catholics had fallen to 42%, while the number of atheists and agnostics had risen to 50%.
According to Eurobarometer poll in 2012, Christianity is the largest religion in France, accounting for 60% of French citizens. Catholics are the largest Christian group in France, accounting for 50% of French citizens, while Protestants make up 8%, and other Christians make up 2%. Non believer/Agnostic account for 20%, Atheist 13%, and Muslim 6%.
Estimates of the number of Muslims in France vary widely. In 2003, the French Ministry of the Interior estimated the total number of people of Muslim background to be between 5 and 6 million (8–10%). According to the Pewforum, "In France, proponents of a 2004 law banning the wearing of religious symbols in schools say it protects Muslim girls from being forced to wear a headscarf, but the law also restricts those who want to wear headscarves – or any other "conspicuous" religious symbol, including large Christian crosses and Sikh turbans – as an expression of their faith."
The current Jewish community in France numbers around 600,000, according to the World Jewish Congress, and is the largest in Europe. It is the third-largest in the world, after those in Israel and the United States.
Since 1905 the French government has followed the principle of laïcité, in which it is prohibited from recognising any specific right to a religious community (except for legacy statutes like those of military chaplains and the local law in Alsace-Moselle). It recognises religious organisations, according to formal legal criteria that do not address religious doctrine. Conversely, religious organisations are expected to refrain from intervening in policy-making. Certain groups, such as Scientology, Children of God, the Unification Church, or the Order of the Solar Temple, are considered cults ("sectes" in French), and therefore do not have the same status as recognised religions in France. Secte is considered a pejorative term in France.
A member of the Group of 7 (formerly G8) leading industrialised countries, as of 2014, it is ranked as the world's ninth largest and the EU's second largest economy by purchasing power parity.With 31 of the 500 biggest companies in the world in 2015, France ranks fourth in the Fortune Global 500, ahead of Germany and the UK. France joined 11 other EU members to launch the euro in 1999, with euro coins and banknotes completely replacing the French franc (₣) in 2002.
France has a mixed economy that combines extensive private enterprise with substantial state enterprise and government intervention. The government retains considerable influence over key segments of infrastructure sectors, with majority ownership of railway, electricity, aircraft, nuclear power and telecommunications. It has been relaxing its control over these sectors since the early 1990s. The government is slowly corporatising the state sector and selling off holdings in France Télécom, Air France, as well as in the insurance, banking, and defence industries. France has an important aerospace industry led by the European consortium Airbus, and has its own national spaceport, the Centre Spatial Guyanais.
According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), in 2009 France was the world's sixth largest exporter and the fourth largest importer of manufactured goods. In 2008, France was the third largest recipient of foreign direct investment among OECD countries at $118 billion, ranking behind Luxembourg (where foreign direct investment was essentially monetary transfers to banks located there) and the US ($316 billion), but above the UK ($96.9 billion), Germany ($25 billion), or Japan ($24 billion).
In the same year, French companies invested $220 billion outside France, ranking France as the second largest outward direct investor in the OECD, behind the US ($311 billion), and ahead of the UK ($111 billion), Japan ($128 billion) and Germany ($157 billion).
Financial services, banking and the insurance sector are an important part of the economy. The Paris stock exchange (French: La Bourse de Paris) is an old institution, created by Louis XV in 1724. In 2000, the stock exchanges of Paris, Amsterdam and Bruxelles merged into Euronext. In 2007, Euronext merged with the New York stock exchange to form NYSE Euronext, the world's largest stock exchange. Euronext Paris, the French branch of the NYSE Euronext group is Europe's 2nd largest stock exchange market, behind the London Stock Exchange.
France is part of the European single market which represents more than 500 million consumers. Several domestic commercial policies are determined by agreements among European Union (EU) members and by EU legislation. France introduced the common European currency, the Euro in 2002. It is a member of the Eurozone which represents around 330 million citizens.
French companies have maintained key positions in the insurance and banking industries: AXAis the world's largest insurance company. The leading French banks are BNP Paribas and the Crédit Agricole, ranking as the world's first and sixth largest banks in 2010 (by assets), while the Société Générale group was ranked the world's eighth largest in 2009.