|Currency||Euro, CFP franc|
|Languages||French , French|
Inhabited since the Palaeolithic era, the territory of Metropolitan France was settled by Celtic tribes known as Gauls during the Iron Age. Rome annexed the area in 51 BC, leading to a distinct Gallo-Roman culture that laid the foundation of the French language. The Germanic Franks formed the Kingdom of Francia, which became the heartland of the Carolingian Empire. The Treaty of Verdun of 843 partitioned the empire, with West Francia becoming the Kingdom of France in 987. In the High Middle Ages, France was a powerful but highly decentralized feudal kingdom. Philip II successfully strengthened the royal power and defeated his rivals to double the size of the crown lands; by the end of his reign, France had emerged as the most powerful state in Europe. From the mid-14th to the mid-15th century, France was plunged into a series of dynastic conflicts involving England, collectively known as the Hundred Years' War, and a distinct French identity emerged as a result. The French Renaissance saw art and culture flourish, conflict with the House of Habsburg, and the establishment of a global colonial empire, which by the 20th century would become the second-largest in the world. The second half of the 16th century was dominated by religious civil wars between Catholics and Huguenots that severely weakened the country. France again emerged as Europe's dominant power in the 17th century under Louis XIV following the Thirty Years' War. Inadequate economic policies, inequitable taxes, and frequent wars (notably a defeat in the Seven Years' War and costly involvement in the American War of Independence) left the kingdom in a precarious economic situation by the end of the 18th century. This precipitated the French Revolution of 1789, which overthrew the Ancien Régime and produced the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which expresses the nation's ideals to this day.
France reached its political and military zenith in the early 19th century under Napoleon Bonaparte, subjugating much of continental Europe and establishing the First French Empire. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars shaped the course of European and world history. The collapse of the empire initiated a period of relative decline, in which France endured a tumultuous succession of governments until the founding of the French Third Republic during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Subsequent decades saw a period of optimism, cultural and scientific flourishing, as well as economic prosperity is known as the Belle Époque. France was one of the major participants of World War I, from which it emerged victorious at great human and economic cost. It was among the Allied powers of World War II but was soon occupied by the Axis in 1940. Following liberation in 1944, the short-lived Fourth Republic was established and later dissolved in the course of the Algerian War. The current Fifth Republic was formed in 1958 by Charles de Gaulle. Algeria and most French colonies became independent in the 1960s, with the majority retaining close economic and military ties with France.
France retains its centuries-long status as a global center of art, science, and philosophy. It hosts the fifth-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is the world's leading tourist destination, receiving over 89 million foreign visitors in 2018. France is a developed country with the world's seventh-largest economy by nominal GDP and ninth-largest PPP; 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. It remains a great power in global affairs, being one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and an official nuclear-weapon state. France is a founding and leading member of the European Union and the Eurozone, as well as a key member of the Group of Seven, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and La Francophonie.
The first written records for the history of France appeared in the Iron Age. What is now France made up the bulk of the region known to the Romans as Gaul? Greek writers noted the presence of the three main ethnolinguistic groups in the area: the Gauls, the Aquitani, and the Belgae. The Gauls, the largest and best-attested group, were a Celtic people speaking, what is known as the Gaulish language.
Throughout the first millennium BC the Greeks, Romans, and Carthaginians established colonies on the Mediterranean coast and the offshore islands. The Roman Republic annexed southern Gaul as the province of Gallia Narbonensis in the late 2nd century BC, and Roman Legions under Julius Caesar conquered the rest of Gaul in the Gallic Wars of 58–51 BC. Afterward, a Gallo-Roman culture emerged and Gaul was increasingly integrated into the Roman Empire.
In the later stages of the Roman Empire, Gaul was subject to barbarian raids and migration, most importantly by the Germanic Franks. The Frankish king Clovis I united most of Gaul under his rule in the late 5th century, setting the stage for Frankish dominance in the region for hundreds of years. Frankish power reached its fullest extent under Charlemagne. The medieval Kingdom of France emerged from the western part of Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire, known as West Francia, and achieved increasing prominence under the rule of the House of Capet, founded by Hugh Capet in 987.
A succession crisis following the death of the last direct Capetian monarch in 1328 led to the series of conflicts known as the Hundred Years' War between the House of Valois and the House of Plantagenet. The war formally began in 1337 following Philip VI's attempt to seize the Duchy of Aquitaine from its hereditary holder, Edward III of England, the Plantagenet claimant to the French throne. Despite early Plantagenet victories, including the capture and ransom of John II of France, fortunes turned in favor of the Valois later in the war. Among the notable figures of the war was Joan of Arc, a French peasant girl who led French forces against the English, establishing herself as a national heroine. The war ended with a Valois victory in 1453.
Victory in the Hundred Years' War had the effect of strengthening French nationalism and vastly increasing the power and reach of the French monarchy. During the Ancien Régime period over the next centuries, France transformed into a centralized absolute monarchy through Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. At the height of the French Wars of Religion, France became embroiled in another succession crisis, as the last Valois king, Henry III, fought against rival factions the House of Bourbon and the House of Guise. Henry, the Bourbon King of Navarre, won the conflict and established the Bourbon dynasty. A burgeoning worldwide colonial empire was established in the 16th century. The French monarchy's political power reached a zenith under the rule of Louis XIV, "The Sun King".
In the late 18th century the monarchy and associated institutions were overthrown in the French Revolution. The country was governed for a period as a Republic until Napoleon Bonaparte's French Empire was declared. Following his defeat in the Napoleonic Wars, France went through several further regime changes, being ruled as a monarchy, then briefly as the Second Republic, and then as a Second Empire, until a more lasting French Third Republic was established in 1870.
France was one of the Triple Entente powers in World War I against Germany and the Central Powers. France was one of the Allied Powers in World War but was conquered by Nazi Germany in 1940. The Third Republic was dismantled, and most of the country was controlled directly from Germany while the south was controlled until 1942 by the collaborationist Vichy government. Living conditions were harsh as Germany drained away food and manpower, and many Jews were killed. The Free France movement took over the colonial empire and coordinated the wartime Resistance. Following liberation in 1944, the Fourth Republic was established. France slowly recovered and enjoyed a baby boom that reversed its very low fertility rate. Long wars in Indochina and Algeria drained French resources and ended in political defeat. In the wake of the 1958 Algerian Crisis, Charles de Gaulle set up the French Fifth Republic. Into the 1960s decolonization saw most of the French colonial empire become independent, while smaller parts were incorporated into the French state as overseas departments and collectivities. Since World War II France has been a permanent member of the UN Security Council and NATO. It played a central role in the unification process after 1945 that led to the European Union. Despite slow economic growth in recent years, it remains a strong economic, cultural, military, and political factor in the 21st century.
France is much larger than many people realize! Stretching 1,000km (600 miles) from north to south and the same from east to west, it’s the third-largest country in Europe after Russia and Ukraine, covering an area of 551,500km² (213,000 square miles).
Metropolitan France has four coastlines – the North Sea, the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea – with a combined coastline length of 3,427km (2,129 miles). Except for its north-eastern border, the country is bounded either by water or by mountains – namely the Rhine and Jura, the Alps, and the Pyrenees.
Outside metropolitan France, the national territory extends to the ‘départements d’outre-mer’ and ‘territoires d’outre-mer’, collectively referred to as ‘DOM-TOMs’. These are French Guiana in South America; the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Barthélemy, and Saint-Martin in the Caribbean; the islands of Réunion and Mayotte off the coast of Africa; Saint-Pierre and Miquelon southeast Canada; and French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna in the South Pacific. With the inclusion of these overseas territories, France’s total land area rises to 675,417km² (254,000 square miles).
Government and politics
France is representative democracy organized as a unit, semi-presidential republic. As one of the earliest republics of the modern world, democratic traditions and values are deeply rooted in French culture, identity, and politics. The Constitution of the Fifth Republic was approved by referendum on 28 September 1958, establishing a framework consisting of executive, legislative and judicial branches. It sought to address the instability of the Third and Fourth Republics by combining elements of both parliamentary and presidential systems, whilst greatly strengthening the authority of the executive relative to the legislature.
The executive branch has two leaders. The President of the Republic, currently Emmanuel Macron, is the head of state, elected directly by universal adult suffrage for a five-year term. The Prime Minister, currently Jean Castex, is the head of government, appointed by the President of the Republic to lead the Government of France. The President has the power to dissolve Parliament or circumvent it by submitting referendums directly to the people; the President also appoints judges and civil servants, negotiates and ratifies international agreements, as well as serves as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. The Prime Minister determines public policy and oversees the civil service, with an emphasis on domestic matters.
The legislature consists of the French Parliament, a bicameral body comprising a lower house, the National Assembly (Assemblée national), and an upper house, the Senate. Legislators in the National Assembly, known as députés, represent local constituencies and are directly elected for five-year terms. The Assembly has the power to dismiss the government by majority vote. Senators are chosen by an electoral college for six-year terms, with half the seats submitted to election every three years. The Senate's legislative powers are limited; in the event of disagreement between the two chambers, the National Assembly has the final say. The parliament is responsible for determining the rules and principles concerning most areas of law, political amnesty, and fiscal policy; however, the government may draft the specific details concerning most laws.
Until World War II, the Radicals were a strong political force in France, embodied by the Republican, Radical, and Radical-Socialist Party which was the most important party of the Third Republic. Since World War II, they were marginalized while French politics became characterized by two politically opposed groupings: one left-wing, centered on the French Section of the Workers' International and its successor the Socialist Party (since 1969); and the other right-wing, centered on the Gaullist Party, whose name changed over time to the Rally of the French People (1947), the Union of Democrats for the Republic (1958), the Rally for the Republic (1976), the Union for a Popular Movement (2007) and The Republicans (since 2015). In the 2017 presidential and legislative elections, radical centrist party En Marche! Became the dominant force, overtaking both Socialists and Republicans.
The electorate is constitutionally empowered to vote on amendments passed by the Parliament and bills submitted by the president. Referendums have played a key role in shaping French politics and even foreign policy; voters have decided on such matters as Algeria's independence, the election of the president by popular vote, the formation of the EU, and the reduction of presidential term limits. Waning civic participation has been a matter of rigorous public debate, with a majority of the public reports supporting mandatory voting as a solution in 2019. However, at least as of 2017, voter turnout was 75 percent during recent elections, higher than the OECD average of 68 percent.
France has a mixed economy characterized by sizeable government involvement, diverse sectors, a skilled labor force, and high innovation. It is a member of the Group of Seven leading industrialized countries and an economic power. For roughly two centuries, the French economy has consistently ranked among the ten largest globally; it is currently the world's ninth-largest by purchasing power parity, the seventh-largest by nominal GDP, and the second-largest in the EU by both metrics.
The French economy is highly diversified, though services dominate, representing two-thirds of both the workforce and GDP. The industrial sector accounts for a fifth of GDP and a similar proportion of employment; France is the third-biggest manufacturing country in Europe, behind Germany and Italy. Less than 2 percent of GDP is generated by the primary sector, namely agriculture; however, France has one of the world's most valuable agricultural sectors and leads the European Union in agricultural production.
In 2018, France was the fifth-largest trading nation in the world and the second-largest in Europe, with the value of exports representing over a fifth of GDP. Its membership in the Eurozone and the broader European Single Market facilitates access to capital, goods, services, and skilled labor. Despite protectionist policies over certain industries, particularly in agriculture, France has generally pioneered free trade and commercial integration in Europe to enhance its economy. In 2019 it ranked first in Europe and 13th in the world in Foreign Direct Investment, with European countries and the United States being leading sources. According to the Bank of France, the leading recipients of FDI were manufacturing, real estate, finance, and insurance. The Paris region has the highest concentration of multinational firms in Europe.
Under the doctrine of Dirigisme, the government historically played a major role in the economy; policies such as indicative planning and nationalization are credited for contributing to three decades of unprecedented postwar economic growth known as Trent Glorieuses. At its peak in 1982, the public sector accounted for one-fifth of industrial employment and over four-fifths of the credit market. Beginning in the late 20th century, France loosened regulations and state involvement in the economy, with most leading companies now being privately owned; state ownership now dominates only transportation, defense, and broadcasting. Policies aimed at promoting economic dynamism and privatization have improved France's economic standing globally: it is among the world's 10 most innovative countries in the 2020 Bloomberg Innovation Index, and the 15th most competitive, according to the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report (up to two places from 2018).
According to the IMF, France ranked 30th GDP per capita, with roughly $45,000 per inhabitant. It placed 23rd in the Human Development Index, indicating very high human development. Public corruption is among the lowest in the world, with France ranking 12th on the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index. France is Europe's second-largest spender in research and development, at over two percent of GDP; globally, it ranks 12th.
Financial services, banking, and the insurance sector are an important part of the economy. The three largest financial institutions cooperatively owned by their customers are located in France. The Paris stock exchange (French: La Bourse de Paris) is one of the oldest in the world, created by Louis XV in 1724 In 2000, it merged with counterparts in Amsterdam and Brussels to form Euronext, which in 2007 merged with the New York stock exchange to form NYSE Euronext, the world's largest stock exchange. Euronext Paris, the French branch of NYSE Euronext, is Europe's second-largest stock exchange market, behind the London Stock Exchange.
French companies have maintained key positions in the insurance and banking industries: in 2019, AXA was the world's third-largest insurance company by total nonbanking assets. The leading French banks are BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole, both rankings among the top 10 largest banks by assets in a 2020 report by the S&P Global Market Intelligence; the same source identified Société Générale and Groupe BPCE as the world's 17th- and 19th-largest banks, respectively.
France has been a center of Western cultural development for centuries. Many French artists have been among the most renowned of their time; France is still recognized in the world for its rich cultural tradition.
The successive political regimes have always promoted artistic creation. The creation of the Ministry of Culture in 1959 helped preserve the cultural heritage of the country and make it available to the public. The Ministry of Culture has been very active since its creation, granting subsidies to artists, promoting French culture in the world, supporting festivals and cultural events, protecting historical monuments. The French government also succeeded in maintaining a cultural, exceptional to defend audiovisual products made in the country.
France receives the highest number of tourists per year, largely thanks to the numerous cultural establishments and historical buildings implanted all over the territory. It counts 1,200 museums welcoming more than 50 million people annually. The most important cultural sites are run by the government, for instance through the public agency Centre des monuments, national, which is responsible for approximately 85 national historical monuments. The 43,180 buildings protected as historical monuments include mainly residences (many castles) and religious buildings (cathedrals, basilicas, churches), but also statutes, memorials, and gardens. The UNESCO inscribed 45 sites in France on the World Heritage List.