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French Republic

République Française


FLAG: The national flag is a tricolor of blue, white, and red vertical stripes.

ANTHEM: La Marseillaise.

MONETARY UNIT: The euro replaced the franc as the official currency in 2002. The euro is divided into 100 cents. There are coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents and 1 euro and 2 euros. There are notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros. 1 = $1.25475 (or $1 = 0.79697) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; World War II Armistice Day, 8 May; Bastille Day, 14 July; Assumption, 15 August; All Saints' Day, 1 November; World War I Armistice Day, 11 November; Christmas, 25 December. Movable holidays include Easter Monday, Ascension, and Pentecost Monday.

TIME: 1 pm = noon GMT.


Situated in Western Europe, France is the second-largest country on the continent, with an area (including the island of Corsica) of 547,030 sq km (211,209 sq mi). Comparatively, the area occupied by France is slightly less than twice the size of the state of Colorado. It extends 962 km (598 mi) ns and 950 km (590 mi) ew. France is bounded on the n by the North Sea and Belgium, on the ne by Luxembourg and Germany, on the e by Switzerland and Italy, on the s by the Mediterranean Sea, on the sw by Andorra and Spain, on the w by the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean, and on the nw by the English Channel, with a total boundary length of 6,316 km (3,925 mi), of which 3,427 km (2,130 mi) is coastline.

France's capital city, Paris, is located in the north central part of the country.


France topographically is one of the most varied countries of Europe, with elevations ranging from 2 m (7 ft) below sea level at Rhône River delta to the highest peak of the continent, Mont Blanc (4,807 m/15,771 ft), on the border with Italy. Much of the country is ringed with mountains. In the northeast is the Ardennes Plateau, which extends into Belgium and Luxembourg; to the east are the Vosges, the high Alps, and the Jura Mountains; and along the Spanish border are the Pyrenees, much like the Alps in ruggedness and height.

The core of France is the Paris Basin, connected in the southwest with the lowland of Aquitaine. Low hills cover much of Brittany and Normandy. The old, worn-down upland of the Massif Central, topped by extinct volcanoes, occupies the south-central area. The valley of the Rhône (813 km/505 mi), with that of its tributary the Saône (480 km/298 mi), provides an excellent passageway from the Paris Basin and eastern France to the Mediterranean.

There are three other main river systems: the Seine (776 km/482 mi), draining into the English Channel; the Loire (1,020 km/634 mi), which flows through central France to the Atlantic; and the Garonne (575 km/357 mi), which flows across southern France to the Atlantic.


Three types of climate may be found within France: oceanic, continental, and Mediterranean. The oceanic climate, prevailing in the western parts of the country, is one of small temperature range, ample rainfall, cool summers, and cool but seldom very cold winters. The continental (transition) type of climate, found over much of eastern and central France, adjoining its long common boundary with west-central Europe, is characterized by warmer summers and colder winters than areas farther west; rainfall is ample, and winters tend to be snowy, especially in the higher areas. The Mediterranean climate, widespread throughout the south of France (except in the mountainous southwest), is one of cool winters, hot summers, and limited rainfall. The mean temperature is about 11°c (53°f) at Paris and 15°c (59°f) at Nice. In central and southern France, annual rainfall is light to moderate, ranging from about 68 cm (27 in) at Paris to 100 cm (39 in) at Bordeaux. Rainfall is heavy in Brittany, the northern coastal areas, and the mountainous areas, where it reaches more than 112 cm (44 in).


France's flora and fauna are as varied as its range of topography and climate. It has forests of oak and beech in the north and center, as well as pine, birch, poplar, and willow. The Massif Central has chestnut and beech; the subalpine zone, juniper and dwarf pine. In the south are pine forests and various oaks. Eucalyptus (imported from Australia) and dwarf pines abound in Provence. Toward the Mediterranean are olive trees, vines, and mulberry and fig trees, as well as laurel, wild herbs, and the low scrub known as maquis (from which the French resistance movement in World War II took its name).

The Pyrenees and the Alps are the home of the brown bear, chamois, marmot, and alpine hare. In the forests are polecat and marten, wild boar, and various deer. Hedgehog and shrew are common, as are fox, weasel, bat, squirrel, badger, rabbit, mouse, otter, and beaver. The birds of France are largely migratory; warblers, thrushes, magpies, owls, buzzards, and gulls are common. There are storks in Alsace and elsewhere, eagles and falcons in the mountains, pheasants and partridge in the south. Flamingos, terns, buntings, herons, and egrets are found in the Mediterranean zone. The rivers hold eels, pike, perch, carp, roach, salmon, and trout; lobster and crayfish are found in the Mediterranean.

As of 2002, there were at least 93 species of mammals, 283 species of birds, and over 4,600 species of plants throughout the country.


The Ministry for the Environment is the principal environmental agency. France's basic law for the protection of water resources dates from 1964. The mid-1970s brought passage of laws governing air pollution, waste disposal, and chemicals. In general, environmental laws embody the "polluter pays" principle, although some of the charges imposedfor example, an aircraft landing feehave little effect on the reduction of the pollutant (i.e., aircraft noise).

Water pollution is a serious problem in France due to the accumulation of industrial contaminants, agricultural nitrates, and waste from the nation's cities. As of 1994, 20% of France's forests were damaged due to acid rain and other contaminants. France has 179 cu km of renewable water resources with 72% used for industrial purposes and 10% used for farming.

Air pollution is a significant environmental problem in France, which had the world's 11th-highest level of industrial carbon dioxide emissions in 1992, totaling 362 million metric tons, a per capita level of 6.34 metric tons. The total level of carbon dioxide emissions in 2000 was about the same at 362.4 million metric tons. Official statistics reflect substantial progress in reducing airborne emissions in major cities: the amount of sulfur dioxide in Paris decreased from 122 micrograms per cu m of air in 1971 to 54 micrograms in 1985. An attempt to ban the dumping of toxic wastes entirely and to develop the technology for neutralizing them proved less successful, however, and the licensing of approved dump sites was authorized in the early 1980s.

In 2003, 13.3% of France's total land area was protected; these areas include both national and regional parks, as well as 8 biosphere reserves, 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and 15 Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 16 types of mammals, 15 species of birds, 3 types of reptiles, 3 species of amphibians, 16 species of fish, 34 types of mollusks, 31 species of other invertebrates, and 2 species of plants. Endangered or extinct species in France include the Corsican swallowtail, the gray wolf, the false ringlet butterfly, the Pyrenean desman, and the Baltic sturgeon. It has been estimated that 25% of all species known to have appeared in France were extinct, endangered, or in substantial regression. Extinct species include Perrin's cave beetle and the Sardinian pika.


The population of France in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 60,742,000, which placed it at number 21 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 16% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 19% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 95 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 0.4%, a rate the government viewed as too low. The projected population for the year 2025 was 63,377,000. The population density was 110 per sq km (285 per sq mi), with much of the population concentrated in the north and southeast areas of the country.

The UN estimated that 76% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 0.67%. The capital city, Paris, had a population of 9,794,000 in that year. The next largest cities and their estimated populations include Lyon, 1,408,000; Marseille, 1,384,000; and Lille, 1,031,000. Other major urban centers include Toulouse, Nice, Strasbourg, Nantes, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Rennes, Saint-Étienne, and Le Havre.


A new law on immigration and asylum was passed by parliament in May 1998. The law included amendments to include the French constitution's provision to protect "those fighting for freedom" and those threatened with inhuman and degrading treatment in their country of origin. France hosted some 6,300 Kosovar Albanians who arrived in 1999 under the UNHCR/IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme. In 2004, a total of 110,321 asylum applications were submitted to France, mostly from Asia, Africa, and Europe. In the same year, recognition of refugee status was granted to some 14% of asylum seekers. Refugees enjoy all the rights of regular immigrants. In 2004 France harbored 139,852 refugees, mainly Sri Lankans, Vietnamese, Turks, Cambodians, Congolese, and Serbians.

Populations of concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in France numbered 151,452. In 2005 it was estimated that illegal foreigners numbered 200,000400,000. According to Migration News, France deported 11,000 illegals in 2003, 16,000 in 2004, and an expected 23,000 in 2005. Minorities are not recognized in France. They are expected to connect with "the Indivisible Republic," entitled in the French constitution. Nevertheless, in Paris environs between April and August 2005, rioting and fires killed immigrants. Police evacuated rundown buildings where asylum seekers and irregular foreigners lived in crowded conditions.

Remittances to France in 2002 were $761 million. In 2005, the net migration rate was estimated as 0.66 migrants per 1,000 population.


The French are generally derived from three basic European ethnic stocks: Celtic, Latin, and Teutonic (Frankish). There are also small groups of Flemings, Catalans, Germans, Armenians, Roma, Russians, Poles, and others. The largest resident alien groups are Algerians, Portuguese, Moroccans, Italians, Spaniards, Tunisians, and Turks.


Not only is French the national language of France, but it also has official status (often with other languages) throughout much of the former French colonial empire, including about two dozen nations in Africa. In all, it is estimated that more than 300 million people have French as their official language or mother tongue. Moreover, French is the sole official language at the ICJ and UPU, and shares official status in most international organizations. Other languages spoken within France itself include Breton (akin to Welsh) in Brittany; a German dialect in Alsace and Lorraine; Flemish in northeastern France; Spanish, Catalan, and Basque in the southwest; Provençal in the southeast, and an Italian dialect on the island of Corsica.


According to 2005 estimates, about 8388% of the population are nominally Roman Catholic, but church officials claim that only about 8% are practicing members of the church. About 2% are Protestant, mostly Calvinist or Lutheran. Muslims (mostly North African workers) make up about 78%. Jews and Bahais each made up about 1%. There are about 250,000 Jehovah's Witnesses and between 80,000 and 100,000 Orthodox Christians. Christian Scientists, Mormons, and Scientologists are also represented. About 6% of the population have no religious affiliation.

The French Jewish community is one of the largest in the world, along with those in the United States, Israel, and the successor states of the former USSR; more than half are immigrants from North Africa. The 600,000 members are divided between Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox groups. Jews have enjoyed full rights of citizenship in France since 1791, and the emancipation of Central European Jewry was accomplished, to a large extent, by the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. Anti-Semitism became a flaming issue during the Dreyfus affair in the late 1890s; in the 1980s, principal French synagogues were under police guard because of a wave of attacks by international terrorists.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government reportedly respects this right in practice. Church and state have been legally separate since 1905. Registration for religious groups is not required, but most groups choose to do so in order to gain tax-exempt status. The 2001 About-Picard Law allows for the dissolution of groups that endanger the physical or psychological well-being of individuals, promote illegal medical practices, violate the freedom of others, or commit fraud. Groups which advocate religious interests in dialogue with the government include the Council of Bishops (Catholic), the Protestant Federation of France, the General Consistory of Jews of France, and the French Council of the Muslim Faith. The Interministerial Monitoring Mission Against Sectarian Abuses monitors the activities of religious sects or cults that are considered to be a possible threat to society or may be acting in violation of the law.


France has one of the most highly developed transportation systems in Europe. Its outstanding characteristic has long been the degree to which it is centralized at Parisplateaus and plains offering easy access radiate from the city in all directions, and rivers with broad valleys converge on it from all sides. In 2003, the French road network totaled 891,290 km (554,438 mi), all of which was paved, and included about 10,390 km (6,462 mi) of national highways. In 2003 there were 29,560,000 passenger cars and 6,068,000 commercial vehicles in use.

All French railroads were nationalized in 1938 and are part of the national rail network Société Nationale des Chemins-de-Fer Français, 51% of whose shares are controlled by the government. As of 2004 there were 29,519 km (18,361 mi) of standard and narrow gauge railway track in operation, of which about 14,481 km (9,007 mi) were electrified. Standard gauge track accounted for nearly the entire system, with narrow gauge right of way accounting for only 167 km (104 mi). Le Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV), the fastest train in the world, averaging 250 km (155 mi) per hour over most of its run, entered service between Paris and Lyon in 1981. TGV service between Paris and Lausanne became fully operational in 1985. The TGV set another world speed record on 18 May 1990 with a registered speed of 515.2 km/h (320.2 mph). The Paris subway (métro), begun in the early 1900s but extensively modernized, and the city's regional express railways cover a distance of 472 km (293 mi). The métro has over one million passengers a day. Parisian bus lines carry about 800,000 passengers daily. Other cities with subways are Marseille, Lille, and Lyon, with construction underway in Toulouse.

Two high-speed rail tunnels under the English Channel link Calais and Folkestone, England (near Dover). The 50-km (31-mi) project by Eurotunnel, a British-French consortium, was completed in 1993. From these terminals, people can drive their cars and trucks onto trains, which can make the underground trek in about 30 minutes. Rail lines that run through the tunnel include Le Shuttle, which provides both freight and passenger service, and Eurostar, a high-speed passenger-only line. In November 1996 a truck aboard a Le Shuttle train caught fire in the tunnel, causing extensive damage but no loss of life. Service was partially restored within weeks of the incident and full repairs were completed by the following May.

France, especially in its northern and northeastern regions, is well provided with navigable rivers and connecting canals, and inland water transportation is of major importance. As of 2000, there were about 8,500 km (5,287 mi) of navigable waterways, of which 1,686 km (1,048 mi) was accessible to craft of 3,000 metric tons. The French merchant marine, as of 2005, had a total of 56 ships with 1,000 GRT or over, and a total capacity of 703,639 GRT. Kerguelen, an archipelago in the French Antarctic Territory, offers an offshore registry program which is less regulatory than official French registry. The leading ports are Marseille, Le Havre, Dunkerque, Rouen, Bordeaux, and Cherbourg. Other important ports include Boulogne, Brest, Fos-Sur-Mer, Sete, and Toulon. More than half of freight traffic to and from French ports is carried by French ships.

In 2004 there were an estimated 478 airports in France. In 2005, a total of 288 had paved runways, and there were also three heliports. France's national airline, Air France, is government subsidized. It operates regularly scheduled flights to all parts of the world. The Concorde, jointly developed by France and the United Kingdom at a cost of more than £1 billion, entered regular transatlantic service in 1976. Both British Airways and Air France ceased operations of Concorde passenger flights in 2003.

There are two major private airlines: the Union des Transports Aériens, which provides service to Africa and the South Pacific, and Air Inter, which operates within metropolitan France. The two international airports of Paris, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, both located in Paris, lead all others in France in both passenger and freight traffic. In 2003, about 47.259 million passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international air flights.


Cave paintings and engravings, the most famous of them at Lascaux, near Montignac in the southwest, attest to human habitation in France as early as 30,000 years ago. Relics from the period between 4000 and 1800 bc include some 4,500 dolmens (structures consisting of two vertical stones capped by a horizontal stone), nearly 1,000 of them in Brittany alone, and more than 6,000 men-hirs (single vertical stones), measuring 1.521.3 m (570 ft) in height and weighing up to 350 tons. There may already have been 23 million people in France when Phoenician and Greek colonists founded cities on the southern coast around 600 bc.

Detailed knowledge of French history begins with the conquest of the region (5851 bc) by Julius Caesar. The country was largely inhabited by Celtic tribes known to the Romans as Gauls. Under Roman rule the Gallic provinces were among the most prosperous and civilized of the empire. Roman roads, traces of which still may be seen, traversed the land. Numerous cities were founded. Latin superseded the Celtic dialects. Christianity spread rapidly in Roman Gaul after its introduction there in the 1st century, and by the time the empire began to disintegrate a few hundred years later, the Gauls were a thoroughly Romanized and Christianized people. Early in the 5th century, Teutonic tribes invaded the region from Germany, the Visigoths settling in the southwest, the Burgundians along the Rhône River Valley, and the Franks (from whom the French take their name) in the north. The Germanic invaders probably never constituted more than a dominant minority of the population.

The first leader to make himself king of all the Franks was Clovis (466511), who began his reign in 481, routing the last forces of the Roman governors of the province in 486. Clovis claimed that he would be baptized a Christian in the event of his victory against the Visigoths, which was said to have guaranteed the battle. Clovis regained the southwest from the Visigoths, was baptized in 496, and made himself master of western Germany, but after his death the kingdom disintegrated and its population declined under the Merovingian dynasty. In 732, Charles Martel was able to rally the eastern Franks to inflict a decisive defeat on the SaracensMuslim invaders who already controlled the Iberian Peninsulabetween Poitiers and Tours. He spawned the Carolingian family, as well as his grandson, Charlemagne (r.768814), who was the greatest of the early Frankish rulers. Ruling "by the sword and the cross," he gave the kingdom an efficient administration, created an excellent legal system, and encouraged the revival of learning, piety, and the arts. He added to the territories under his rule through wide conquests, eventually reigning over an area corresponding to present-day France, the FRG, the Low Countries, and northern Italy. On Christmas Day in the year 800, he was crowned emperor of the West and ruler of the 1st Holy Roman Empire by the pope in Rome.

After the death of Charlemagne, the vast Carolingian Empire broke up during a century of feuding, the title of emperor passing to German rulers in the east. The territory of what is now France was invaded anew, this time by pagan tribes from Scandinavia and the north, and the region that later became known as Normandy was ceded to the Northmen in 911 by Charles III ("the Simple," r.898923). At the end of the century, Hugh Capet (r.987996) founded the line of French kings that, including its collateral branches, was to rule the country for the next 800 years. Feudalism was by now a well-established system. The French kings were the dukes and feudal overlords of the Île de France, centered on Paris and extending roughly three days' march around the city. At first, their feudal overlordship over the other provinces of France was almost entirely nominal. Some of the largest of these, like the Duchy of Brittany, were practically independent kingdoms. The Duchy of Normandy grew in power when William II, duke of Normandy, engaged in the Norman Conquest of England (106670) and became king as William I ("the Conqueror"), introducing the French language and culture to England. The powers of the French monarchy were gradually extended in the course of the 11th and early 12th centuries, particularly by Louis VI, who died in 1137. The power of his son Louis VII (r.113780) was challenged by Henry of Anjou, who, upon his accession to the English throne as Henry II in 1154, was feudal master of a greater part of the territory of France, including Normandy, Brittany, Anjou, and Aquitaine. Henry's sons, Richard and John, were unable to hold these far-flung territories against the vigorous assaults of Louis's son Philip Augustus (r.11801223). By 1215, Philip had not only reestablished the French crown's control over the former Angevin holdings in the north and west but also had firmly consolidated the crown's power in Languedoc and Toulouse. Philip's grandson Louis IX (St. Louis), in a long reign (122670), firmly established the strength of the monarchy through his vigorous administration of the royal powers. The reign of Louis's grandson Philip IV ("the Fair," 12851314) marks the apogee of French royal power in the medieval period. He quarreled with the papacy over fiscal control of the French clergy and other aspects of sovereignty. His emissaries arrested Pope Boniface VIII and after his death removed the seat of the papacy to Avignon, where the popes resided under French dominance (the so-called Babylonian Captivity) until 1377.

It is estimated that between 1348 and 1400 the population dropped from 16 million to 11 million, mainly from a series of epidemics, beginning with the Black Death (bubonic plague) of 134850. In 1415, Henry V of England; taking advantage of civil war between the Gascons and Armagnacs, and the growing insanity of Charles VI; launched a new invasion of France and won a decisive victory at Agincourt. Charles VI (r.13801422) was compelled under the Treaty of Troyes (1420) to marry his daughter Catherine to Henry and to declare the latter and his descendants heirs to the French crown. Upon Henry's death in 1422, his infant son Henry VI was crowned king of both France and England, but in the same year, Charles's son, the dauphin of France, reasserted his claim, formally assumed the royal title, and slowly began the reconquest.

Philip the Fair was succeeded by three sons, who reigned briefly and who left no direct male heirs, ending the Capetian dynasty. In 1328, his nephew Philip VI (in accordance with the so-called Salic Law, under which succession could pass through a male line only) mounted the throne as the first of the Valois kings. The new king's title to the throne was challenged by Edward III of England, whose mother was the daughter of Philip the Fair. In 1337, Edward asserted a formal claim to the French crown, shortly thereafter quartering the lilies of France on his shield. The struggle that lasted from 1337 to 1453 over these rival claims is known as the Hundred Years' War. Actually it consisted of a series of shorter wars and skirmishes punctuated by periods of truce. Edward won a notable victory at Crécy in 1346, in a battle that showed the superiority of English ground troops and longbows against the French knights in armor. In 1356, the French royal forces were routed by the Prince of Wales at Poitiers, where the French king, John II, was taken prisoner. By terms of the Treaty of Brétigny (1360), the kingdom of France was dismembered, the southwest being formally ceded to the king of England. Under Charles V (r.136480), also called "Charles the Wise," however, the great French soldier Bertrand du Guesclin, through a tenaciously conducted series of skirmishes, succeeded in driving the English from all French territory except Calais and the Bordeaux region.


The first part of the Hundred Years' War was essentially a dynastic rather than a national struggle. The English armies themselves were commanded by French-speaking nobles and a French-speaking king. Although the legitimate succession to the French crown was the ostensible issue throughout the war, the emerging forces of modern nationalism came into play with the campaign launched by Henry V, whose everyday language was English and who, after Agincourt, became an English national hero. France owed no small measure of its eventual success to the sentiment of nationalism that was arising throughout the country and that found its personification in the figure of Joan of Arc. Early in 1429, this young woman of surprising military genius, confident that she had a divinely inspired mission to save France, gained the confidence of the dauphin. She succeeded in raising the siege of Orléans and had the dauphin crowned Charles VII at Reims. Joan fell into English hands and at Rouen in 1431 was burned at the stake as a heretic, but the French armies continued to advance. Paris was retaken in 1436, and Rouen in 1453; by 1461, when Charles died, the English had been driven from all French territory except Calais, which was recaptured in 1558.

Louis XI (r.146183), with the support of the commercial towns, which regarded the king as their natural ally, set France on a course that eventually destroyed the power of the great feudal lords. His most formidable antagonist, Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, who ruled virtually as an independent monarch, commanded for many years far more resources than the king of France himself. But after the duke was defeated and killed in a battle against the Swiss in 1477, Louis was able to reunite Burgundy with France. When Louis's son Charles VIII united Brittany, the last remaining quasi-independent province, with the royal domain by his marriage to Anne of Brittany, the consolidation of the kingdom under one rule was complete.

Under Charles VIII (r.148398) and Louis XII (r.14981515), France embarked on a series of Italian wars, which were continued under Francis I (r.151547) and Henry II (r.154759). These wars developed into the first phase of a protracted imperialistic struggle between France and the house of Habsburg. Although the Italian wars ended in a French defeat, they served to introduce the artistic and cultural influences of the Italian Renaissance into France on a large scale. Meanwhile, as the Reformation gained an increasing following in France, a bitter enmity developed between the great families that had espoused the Protestant or Huguenot cause and those that had remained Catholic. The policy of the French monarchy was in general to suppress Protestantism at home while supporting it abroad as a counterpoise to Habsburg power. Under the last of the Valois kings, Charles IX (r.156074) and Henry III (r.157489), a series of eight fierce civil wars devastated France, called The Wars of Religion. Paris remained a stronghold of Catholicism, and on 2324 August 1572, a militia led by the Duke of Guise slaughtered thousands of Protestants in the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. The Protestant Henry of Navarre was spared because of his royal status and eventually, on the death of Henry III, he acceded to the throne, beginning the Bourbon dynasty. Unable to capture Paris by force, Henry embraced Catholicism in 1593 and entered the city peacefully the following year. In 1598, he signed the Edict of Nantes, which guaranteed religious freedom to the Huguenots. With the aid of his minister Sully, Henry succeeded in restoring prosperity to France.

Assassinated in 1610 by a Catholic fanatic after 19 attempts on his life, Henry IV was succeeded by his young son Louis XIII, with the queen mother, Marie de Médicis, acting as regent in the early years of his reign. Later, the affairs of state were directed almost exclusively by Cardinal Richelieu, the king's minister. Richelieu followed a systematic policy that entailed enhancing the crown's absolute rule at home and combating the power of the Habsburgs abroad. In pursuit of the first of these objectives, Richelieu destroyed the political power of the Protestants by strictly monitoring the press and French language through the Academie Francaise; in pursuit of the second he led France in 1635 into the Thirty Years' War, then raging in Germany, on the side of the Protestants and against the Austrians and the Spanish. Richelieu died in 1642, and Louis XIII died a few months later. His successor, Louis XIV, was five years old, and during the regency of his mother, Anne of Austria, France's policy was largely guided by her adviser Cardinal Mazarin. The generalship of the prince de Condé and the vicomte de Turenne brought France striking victories. The Peace of Westphalia (1648), which ended the Thirty Years' War, and the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659) marked the end of Habsburg hegemony and established France as the dominant power on the European continent. The last attempt of the French nobles in the Paris Parliament to rise against the crown, called the Fronde (164853), was successfully repressed by Mazarin even though the movement had the support of Condé and Turenne.

The active reign of Louis XIV began in 1661, the year of Mazarin's death, and lasted until his own death in 1715. Louis XIV had served in the French army against Spain before his accession, and married the daughter of the King of Spain in order to bring peace to the region, despite his love for Mazarin's niece. Assisted by his able ministers Colbert and Louvois, he completed Mazarin's work of domestic centralization and transformed the French state into an absolute monarchy based on the so-called divine right of kings. Industry and commerce were encouraged by mercantilist policies, and great overseas empires were carved out in India, Canada, and Louisiana. By transforming the nobles into perennial courtiers, financially dependent on the crown, the king clipped their wings. Lavish display marked the early period of his reign, when the great palace at Versailles was built, beginning the era of French Classicism.

The reign of Louis XIV marked the high point in the prestige of the French monarchy. It was a golden age for French culture as well, and French fashions and manners set the standard for all Europe. Nevertheless, the Sun King, as he was styled, left the country in a weaker position than he had found it. In 1672, he invaded the Protestant Netherlands with his cousin Charles I of England, defeating Spain and the Holy Roman Empire as well in 1678. In 1685, he revoked the Edict of Nantes, and an estimated 200,000 Huguenots fled the country to escape persecution. Whole provinces were depopulated, and the economy was severely affected by the loss of many skilled and industrious workers. Louis undertook a long series of foreign wars, culminating in the War of the Spanish Succession (170114), in which England, the Netherlands, and most of the German states were arrayed against France, Spain, Bavaria, Portugal, and Savoy. In the end, little territory was lost, but the military primacy of the country was broken and its economic strength seriously sapped.

The reign of Louis XV (171574) and that of his successor, Louis XVI (177493), which was terminated by the French Revolution, showed the same lavish display of royal power and elegance that had been inaugurated by the Sun King. At the same time, the economic crisis that Louis XIV left as his legacy continued to grow more serious. A series of foreign wars cost France its Indian and Canadian colonies and bankrupted the country, including the French and Indian War (17551760). Meanwhile, the locus of the economic power in the kingdom had shifted to the hands of the upper bourgeoisie in the Enlightenment, who resented the almost wholly unproductive ruling class that espoused Classicism. The intellectual currents of the so-called Age of Reason were basically opposed to the old order. Voltaire attacked the Church and the principle of absolutism alike; Diderot advocated scientific materialism; Jean-Jacques Rousseau preached popular sovereignty. The writer changed from a royal servant into a revolutionary force.


In 1789, faced with an unmanageable public debt, Louis XVI convened, for the first time since the reign of Louis XIII, the States-General, the national legislative body, to consider certain fiscal reforms. The representatives of the third estate, the Commons, met separately on 17 June and proclaimed themselves the National Assembly. This action, strictly speaking, marked the beginning of the French Revolution, although the act that best symbolized the power of the revolution was the storming of the Bastille, a royal prison, by a Paris mob on 14 Julyan event still commemorated as a national holiday. With the support of the mob, which forced the king, his wife Marie Antoinette, and his family from the palace at Versailles into virtual imprisonment in the Tuilerie in Paris; the Assembly was able to force Louis to accept a new constitution including The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, providing for a limited monarchy, the secularization of the state, and the seizure of Church lands. War with Austria, which wished to intervene to restore the status quo ante in France, broke out in 1792. The Assembly's successor, the National Convention, elected in September 1792, proclaimed the First French Republic. Louis XVI was convicted of treason and executed. The radical group of Jacobins under Maximilien Robespierre's leadership exercised strict control through committees of public welfare and a revolutionary tribunal. The Jacobins attempted to remake France in the image of an egalitarian republic. Their excesses led to a Reign of Terror (179394), carried out indiscriminately against royalists and such moderate republican groups as the Girondins. Manifold opposition to the Jacobins and specifically to Robespierre combined to end their reign in the summer of 1794. In 1795, a new constitution of moderate character was introduced, and executive power was vested in a Directory of five men. The Directory, weakened by inefficient administration and military reverses, fell in turn in 1799, when the military hero Napoleon Bonaparte engineered a coup and established the Consulate. Ruling autocratically as the first consul, Bonaparte established domestic stability and decisively defeated the Austrian-British coalition arrayed against France. In 1804, he had himself proclaimed emperor as Napoleon I and, until his downfall in 1814, he ruled France in that capacity.

Capitalizing on the newly awakened patriotic nationalism of France, Napoleon led his imperial armies to a striking series of victories over the dynastic powers of Europe. By 1808, he was the master of all Europe west of Russia with the exception of the British Isles. That year, however, the revolt in Spainupon whose throne Napoleon had placed his brother Josephbegan to tax French military reserves. Napoleon's ill-fated attempt to conquer Russia in 1812 was followed by the consolidation of a powerful alliance against him, consisting of Russia, Prussia, Britain, and Sweden. The allies defeated Napoleon at Leipzig in 1813 and captured Paris in the spring of 1814. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, just off the northwest coast of Italy, and Louis XVIII, a brother of Louis XVI, was placed on the French throne. In March 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba, rallied France behind him, and reentered Paris in triumph behind the fleeing Louis XVIII. He was, however, finally and utterly crushed by the British and Prussian forces at Waterloo (18 June 1815) and spent the remaining years of his life as a British prisoner of war on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic.

After the final fall of Napoleon, Louis XVIII ruled as a moderate and peaceful monarch until 1824, when he was succeeded by his brother Charles X, an ultra royalist. Charles attempted to restore the absolute powers of the monarchy and the supremacy of the Catholic Church. In 1830, he was ousted after a three-day revolution in which the upper bourgeoisie allied itself with the forces of the left. Louis Philippe of the house of Orléans was placed on the throne as "citizen-king," with the understanding that he would be ruled by the desires of the rising industrial plutocracy. In 1848, his regime was overthrown in the name of the Second Republic. Four years later, however, its first president, Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon I, engineered a coup and had himself proclaimed emperor under the title Napoleon III. The Second Empire, as the period 185271 is known, was characterized by colonial expansion and great material prosperity. The emperor's aggressive foreign policy eventually led to the Franco-Prussian War (187071), which ended in a crushing defeat for France and the downfall of Napoleon III. France was stripped of the border provinces of Alsace and Lorraine (which once belonged to the Holy Roman Empire) and was forced to agree to an enormous indemnity. A provisional government proclaimed a republic on 4 September 1870 and took over the responsibility for law and order until a National Assembly was elected in February 1871. Angered at the rapid capitulation to Prussia by the provisionals and the conservative National Assembly, the national guard and radical elements of Paris seized the city in March and set up the Commune. During the "Bloody Week" of 2128 May, the Commune was savagely dispatched by government troops.

Democratic government finally triumphed in France under the Third Republic, whose constitution was adopted in 1875. Royalist sentiment had been strong, but the factions backing different branches of the royal house had been unable to agree on a candidate for the throne. The Third Republic confirmed freedom of speech, the press, and association. It enforced complete separation of church and state. Social legislation guaranteeing the rights of trade unions was passed, and elections were held on the basis of universal manhood suffrage. The Third Republic, however, was characterized by an extremely weak executive. A long succession of cabinets was placed in power and shortly thereafter removed from office by the all-powerful lower house of the national legislature. Nevertheless, the republic was strong enough to weather an attempt on the part of the highly popular Gen. Georges Boulanger to overthrow the regime in the late 1880s, as well as the bitter dispute between the left-wing and right-wing parties occasioned by the trumped-up arrest and long imprisonment of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a scandal in which Dreyfus's being Jewish was as much an issue as the treason he had allegedly committed. The eventual vindication of Dreyfus went hand in hand with the decisive defeat of the monarchists and the emergence of a progressive governing coalition, with Socialist representation.

The 20th Century

During World War I (191418), the forces of France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and, from 1917, the United States were locked in a protracted struggle with those of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. Although France, under the leadership of Georges Clemenceau, could claim a major share in the final Allied victory, it was in many respects a Pyrrhic victory for France. Almost all the bitter fighting in the west was conducted on French soil, and among the Allies French casualtiesincluding nearly 1,400,000 war deadwere second only to those sustained by Russia. The heavily industrialized provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were restored to France under the Treaty of Versailles (1919), and Germany was ordered to pay heavy war reparations. Nevertheless, the French economy, plagued by recurrent crises, was unable to achieve great prosperity in the 1920s, and the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s (exacerbated in France by the cessation of German reparations payments) was accompanied in France by inflation, widespread unemployment, and profound social unrest. Rightand extreme left-wing elements caused major disturbances on 6 February 1934. In 1936, the left-wing parties carried the parliamentary elections and installed a so-called Popular Front government under a Socialist, Léon Blum. Blum nationalized certain war industries, carried out agricultural reforms, and made the 40-hour week mandatory in industry. Increasing conservative opposition forced the Popular Front government from power, however, and in the face of the growing menace of Adolf Hitler's Germany, the leftists accepted the conservative government of Édouard Daladier in 1938. In a futile attempt to secure peace, Daladier acquiesced in British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement toward Hitler. Hitler was not to be appeased, however, and when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, France joined the United Kingdom in declaring war on Germany.

On 10 May 1940, the Germans launched a great invasion of the west through the Low Countries and the heavily wooded and sparsely defended Ardennes region. In less than a month, German forces outflanked the French Maginot Line fortifications and routed the French armies between the Belgian frontier and Paris. Marshal Pétain, the aged hero of World War I, hastily formed a government and sued for peace. With the exception of a triangular zone with its northern apex near Vichy, all France was placed under the direct occupation of the Germans. The Vichy regime ended the Third Republic and proclaimed a constitution based on the slogan "labor, family, fatherland," as opposed to the traditional republican "liberty, equality, fraternity." While the Vichy government did its best to accommodate itself to the German victory, French resistance gathered overseas around Gen. Charles de Gaulle, a brilliant career officer who had escaped to London on 18 June 1940 to declare that France had "lost a battle, not the war." De Gaulle organized the Provisional French National Committee, and this committee of the Free French later exercised all the powers of a wartime government in the French territories where resistance to the Germans continued. The Free French forces took part in the fighting that followed the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942, and in 1943 a provisional French government was established at Algiers. Regular French units and resistance fighters alike fought in the 1944 campaign that drove the Germans from France, and shortly after the liberation of Paris, de Gaulle's provisional government moved from Algiers to the capital. It was officially recognized by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the former USSR in October 1944.

France's postwar vicissitudes have been political rather than economic. De Gaulle resigned as head of the government early in 1946 over the issue of executive powers, and in spite of his efforts the Fourth Republic, under a constitution that came into effect in December 1946, was launched with most of the weaknesses of the Third Republic. Almost all powers were concentrated in the hands of the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, and there were numerous warring political parties.

Although the people of metropolitan France overwhelmingly approved de Gaulle's program for eventual Algerian independence, some French army officers and units attempted to overthrow the government by terrorism, which de Gaulle suppressed by temporarily assuming emergency powers. Peace negotiations were successfully concluded with Algerian rebel leaders, and Algeria gained independence on 1 July 1962. By then, nearly all of France's former African territories had attained independence. France has continued to provide economic assistance, and its ties with most of the former colonies have remained close. Almost continuous fighting overseas in French colonies, first in Indochina, which was lost in 1954, and later in Algeria, the scene of a nationalist rebellion among the Muslims, placed a heavy burden on France and led, especially after the Suez expedition of 1956, to disillusionment on the part of elements in the French army, which felt that its work was being undermined by a series of vacillating parliamentary governments. In May 1958, extremists among the French settlers in Algeria, acting with a group of army officers, seized control of Algiers. Sympathetic movements in Corsica and in metropolitan France raised the specter of a right-wing coup. The government found itself powerless to deal with the situation, and on 1 June, Gen. de Gaulle, regarded as the only leader capable of rallying the nation, was installed as premier. He ended the threat peaceably, and in the fall of 1958, he submitted to a national referendum a new constitution providing for a strong presidency; the constitution won overwhelming approval. Elections held in November swept candidates pledged to support de Gaulle into office, and in December 1958, he was officially named the first president of the Fifth Republic.

During the mid-1960s, de Gaulle sought to distance France from the Anglo-American alliance. France developed its own atomic weapons and withdrew its forces from the NATO command; in addition, de Gaulle steadfastly opposed the admission of the United Kingdom to the EEC, of which France had been a founding member in 1957. The Treaty of Rome in 1957 created the original European Economic Community that consisted of Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and The Netherlands, and formed EURATOM, which created an open forum for scientific exchange and nuclear arms regulation on the continent.

The political stability of the mid-1960s ended in the spring of 1968, with student riots and a month-long general strike that severely weakened the Gaullist regime. In April 1969, Gen. de Gaulle resigned following a defeat, by national referendum, of a Gaullist plan to reorganize the Senate and regional government. In June, Georges Pompidou, a former premier in de Gaulle's government, was elected the second president of the Fifth Republic. Between 1969 and 1973, the Gaullist grip on the French populace continued to weaken, at the end of which time de Gaulle was forced to accept the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark into the EC, and to work within the economic constraints of the "Snake Mechanism" which, starting in 1972, linked EC currencies. In 1974, after President Pompidou died in office, an Independent Republican, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, narrowly won a national runoff election (with Gaullist help) and became the third president of the Fifth Republic. Giscard strengthened relations with the United States but continued to ply a middle course between the superpowers in world affairs. The European Currency Unit (ECU) was born in 1979 from the economic stresses of the 1970s, leading eventually to the introduction of the common currency, the euro, in 2002.

Although Giscard's center-right coalition held firm in the March 1978 legislative elections, a Socialist, François Mitterrand, was elected president in May 1981, and the Socialists captured a parliamentary majority in June. Mitterrand launched a program of economic reforms, including the nationalization of many industrial companies and most major banks. However, three devaluations of the franc, high unemployment, and rising inflation led to the announcement of an austerity program in March 1983. In foreign policy, Mitterrand took an activist stance, opposing the US attempt in 1982 to halt construction of a natural gas pipeline between the former USSR and Western Europe, committing French troops to a peacekeeping force in Lebanon, and aiding the Chadian government against domestic insurgents and their Libyan backers.

In July 1984, Mitterrand accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy and named Laurent Fabius to replace him, signaling his intention to stress economic austerity and modernization of industry. In foreign affairs, the government attempted some retrenchment during 1984, withdrawing peacekeeping troops from Lebanon and announcing a "total and simultaneous" withdrawal of French and Libyan troops from Chad. However, Libyan troops did not actually withdraw as envisioned, and fighting there prompted a return of French troops in 1986. A major scandal was the disclosure in 1985 that French agents were responsible for the destruction in New Zealand, with the loss of a life, of a ship owned by an environmentalist group protesting French nuclear tests in the South Pacific.

In March 1986 elections, the Socialists lost their majority in the National Assembly, and Mitterrand had to appoint a conservative prime minister, Jacques Chirac, to head a new center-right cabinet. This unprecedented "cohabitation" between a Socialist president and a conservative government led to legislative conflict, as Chirac, with backing from the National Assembly, successfully instituted a program, opposed by Mitterrand, to denationalize 65 state-owned companies. Chirac encountered less success late in 1986 as he sought to deal with a wave of terrorist violence in Paris. In 1988, Chirac challenged Mitterand for the presidency, but in the May runoff election, Mitterand won a commanding 54% of the vote and a second seven-year term. Chirac then resigned, and Mitterand formed a minority Socialist government.

Economic and social problems as well as government scandals strained relations between the Socialist Mitterrand, the Conservative PM Eduard Balladur in the second cohabitation, and a center-right government. Unemployment remained high and new legislation increased police powers to combat illegal immigration. Several prominent politicians were the subject of corruption charges and in 1993 legal proceedings were instituted against former primer minister, Laurent Fabius, related to an HIV-infected blood scandal. A prominent Socialist prime minister, Pierre Beregovoy, committed suicide in May 1993 over media allegations of financial improprieties.

In May 1995, Jacques Chirac was elected president, winning 52.64% of the popular vote, compared to 47.36% for socialist Lionel Jospin, and Alain Juppé was appointed prime minister. The National Assembly had elected an RPR-Gaullist majority in 1993, setting the country firmly in the grips of the type of conservatism that had been ousting socialist and Social Democrats in much of Western Europe during the mid-to-late 1980s. Chirac immediately set about instituting austerity measures to rein in government spending in the hope of meeting certain rigid monetary guidelines so that France would be ready to join the European Monetary Union (EMU) in 1999. The EMU would create a single European currency, the "euro," to replace member countries' individual currencies. The idea of a monetary union had never been widely popular in France and the Maastricht Treaty, which set down conditions for EMU membership passed by only a slim margin.

Many of Chirac's attempts to reduce public spending and limitor even erodeFrance's welfare state met with stern resistance. With the signing of the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997, Chirac sensed the need for a reaffi rmation of his commitment to meet austerity measures for EMU membership. Chirac dissolved the National Assembly, calling for parliamentary elections in 1997, one year earlier than constitutionally mandated. In doing so, the French president believed he would demonstrate that the majority of the population believed in responsible cutbacks in government spending and anti-inflammatory monetary policy, despite the adverse effects they might have on the country's already quite high inflation. In May and June of 1997, elections were held and Chirac's plan badly backfired with the Socialists winning a commanding majority, along with the Communists. After the elections, a demoralized Chirac appointed Socialist leader Lionel Jospin prime minister, beginning the third cohabitation government. Jospin, a halfhearted supporter of monetary union, called for a program of increased government spending to create 700,000 jobs, a reduction in the work week from 39 to 35 hours, and made a broad pledge to protect the welfare state. The euro was successfully launched in 1999, and the currency was circulated in January 2002.

Presidential elections were held on 21 April and 5 May 2002. In the first round, Chirac won 19.9% of the vote, National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen came in second with 16.9%, and Prime Minister Jospin finished third with 16.2% of the vote. The strong showing by Le Pen sent shock waves throughout France and Europe, as his extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant, xenophobic party demonstrated its popularity. Jospin announced he was retiring from politics; for the first time since 1969 the Socialists did not have a candidate in a presidential runoff, marking a major defeat for the French left.

In the second round of voting, Chirac overwhelmingly defeated Le Pen, taking 82.2% of the vote to Le Pen's 17.8%. It was the largest majority since direct presidential elections were first introduced, and was preceded by a major popular campaign against Le Pen. Chirac named centrist Jean-Pierre Raffarin to be prime minister. In elections for the National Assembly held in June 2002, the center-right coalition Union for the Presidential Majority (consisting of Chirac's Rally for the Republic and the Liberal Democracy party and created on the wake of the first round on the ashes of the short-lived Union en Mouvement ) won a landslide victory, taking 33.7% of the vote and 357 of 577 seats in parliament. The Socialist Party finished second with 24.1% and 140 seats. Le Pen's National Front failed to win a single seat.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin started out by governing through ordinances, and eventually obtained a majority from his party that was large enough to carry him through the legislative elections. His political line exhibited a peculiar communicative style and enforced reforms with unflagging certaintyhis adversaries would term this style "neo-liberalism." In 2003 alone, he led policies to reform the retirement system and to regionalize most administrative offices that were centralized in Paris, despite strong social unrest and demonstrationsIn the summer of 2003, civil servants went on strike against the reform of the retirement benefits system and part-time workers in entertainment went on strike, demanding higher salaries and improved benefits. Raffarin's popularity rate began to plummet; this, combined with the sharp electoral defeat sustained at the regional elections, was blamed on his social policies. As a consequence, the prime minister dissolved the government, and handpicked Jean-Louis Borloo as minister of social affairs. However, the prime minister had to handle both the former's social agendasustaining rent-controlled housing, backed up by President Chiracand Sarkozy's extremely conservative managing of the finances. Jean-Pierre Raffarin then faced even more criticism especially from Dominique de Villepin.

Raffarin's term of office came to a brisk end after the "no" vote to the referendum held on 29 May 2005, on whether to adopt the project of the European Constitutional Treaty. He offered to resign on 31 May 2005, and was immediately replaced by Dominique de Villepin.

Dominique de Villepin had been named minister of foreign affairs in 2002, upon the reelection of President Chirac. In 200203, France was confronted with a major foreign policy dilemma. Throughout 2002, the United States and United Kingdom were committing troops to the Persian Gulf region, positioning themselves against Iraq and accusing its leader, Saddam Hussein, of possessing weapons of mass destruction. In the event that Iraq would not disarm itself of any weapons of mass destruction it might possess, it was evident that the United States and United Kingdom might use those troops to force a regime change in Iraq. The UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441 on 8 November 2002, calling upon Iraq to disarm itself of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons or weapons capabilities, to allow the immediate return of UN and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) weapons inspectors, and to comply with all previous UN resolutions regarding the country since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. The United States and United Kingdom indicated that if Iraq would not comply with the resolution, "serious consequences" might result, meaning military action. The other three permanent members of the Security Council, France, Russia, and China, expressed their reservations with that position. France was the most vocal opponent of war, and threatened to use its veto power in the Security Council if another Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force was called for. The United States and United Kingdom abandoned diplomatic efforts at conflict resolution in March 2003, and on 19 March, the coalition went to war in Iraq. Once coalition forces defeated Iraq and plans for reconstruction of the country were being discussed in April, France stressed the need for a strong role to be played by the UN in a postwar Iraq.

On 31 May 2005, Dominique de Villepin was chosen by President Chirac to become prime minister. In his inaugural speech, he gave himself 100 days to earn the trust of the French people and to give France its confidence back. He was increasingly perceived as a potential presidential candidate, an opinion reinforced by his acting as head of state during the cabinet meeting held on 7 September 2005 and for the 60th session of the UN General Assembly held on 1415 September 2005 while President Chirac suffered from a cerebral vascular complication.

The eruption of rioting in many parts of France in fall 2005 posed the most serious challenge to government authority since the student riots that took place in Paris in 1968. The government imposed a state of emergency. Thousands of vehicles were set on fire in nearly 300 towns; more than 1,500 people had been arrested by mid-November 2005, when the violence began to subside. Areas with large African and Arab communities were most affected (France has Europe's largest Muslim population and over half the country's prison population is Muslim), where anger among many immigrant families over unemployment and discrimination has long been simmering. France's youth unemployment rate in 2005 was 23%, one of Europe's worst, and in "sensitive urban zones," youth unemployment reached 40%. The unrest caused politicians to rethink their social and economic policies.


Under the constitution of the Fifth Republic (1958), as subsequently amended, the president of the republic is elected for a five-year term (changed from a seven-year term following a referendum on 24 September 2000) by direct universal suffrage. If no candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes cast, a runoff election is held between the two candidates having received the most votes. If the presidency falls vacant, the president of the Senate assumes the office until a new election can be held within 2035 days. The president appoints the prime minister and, on the prime minister's recommendation, the other members of the cabinet. The president has the power to dissolve the National Assembly, in which event new elections must be held in 2040 days. When the national sovereignty is gravely menaced, the president is empowered to take special measures after consultation with the premier and other appropriate officials. The National Assembly, however, may not be dissolved during the exercise of exceptional powers. The president promulgates laws approved by the legislature, has the right of pardon, and is commander of the armed forces.

The bicameral parliament consists of two houses, the National Assembly and the Senate. Under a system enacted in 1986, the National Assembly is composed of 577 deputies, each representing an electoral district. If no candidate receives a clear majority, there is a runoff among those receiving at least 12.5% of the vote; a plurality then suffi ces for election. All citizens aged 18 or over are eligible to vote.

The deputies' term of office, unless the Assembly is dissolved, is five years. The Senate consisted, as of 2003, of 321 members indirectly elected to nine-year terms, one-third being chosen every three years. Of the total, 296 represented metropolitan France, 13, overseas departments and territories, and 12, French citizens residing abroad; all are chosen by electoral colleges. In addition, European elections are held to choose 87 French deputies out of 626 in the European Parliament every five years, with proportional representation.

To become law, a measure must be passed by parliament. Parliament also has the right to develop in detail and amplify the list of matters on which it may legislate by passing an organic law to that effect. Regular parliamentary sessions occur once a year, lasting nine months each (amended in 1995 from two shorter sessions a year). A special session may be called by the prime minister or at the request of a majority of the National Assembly. Bills, which may be initiated by the executive, are introduced in either house, except finance bills, which must be introduced in the Assembly. These proceedings are open to the public, aired on television, and reported.

The prime minister and the cabinet formulate national policy and execute the laws. No one may serve concurrently as a member of parliament and a member of the executive. Under certain circumstances, an absolute majority in the National Assembly may force the executive to resign by voting a motion of censure. Under the new law of 1993, members of the government are liable for actions performed in office deemed to be crimes or misdemeanors, and tried by the Court of Justice.


French political life has long been ruled both by considerations of political theory and by the demands of political expediency. Traditional issues such as the separation of church and state help to distinguish between right and left, but otherwise the lines separating all but the extremist political parties are diffi cult to draw. One result of this has been the proliferation of political parties; another, the assumption by political parties of labels that seldom indicate any clear-cut platform or policy.

Broadly, since the late 1950s, French politics has been dominated by four political groups: the Gaullists, an independent center-right coalition, the Socialists, and the Communists. After the parliamentary elections of 23 and 30 November 1958, the first to be held under the constitution of the Fifth Republic, the largest single group in the Assembly was the Union for the New Republic (UNR), which stood for the policies of Gen. de Gaulle, elected president of the republic for a seven-year term in 1958. Independents of the right were the second-largest group, and the Christian Socialists (Mouvement Républicain Populaire) and several leftist groups followed. Only 16 members were elected by the center groups and only 10 were Communists.

In the November 1962 elections, the Gaullist UNR scored an unparalleled victory, polling 40.5% of the total votes cast. As a result of the elections, several old parliamentary groups disappeared, and new groups emerged: the Democratic Center (Centre Démocratique) with 55 seats; the Democratic Rally (Rassemblement Démocratique), 38 seats; and the Independent Republicans (Républicains IndépendantsRI), 33 seats. The UNR and the Democratic Workers Union (Union Démocratique du TravailUDT), left-wing Gaullists, agreed to a full merger of their parties and together controlled 219 seats.

In the first presidential elections held by direct universal suffrage in December 1965, President de Gaulle was reelected on the second ballot with 55.2% of the total vote. In the March 1967 general elections, the UNR-UDT gained 246 seats against 116 for the Socialists and 73 for the Communists. Following nationwide strikes and civil disturbances by workers and students in the spring of 1968, new parliamentary elections were held in June, in which de Gaulle's supporters won a sweeping victory.

The Union for the Defense of the Republic (Union pour la Défense de la RépubliqueUDR) emerged as the new official Gaullist organization. Political movements of the center joined to form the Progress and Modern Democracy group (Centre-PDM), while Socialists and the democratic left united under the Federation of the Left. Of the 487 Assembly seats, the UDR won 292 seats; RI, 61; Federation of the Left, 57; Communists, 34; Centre-PDM, 33; and independents, 10.

On 28 April 1969, following the defeat in a national referendum of a Gaullist plan to reorganize the Senate and regional government, President de Gaulle resigned. He was succeeded by former premier Georges Pompidou, a staunch Gaullist, who won 58% of the vote in elections held on 15 June 1969. During the Pompidou administration, Gaullist control was weakened by an alliance between the Communist and Socialist parties. In March 1973 elections, the Gaullist UDR lost 109 seats, falling to 183 of the 490 seats at stake. The Communists and Socialists increased their representation to 72 and 103, respectively. The remaining seats were won by the RI (55) and by centrists, reformists, and unaffiliated candidates (77).

On 2 April 1974, President Pompidou died. In elections held on 5 May, Gaullist candidate and former premier Jacques Chaban-Delmas was defeated, receiving only 15% of the votes cast. The leader of the leftist coalition, François Mitterrand, received over 11 million votes, and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the leader of the RI, over 8 million. However, as neither had won a majority, a run-off election was held on 19 May. Giscard, with the help of Gaullist votes, defeated Mitterrand by a margin of 50.7% to 49.3%. Jacques Chirac of the UDR was made premier, with a cabinet made up mainly of RI and UDR members.

A new Gaullist party, the Rally for the Republic (Rassemblement pour la RépubliqueRPR), founded by Chirac in 1976, received 26.1% of the vote in the second round of the 1978 legislative elections, winning 154 seats in the National Assembly. Th at year, the centrist parties had formed the Union for French Democracy (Union pour la Démocratie FrançaiseUDF). The federation, which included the Republican Party (Parti Républicain), the successor to the RI, won 23.2% of the vote in the second round of balloting, giving the centrist coalition 124 seats in the National Assembly. The Socialists and Communists, who ran on a common platform as the Union of the Left, together won 199 seats (Socialists 113, Communists 86) and 46.9% of the vote. Independents, with the remaining 3.8%, controlled 14 seats, for a total of 491.

In the presidential elections of 26 April and 10 May 1981, Mitterrand received 25.8% of the vote on the first ballot (behind Giscard's 28.3%) and 51.8% on the second ballot, to become France's first Socialist president since the 1930s. Within weeks, Mitterrand called new legislative elections: that June, the Socialists and their allies won 49.2% of the vote and 285 seats, the RPR 22.4% and 88 seats, the UDF 18.6% and 63 seats, the Communists 7% and 44 seats; independents won the remaining 2.8% and 11 seats. In return for concessions on various political matters, four Communists received cabinet portfolios, none relating directly to foreign affairs or national security. The sweeping victory of the left was, however, eroded in March 1983 when Socialist and Communist officeholders lost their seats in about 30 cities in municipal balloting. Meanwhile, the Communists had become disaffected by government policies and did not seek appointments in the cabinet named when a new Socialist prime minister, Laurent Fabius, was appointed in July 1984.

The National Assembly elections held in March 1993 represented a major defeat for the Socialist Party and their allies. The RPR and UDF won 247 and 213 seats, respectively, while the Socialists were reduced to 67 seats. The Communists also suffered losses, securing only 24 seats. Minor parties and independents won 26 seats. In cantonal elections held in March 1985, the candidates of the left won less than 40% of the vote, while candidates on the right increased their share by 1015%. The Socialists lost 155 of the 579 Socialist seats that were at stake. As a result, the Socialists introduced a new system of proportional voting aimed at reducing their losses in the forthcoming general election of 16 March 1986. The Socialists and their allies nevertheless won only 33% of the vote and 216 seats out of 577 in the expanded National Assembly. The RPR, the UDF, and their allies received 45% of the vote and 291 seats. The Communists, suffering a historic defeat, split the remaining 70 seats evenly with the far-right National Front, which won representation for the first time. The Socialists remained the largest single party, but the coalition led by the RPR and UDF had a majority; on that basis, Mitterrand appointed RPR leader Chirac as prime minister, heading a center-right government. Following his defeat by Mitterand in the May 1988 presidential election, Chirac resigned and a minority Socialist government was formed.

In 1995, Jacques Chirac was elected president, defeating Socialist Lionel Jospin. In 1997, one year before they were scheduled, Chirac called for new parliamentary elections, hoping to achieve a mandate to inaugurate his policy of fiscal austerity. Instead, the Gaullists suffered a stunning defeat by the Socialists and Communists, leading to the appointment of Jospin as prime minister. In those elections, held 25 May and 1 June 1997, the Gaullists saw their parliamentary presence decline from 464 seats to 249; the Socialists (and related splinter groups) went from 75 seats to 273; the Communists from 24 to 38; the Greens from no seats to 8; and the far-right National Front maintained its single seat.

The first round of presidential elections were held on 21 April 2002, with Jospin coming in third behind National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and Jacques Chirac in the first round. Two days after these results, on 23 April 2002, the Union en Mouvement (Union in MotionUEM) was dissolved and replaced by the Union pour la majorité présidentielle (Union for Presidential MajorityUMP) in order to create a major public support behind Chirac in his second round face-off with Le Pen. In May 2002, Jacques Chirac defeated Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round, taking 82.2% of the vote to Le Pen's 17.8%.

In the National Assembly elections held in June 2002, Chirac's UMP (RPR united with the Liberal Democracy party, formerly the Republican Party) won an overwhelming majority of seats, taking 357 to the Socialists' 140. The National Front failed to win a single seat; the UDF held 29 seats and the Communists took 21. The Greens held only three seats.

On 17 November 2002, the UMP changed its name to Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement), keeping the same acronym but modifying the out-of-date appellation.

Its first test occurred in March 2004, during the cantonal and regional elections. While suffering a devastating loss, it managed, through alliances, to secure a relative majority of the votes.

Its second test was the European elections, also held in 2004. The UMP won only 17% of the votes, while the Socialist Party earned 29% and the UDF (composed of members that refused to join in the UMP) reached 12%. The UDF's relative success was largely caused by the attractive alternative that it offered voters that were unhappy with the government's take on social and European issues.

The relative slump of the right can also be explained by the rise of popularity of the National Front and the unpopularity generated by the Raffarin governments.


In 1972, parliament approved a code of regional reforms that had been rejected when proposed previously by President de Gaulle in 1969. Under this law, the 96 departments of metropolitan France were grouped into 22 regions. Regional councils composed of local deputies, senators, and delegates were formed and prefects appointed; in addition, regional economic and social committees, made up of labor and management representatives, were created. This system was superseded by the decentralization law of 2 March 1982, providing for the transfer of administrative and financial authority from the prefect to the general council, which elects its own president; the national government's representative in the department is appointed by the cabinet. The 1982 law like-wise replaced the system of regional prefects with regional councils, elected by universal direct suffrage, and, for each region, an economic and social committee that serves in an advisory role; the national government's representative in each region, named by the cabinet, exercises administrative powers. The first regional assembly to be elected was that of Corsica in August 1982; the first direct assembly elections in all 22 regions were held in March 1986.

Each of the 96 departments (and four overseas: Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion and French Guiana) is further subdivided for administrative purposes into arrondissements, cantons, and communes (municipalities). The basic unit of local government is the commune, governed by a municipal council and presided over by a mayor. A commune may be an Alpine village with no more than a dozen inhabitants, or it may be a large city, such as Lyon or Marseille. The majority, however, are small. In 1990, only 235 communes out of 36,551 had more than 30,000 inhabitants; 84% of all communes had fewer than 1,500 inhabitants, and 43% had fewer than 300. (As of 2002, France had 36,763 communes). Most recently the trend has been for the smallest communes to merge and create larger urban communities, or to come together as communal syndicates to share responsibilities. Municipal councilors are elected by universal suffrage for six-year terms. Each council elects a mayor who also serves as a representative of the central government. Several communes are grouped into a canton, and cantons are grouped into arrondissements, which have little administrative significance. As of 1 January 2005, France had 36,779 communes (214 of them overseas).


There are two types of lower judicial courts in France, the civil courts (471 tribunaux d'instance and 181 tribunaux de grande instance in 1985, including overseas departments) and the criminal courts (tribunaux de police for petty offenses such as parking violations, tribunaux correctionnels for criminal misdemeanors). The function of the civil courts is to judge conflicts arising between persons; the function of the criminal courts is to judge minor infractions (contraventions ) and graver offenses (délits ) against the law. The most serious crimes, for which the penalties may range to life imprisonment, are tried in assize courts (cours d'assises ); these do not sit regularly but are called into session when necessary. They are presided over by judges from the appeals courts. In addition, there are special commercial courts (tribunaux de commerce ), composed of judges elected among themselves by tradesmen and manufacturers, to decide commercial cases; conciliation boards (conseils de prud'hommes ), made up of employees and employers, to decide their disputes; and professional courts with disciplinary powers within the professions. Special administrative courts (tribunaux administratifs ) deal with disputes between individuals and government agencies. The highest administrative court is the Council of State (Conseil d'État ).

From the lower civil and criminal courts alike, appeals may be taken to appeals courts (cours d'Appel ), of which there were 27 in 2003. Judgments of the appeals courts and the courts of assize are final, except that appeals on the interpretation of the law or points of procedure may be taken to the highest of the judicial courts, the Court of Cassation in Paris. If it finds that either the letter or spirit of the law has been misapplied, it may annual a judgment and return a case for retrial by the lower courts. The High Court of Justice (Haute Cour de Justice ), consisting of judges and members of parliament, is convened to pass judgment on the president and cabinet members if a formal accusation of treason or criminal behavior has been voted by an absolute majority of both the National Assembly and the Senate. The death penalty was abolished in 1981.

The Conseil Constitutionnel, created by the 1958 constitution, is now the only French forum available for constitutional review of legislation. Challenges to legislation may be raised by the president of the republic, the prime minister, the president of the Senate, the president of the National Assembly, 60 senators, or 60 deputies of the National Assembly during the period between passage and promulgation (signature of president). Once promulgated, French legislation is not subject to judicial review.

The French judiciary is fully independent from the executive and legislative branches. The judiciary is subject to European Union mandates, which guide national law. This has been the case in the Court of Cassation since 1975, in the Council of State since 1989, and now even in the civil courts.


In 2005 there were 254,895 active personnel in the French armed services. An additional 104,275 served in the Gendarmerie Nationale, which is heavily armed. Reserves totaled 21,650 from all services. In 2005 the military budget was $41.6 billion.

France's strategic nuclear forces in 2005 had 4,041 active personnel, of which 2,200 were Navy personnel, 1,800 Air Force, and 41 Gendarmarie Nationale. Equipment included four SSBNs, 24 Navy and 60 Air Combat Command fighter/ground attack aircraft. The French have the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world with a suspected total of 482 weapons. The Army in 2005 numbered 133,500 military and 28,500 civilian personnel. Included were 7,700 members of the Foreign Legion, a 14,700 member marine force and an estimated 2,700 Special Operations Forces, as part of the French Army. Equipment included 926 main battle tanks, 1,809 reconnaissance vehicles, 601 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 4,413 armored personnel carriers, and 787 artillery pieces (105 towed).

The French Navy numbered 46,195 active personnel and 10,265 civilians in 2005. For that year, the Navy was equipped with 10 modern submarines (4 SSBNs and 6 SSNs), 34 principal surface combatants (including one CVN and one CVH or helicopter carrier), and 85 other ships for mine warfare, amphibious operations, and logistics and support. France had 6,443 naval aviation personnel. There were also 2,050 naval marines, including 500 commandos. The Navy also provided coast guard services and fishery protection. The French Air Force numbered 65,400 active members, plus 5,700 civilians, and operated 295 combat capable aircraft.

France maintains substantial forces abroad in a number of countries, current and former possessions, and protectorates. These forces are supported by aircraft and naval ships in the Indian and Pacific oceans, and in the Carribean. France has substantial garrisons in Antilles-Guyana, New Caledonia, Réunion Island, and Polynesia, and it provides military missions and combat formations to several African nations. Troops are also deployed on peacekeeping missions in several different regions and countries.


France is a charter member of the United Nations, having joined on 24 October 1945, and actively cooperates in ECE, ECLAC, ESCAP, and most of the nonregional specialized agencies; it is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. France joined the WTO in 1995. France is also a founding member of the European Union. Although France still belongs to NATO, in 1966 the nation withdrew its personnel from the two integrated NATO commandsSupreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT). In December 1995, the country announced an intention to increase participation in the NATO military wing once again. France is a member of the Asian Development Bank, the African development Bank, the Central African States Development Bank (BDEAC), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Council of Europe, OAS (as a permanent observer), OECD, OSCE, G-5, G-7, G-8, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), and the Paris Club.

Since 2003, France has supported four UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions on Iraq. The country serves as a commissioner on the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission and has also offered support to UN missions in Kosovo (est. 1999), Lebanon (1978), the Western Sahara (1991), Ethiopia and Eritrea (2000), Liberia (2003), the DROC (1999), and Haiti (2004).

France belongs to the Australia Group, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (London Group), the Nuclear Energy Agency, the Zangger Committee, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). In environmental cooperation, France is part of the Antarctic Treaty; the Basel Convention; Conventions on Biological Diversity, Whaling, and Air Pollution; Ramsar; CITES; the London Convention; International Tropical Timber Agreements; the Kyoto Protocol; the Montréal Protocol; MARPOL; and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change and Desertification.


France is one of the most richly endowed countries of Europe. The favorable climate, extensive areas of rich soil, and long-established tradition of skilled agriculture have created ideal conditions for a thriving farm economy. Agriculture and the agro-food industries account for a larger share of economic activity than in many other west European nations. Large deposits of iron ore, a wellintegrated network of power plants, important domestic reserves of natural gas, good transport, and high standards of industrial workmanship have made the French industrial complex one of the most modern in Europe.

After World War II, France's economy was stronger than it had been in the period between the two world wars. But on the debit side were the extremely high costs of France's colonial campaigns in Indochina and North Africa; the periodic lack of confidence of French investors in the nation's economy, resulting in the largescale flight of funds; and the successive devaluations of the franc.

Through most of the 1960s and early 1970s, the French economy expanded steadily, with GDP more than doubling between 1959 and 1967. However, the international oil crisis of 1974 led to a sharp rise in import costs; the resulting inflation eroded real growth to about 3% annually between 1977 and 1979. Further oil price increases in 197980 marked the beginning of a prolonged recession, with high inflation, high unemployment, balance-of-payments deficits, declining private investment, and shortages in foreign exchange reserves. However, GDP grew by an annual average of 2.5% between 1984 and 1991. During the early 1990s, GDP expanded by an average 2%, a modest rate. By the late 1990s, however, the economy began to record higher growth rates. In 1998 the French economy grew by 3.3% in real terms. Unemployment, however, remained high at 11.5%. To combat this, the Socialist-led coalition of Lionel Jospin enacted legislation cutting the work week to 35 hours in 2000. This measure, along with other incentives, resulted in unemployment falling under 10% as over 400,000 new jobs were created in the first half of 2000. In 2002, GDP growth was low (1%), due to the global economic slowdown and a decline in investment. However, France's exports increased at a greater rate than imports, fueling the economy. France in 2002 fell from being the world's fourth-largest industrialized economy to fifth, being replaced by the United Kingdom. In 2004, France had a $1.737 trillion economy, in purchasing power parity terms. In 2004, real GDP growth was 1.9%. In 2005, real GDP growth was expected to slow to 1.4%, before picking up to 1.6% in 2006 and 2.2% in 2007.

France and the United States are the world's top two exporting countries in defense products, agricultural goods, and services. Taxes remain the highest in the G-8 industrialized countries, and the tax structure is seen as a hindrance to business activity. The fastest-growing sectors of the economy have been telecommunications, aerospace, consulting services, meat and milk products, public works, insurance and financial services, and recreation, culture, and sports. Although the government has privatized many large companies, banks, and insurers, it still controls large sectors of the economy, including energy, transportation, and the defense industry.

The French social model, characterized by heavy state involvement in the economy, a tax on wealth, and generous benefits for workers, has proved to be a strong disincentive to growth and job creation. Unemployment, at 9.8% in September 2005, is double that in the United Kingdom. The pension system and rising healthcare costs strain public finances. Attempts to liberalize the economy have met strong resistance from labor unions and the left. Pension reforms proposed by the government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin in early 2003 were met by huge protests and strikes in France. Discontent with the economy played a large role in France's rejection of the EU constitution in May 2005. Dominique de Villepin, who became prime minister after the EU vote, promised to focus on unemployment and was in the process of engineering the sale of parts of Gaz de France and Electricité de France (the world's largest generator of nuclear power) to help compensate for state deficits. Violent unrest in hundreds of towns erupted in the fall of 2005, triggered by frustration over high unemployment among urban youth. Politicians were faced with the challenge to craft social and economic policies to address the underlying causes of the rioting, which was centered in communities with large African and Arab populations, where youth unemployment reportedly approached 40% (and stood at 25% in the country overall).


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 France's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $1.8 trillion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $29,900. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 1.5%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 1.9%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 2.5% of GDP, industry 21.4%, and services 76.1%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $11.418 billion or about $191 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.6% of GDP.

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in France totaled $976.15 billion or about $16,324 per capita based on a GDP of $1.8 trillion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 1.6%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 22% of household consumption was spent on food, 9% on fuel, 3% on health care, and 8% on education. It was estimated that in 2000 about 6.5% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


In 2005, the French workforce was estimated at 27.72 million. In 1999 (the latest year for which data was available), 71.5% of the workforce was employed in the services sector, with industry accounting for 24.4%, and 4.1% in agriculture. As of 2005, the unemployment rate was estimated at 10%, although overall youth unemployment was much higher (25%), with unemployment among urban youth approaching 40%.

Although only about 7% of the workforce was unionized as of 2005, trade unions have significant influence in the country. Workers freely exercise their right to strike unless it is prohibited due to public safety. Many unions are members of international labor organizations. Collective bargaining is prevalent. It is illegal to discriminate against union activity.

The government determines the minimum hourly rate, which was the equivalent of $9.64 as of 2005. This amount provides a decent standard of living for a family. The standard legal workweek is set at 35 hours with restrictions on overtime. Children under age 16 are not permitted to work, and there are restrictions pertaining to employment of those under 18. Child labor laws are strictly enforced. The labor code and other laws provide for work, safety, and health standards.


Agriculture remains a vital sector of the French economy, even though it engages only about 3.3% of the labor force and contributes about 3% of the GDP. Since the early 1970s, the agricultural labor force has diminished by about 60%. In 2003, France's fulltime farm labor force of 592,550 was still the second-highest in the EU. France, whose farms export more agricultural food products than any other EU nation (accounting for 19% of the EU's total agricultural output in 2003), is the only country in Europe to be completely self-suffi cient in basic food production; moreover, the high quality of the nation's agricultural products contributes to the excellence of its famous cuisine. France is one of the leaders in Europe in the value of agricultural exportschiefly wheat, sugar, wine, and beef. Tropical commodities, cotton, tobacco, and vegetable oils are among the chief agricultural imports.

As of 2003 36% of France's area was arable. About 11.8 million hectares (29.1 million acres) of the usable farm area is under annual crops, with another 228,000 hectares (563,000 acres) in permanent crops. There were 735,000 farms in France in 1995, of which only 454,000 were managed by full-time farmers. Since the 1950s, the number of farms has declined and the size of individual holdings has increased. By 1983 there were about 1.13 million farms, as compared to 2.3 million in 1955, and the average farm size was about 26 hectares (64 acres). Average farm size had grown to around 50 hectares (124 acres) in 2000. Because French law provides for equal rights of inheritance, traditionally much of the farmland came to be split up into small, scattered fragments. One of the major aims of postwar plans for rural improvement has been the consolidation of these through reallotment. Such consolidation also fosters the growth of mechanization. In 2003 there were 1,264,000 tractors (fourth in the world after the United States, Japan, and Italy) compared with 100,000 in 1948, and 1,327,900 in 1974.

Of the total productive agricultural area, about 61% is under cultivation, 35% is pasture, and 4% vineyards. The most productive farms are in northern France, but specialized areas, such as the vegetable farms of Brittany, the great commercial vineyards of the Languedoc, Burgundy, and Bordeaux districts, and the flower gardens, olive groves, and orchards of Provence, also contribute heavily to the farm economy.

Among agricultural products, cereals (wheat, barley, oats, corn, and sorghum), industrial crops (sugar beets, flax), root crops (potatoes), and wine are by far the most important. In 2004, the wheat crop totaled 39,704,000 tons and barley, 11,040,000 tons. Other totals (in tons) included oats, 598,000; corn, 16,391,000; sugar beets, 30,554,000; rapeseed, 3,969,000 tons; and sunflower seed, 1,467,000 tons. Wine production in 2004 totaled 557 million liters from 7,542,000 tons of grapes. There is large-scale production of fruits, chiefly apples, pears, peaches, and cherries.


Output of animal products in 2003 was valued at nearly 23.7 billion, the highest in the EU. In 2005, farm animals included 19.3 million head of cattle, 15 million swine, 10.2 million sheep and goats, and 355,000 horses. Poultry and rabbits are raised in large numbers, both for farm families and for city markets. Percheron draft horses are raised in northern France, range cattle in the central highlands and the flatlands west of the Rhône, and goats and sheep in the hills of the south. Meat production in 2005 included 1,529,000 tons of beef and veal, 2,257,000 tons of pork, 1,971,000 tons of poultry, and 123,000 tons of mutton. Meat exports in