Country profile: France
A key player on the world
stage and a country at the political heart of Europe, France paid a
high price in both economic and human terms during the two world wars.
The years which followed saw protracted conflicts culminating in
independence for Algeria and most other French colonies in Africa as
well as decolonisation in south-east Asia.
France was one of the founding fathers of European integration as
the continent sought to rebuild after the devastation of World War II.
the 1990s Franco-German cooperation was central to European economic
integration. The bond between the two countries was again to the fore
in the new millennium when their leaders voiced strong opposition as
the US-led campaign in Iraq began.
But France sent shockwaves
through European Union capitals when its voters rejected the proposed
EU constitution in a referendum in May 2005.
past is a major contributing factor in the presence of a richly diverse
multicultural population. It is home to more than five million people
of Arab and African descent.
A French icon for the 21st century: the Millau bridge in Massif Central
It has a number of territories overseas which, together with
mainland France and Corsica, go to make up the 26 regions which the
country comprises. It is further divided into 100 departements, four of
which - French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Réunion - are
geographically distant from Europe.
Government in France is
known for its high degree of centralisation but in March 2003
parliament approved amendments to the constitution allowing for the
devolution of quite wide-ranging powers to the regions and
In the light of low election turnout, the move
was widely seen as a bid to re-engage in the political process French
people disillusioned by the ubiquitous influence of what is often
perceived as the Paris elite.
France has produced some of the
continent's most influential writers and thinkers from Descartes and
Pascal in the 17th century, through Rousseau and Voltaire in the 18th,
Baudelaire and Flaubert in the 19th to Sartre and Camus in the 20th.
the last two centuries it has given the art world the works of Renoir,
Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse and Braque, to name but a few.
is also famous for its strong culinary tradition. France produces more
than 250 cheeses and some of the world's best-loved wines.
- Full name: French Republic
- Population: 62.3 million (UN, 2009)
- Capital: Paris
- Area: 543,965 sq km (210,026 sq miles)
- Major language: French
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 78 years (men), 85 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 euro = 100 cents
- Main exports: Machinery and transport equipment, agricultural products, including wine
- GNI per capita: US $42,250 (World Bank, 2008)
- Internet domain: .fr
- International dialling code: +33
President: Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy, from the
ruling, conservative UMP, won a decisive victory in the second round of
the presidential election in May 2007.
The key promise on which he fought his election campaign was the
introduction of pro-market reforms to tackle sluggish economic growth
and high unemployment. He vowed to cut taxes and rein in powerful
This process began with the September 2007
budget, in which French employers were offered incentives to allow
workers to do overtime; there were also tax cuts for high earners. This
came just days after Prime Minister Francois Fillon said France was
The implementation of Mr Sarkozy's policies was
bound to hit public sector workers hard, and in November 2007 hundreds
of thousands of civil servants, transport and energy workers staged
industrial action in protest at planned cuts to pay and pension
On foreign policy, Mr Sarkozy has singled out
France's role in Europe as a priority. He has campaigned vigorously for
ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, which was intended to replace the
draft EU constitution rejected by French voters in 2005.
took over the EU's six-month rotating presidency in July 2008, and Mr
Sarkozy set himself the tricky task of salvaging the Lisbon Treaty
after it had been rejected by Irish voters in a referendum in June.
over a month into France's EU presidency, Mr Sarkozy's diplomatic
skills were put to a stiff test when conflict broke out between Russia
and Georgia in August 2008. Acting in Europe's name, he took
centre-stage in securing a ceasefire - a feat hailed as a big
He has also taken a lead in calling for
fundamental reform of the world's financial system in response to the
global credit crunch.
He is seen as being more pro-American
than previous French presidents. He cultivated close ties with US
President George W. Bush and has made no secret of his admiration for
Bush's successor, Barack Obama.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who was 52
when he was elected, is the son of a Hungarian immigrant and a French
mother of Greek Jewish origin. He grew up in Paris. Thrice married, he
has three children.
His predecessor, Jacques Chirac, had held office since 1995.
presidents are elected to five-year terms. A candidate can win in one
round if he or she secures an absolute majority. Otherwise, the top two
candidates go through to a second round.
The president, who exercises executive power, appoints a Council of Ministers headed by the prime minister.
Prime minister: Francois Fillon
Francois Fillon, a confidante of the president
Francois Fillon worked closely with Nicolas Sarkozy during the presidential election campaign.
taking office, he promised to carry out the president's reform
programme and to secure an "eminent" place for France in the 21st
As a minister under President Chirac he overhauled the pension system.
He is seen as a moderate within the UMP and is accustomed to negotiating with France's powerful trades unions.
France enjoys a free press and has more than 100 daily newspapers.
Most of them are in private hands and are not linked to political
Public broadcaster Radio France runs services for the
domestic audience, French overseas territories and foreign audiences.
Radio France Internationale is one of the world's leading international
stations. Its Arabic-language Monte Carlo International service is
available on mediumwave (AM) and FM in many Middle East countries.
international French-language channel TV5 Monde, financed by Belgium,
Canada and Switzerland, is available globally. Global satellite news
channel France 24 launched in December 2006 with services in French and
English. Its chairman said the channel aimed to present "a different
point of view from the Anglo-Saxon world".
France's flagship TV
station, TF1, was privatised in 1987. The growth of satellite and cable
has led to a proliferation of channels. Major satellite pay-TV operator
CanalSatellite is controlled by media giant Vivendi Universal.
Radio France, the country's public broadcaster
A digital terrestrial TV service, with more than a dozen free-to-air channels, is being rolled out.
long-established commercial radio stations, particularly RTL and Europe
1, still command large audiences. They have been joined by a
multiplicity of FM stations, often consolidated into successful
commercial networks such as hit music station NRJ and oldies station
- Le Monde - respected national daily, considered to be France's newspaper of record
- Liberation - national daily, founded in 1973 by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, centre-left leaning
- Le Figaro - national daily, centre-right leaning
- Ouest France - Rennes-based; France's best-selling daily
- L'Express - news weekly
- Le Point - news weekly
- France 2 - national, main public TV network
- France 3 - national, public
- France 5 - national, public, educational
- TF1 - national, commercial
- M6 - national, commercial
- La Chaine Info - rolling news
- France 24 - global news channel, owned by public broadcaster and TF1; services in French, English, Arabic
- TV5 Monde - international French-language TV, with programmes from French, Belgian, Swiss and Canadian public broadcasters
- Canal Plus - national, subscription channel
- Radio France - operates national and regional outlets, including speech-based France Inter and all-news France Info
- Radio France Internationale (RFI) - international broadcaster, via shortwave and FM relays worldwide
- Europe 1 - major commercial station, news and entertainment
- RTL - major commercial station, speech and music
- NRJ - commercial, leading hit music network