Note to our readers: Background Notes are no longer being updated or produced. They are being replaced with Fact Sheets focusing on U.S. relations with countries and providing links to additional resources. For archived versions of Background Notes, see //2009-2017.state.gov/outofdate/bgn/.
Area: 551,670 sq. km. (220,668 sq. mi.); largest west European country, about four-fifths the size of Texas.
Cities: Capital--Paris. Major cities--Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nice, Rennes, Lille, Bordeaux.
Population (January 1, 2010 est.): 65.0 million (including overseas territories); 63.3 million (metropolitan).
Annual population growth rate (2011 est.): 0.5%.
Ethnic groups: Celtic and Latin with Teutonic, Slavic, North African, Sub-Saharan African, Indochinese, and Basque minorities.
Religion: Roman Catholic (majority), Muslim, Protestant, Jewish.
Education: Years compulsory--10. Literacy--99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (Jan. 2011)--3.7/1,000.
Work force (2009): 28.3 million (preliminary): Services--75%; industry and construction--21.7%; agriculture--2.9%.
Constitution: September 28, 1958.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state); prime minister (head of government). Legislative--bicameral Parliament (577-member National Assembly, 319-member Senate). Judicial--Court of Cassation (civil and criminal law), Council of State (administrative court), Constitutional Council (constitutional law).
Subdivisions: 22 administrative regions containing 96 departments (metropolitan France). Thirteen territories outside metropolitan France: four overseas departments which are also regions (French abbreviation is DOM-ROM)--Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, and Reunion; six overseas collectivities ("Collectivites d'Outre-mer" or COM)--French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna Islands, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy Island, and Mayotte, which became a full overseas department in March 2011; one overseas country of France ("Pays d'Outre-mer" or POM)--New Caledonia; and the French Southern and Antarctic Territories and the atoll of Clipperton.
Political parties: Union for a Popular Movement (UMP--a synthesis of center-right Gaullist/nationalist and free-market parties); Socialist Party; New Center (former UDF centrists now affiliated with the UMP); Democratic Movement (former UDF centrists loyal to MoDem President Francois Bayrou); Communist Party; extreme right National Front; Greens; various minor parties.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (2011 est.): $2.774 trillion.
Avg. annual growth rate (2011 est.): 1.0%, compared with 1.5% in 2010 and -2.7% in 2009.
Per capita GDP at PPP (2011 est.): $42,676.
Agriculture: Products--grains (wheat, barley, corn); wines and spirits; dairy products; sugar beets; oilseeds; meat and poultry; fruits and vegetables.
Industry: Types--aircraft, electronics, transportation, textiles, clothing, food processing, chemicals, machinery, steel.
Services: Types--Services to companies and individuals, financial and real estate activities, tourism and transportation.
Trade: Exports (2011 est.)--$595 billion (f.o.b.): automobiles, aircraft and aircraft components, pharmaceuticals, automobile equipment, iron and steel products, refined petroleum products, cosmetics, organic chemicals, electronic components, wine and champagne. Imports (2011 est.)--$693 billion (f.o.b.): oil and natural gas, automobiles, aircraft and aircraft components, refined petroleum products, automobile equipment, pharmaceuticals, iron and steel products, and computers/computer-related products. Major trading partners--EU, China, and the U.S.
Exchange rate: U.S. $1 = 0.718 euro (€) in 2011.
Since prehistoric times, France has been a crossroads of trade, travel, and invasion. Three basic European ethnic stocks--Celtic, Latin, and Teutonic (Frankish)--have blended over the centuries to make up its present population. France's birth rate was among the highest in Europe from 1945 until the late 1960s. Since then, its birth rate has fallen but remains higher than that of most other west European countries. Traditionally, France has had a high level of immigration.
The government does not keep statistics on religious affiliation; according to a January 2007 poll, 51% of respondents describe themselves as Catholic, and another 31% describe themselves as having no religious affiliation. There also are Muslim, Protestant, and Jewish minorities. France is home to both the largest Muslim and Jewish populations in Europe. More than 1 million Muslims immigrated to France in the 1960s and early 1970s from North Africa, especially Algeria. In 2004, there were over 6 million Muslims, largely of North African descent, living in France.
Education is free, beginning at age 2, and mandatory between ages 6 and 16. The public education system is highly centralized. Private education is primarily Roman Catholic. Higher education in France began with the founding of the University of Paris in 1150. It now consists of 91 public universities and 175 professional schools, including the post-graduate Grandes Ecoles. Private, college-level institutions focusing on business and management with curriculums structured on the American system of credits and semesters have been growing in recent years.
The French language derives from the vernacular Latin spoken by the Romans in Gaul, although it includes many Celtic and Germanic words. Historically, French has been used as the international language of diplomacy and commerce. Today it remains one of six official languages at the United Nations and has been a unifying factor in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Caribbean.
France was one of the earliest countries to progress from feudalism to the nation-state. Its monarchs surrounded themselves with capable ministers, and French armies were among the most innovative, disciplined, and professional of their day. During the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), France was the dominant power in Europe. But overly ambitious projects and military campaigns of Louis and his successors led to chronic financial problems in the 18th century. Deteriorating economic conditions and popular resentment against the complicated system of privileges granted the nobility and clerics were among the principal causes of the French Revolution (1789-94). Although the revolutionaries advocated republican and egalitarian principles of government, France reverted to forms of absolute rule or constitutional monarchy four times--the Empire of Napoleon, the Restoration of Louis XVIII, the reign of Louis-Philippe, and the Second Empire of Napoleon III. After the Franco-Prussian War (1870), the Third Republic was established and lasted until the military defeat of 1940.
World War I (1914-18) brought great losses of troops and material. In the 1920s, France established an elaborate system of border defenses (the Maginot Line) and alliances to offset resurgent German strength. France was defeated early in World War II, however, and was occupied in June 1940. That July, the country was divided into two: one section being ruled directly by the Germans, and a second controlled by the French ("Vichy" France) and which the Germans did not occupy. German and Italian forces occupied all of France, including the "Vichy" zone, following the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942. The "Vichy" government largely acquiesced to German plans, namely in the plunder of French resources and the forceful deportations of tens of thousands of French Jews living in France to concentration camps across Europe, and was even more completely under German control following the German military occupation of November 1942. Economically, a full one-half of France's public sector revenue was appropriated by Germany. After 4 years of occupation and strife in France, Allied forces liberated the country in 1944.
France emerged from World War II to face a series of new problems. After a short period of provisional government initially led by Gen. Charles de Gaulle, the Fourth Republic was set up by a new constitution and established as a parliamentary form of government controlled by a series of coalitions. French military involvement in both Indochina and Algeria combined with the mixed nature of the coalitions and a consequent lack of agreement caused successive cabinet crises and changes of government.
Finally, on May 13, 1958, the government structure collapsed as a result of the tremendous opposing pressures generated by 4 years of war with Algeria. A threatened coup led the Parliament to call on General de Gaulle to head the government and prevent civil war. Marking the beginning of the Fifth Republic, he became prime minister in June 1958 and was elected president in December of that year. The Algerian conflict also spurred decades of increased immigration from the Maghreb states, changing the composition of French society.
Seven years later, for the first time in the 20th century, the people of France went to the polls to elect a president by direct ballot. De Gaulle won re-election with a 55% share of the vote, defeating Francois Mitterrand. In April 1969, President de Gaulle's government conducted a national referendum on the creation of 21 regions with limited political powers. The government's proposals were defeated, and de Gaulle subsequently resigned. Succeeding him as president of France have been Gaullist Georges Pompidou (1969-74), Independent Republican Valery Giscard d'Estaing (1974-81), Socialist Francois Mitterrand (1981-95), neo-Gaullist Jacques Chirac (1995-2007), and center-right Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-present).
While France continues to revere its rich history and independence, French leaders have increasingly tied the future of France to the European Union (EU). France was integral in establishing the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and was among the EU's six founding states. During his tenure, President Mitterrand stressed the importance of European integration and advocated the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on European economic and political union, which France's electorate narrowly approved in 1992.
Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., France has played a central role in counterterrorism efforts. French forces have participated in Operation Enduring Freedom and in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan. France did not, however, join the coalition that liberated Iraq in 2003.
In October and November 2005, 3 weeks of violent unrest in France's largely immigrant suburbs focused the country's attention on its minority communities. In the spring of 2006, students protested widely over restrictive employment legislation. In May 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy was elected as France's sixth president under the Fifth Republic, signaling French approval of widespread economic and social reforms, as well as closer cooperation with the United States. By midway through his 5-year term, Sarkozy faced mounting pressure to revive the economy, lower unemployment, and reduce the government’s sizable budget deficit. The most notable reform in 2010 was raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 and from 65 to 67 for full benefits. A poll in November 2011 showed a 40% approval rating for Sarkozy, a 12-month high and up from 29% in April.
On the international front, President Sarkozy has reintegrated France into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), confirmed France’s commitments to Afghanistan, and worked closely with the United States on the Iran nuclear issue. Although a 2005 French referendum was responsible for the defeat of a treaty to establish a constitution for Europe, France later backed the Lisbon Treaty--a main priority of Sarkozy during France's EU presidency in the latter half of 2008. The Lisbon Treaty took effect in December 2009. France continues to play a leading role in the EU, particularly in the development of a Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). In July 2008, France was instrumental in launching the Union for the Mediterranean (UM), a continuation of the EU Barcelona Process. France and Egypt held the first rotating co-presidency, which serves as a forum for political and economic cooperation between the EU and its Mediterranean neighbors. The second biennial conference scheduled for 2010 was indefinitely postponed due to heightened tensions in the Middle East. France has held the rotating presidencies of the G-8 and G-20 and was instrumental in spring 2011 in assembling the international coalition that engaged in military operations in Libya.
The constitution of the Fifth Republic was approved by public referendum on September 28, 1958. It greatly strengthened the powers of the executive in relation to those of Parliament. Under this constitution, presidents were elected directly for a 7-year term. Beginning in 2002, the presidential term of office was reduced to 5 years, and a constitutional reform passed on July 21, 2008 limits presidents to two consecutive terms in office. The next presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for 2012.
The main components of France's executive branch are the president, the prime minister and government, and the permanent bureaucracies of the many ministries. The president names the prime minister, presides over the cabinet, commands the armed forces, and concludes treaties. The president can submit questions to a national referendum and can dissolve the National Assembly. In certain emergency situations, with the approval of Parliament, the president may assume dictatorial powers and rule by decree. Led by a prime minister, who is the head of government, the cabinet is composed of a varying number of ministers, ministers-delegate, and secretaries of state. Traditionally, presidents under the Fifth Republic tended to leave day-to-day policy-making to the prime minister and government, and the 5-year term of office was expected to make presidents more accountable for the results of domestic policies. Nicolas Sarkozy has been a hands-on manager and policymaker.
Parliament meets for one 9-month session each year. Under special circumstances the president can call an additional session. Under the constitution, the legislative branch has few checks on executive power; nevertheless, the National Assembly can still cause a government to fall if an absolute majority of the total Assembly membership votes to censure. The Parliament is bicameral, with a National Assembly and a Senate. The National Assembly is the principal legislative body. Its deputies are directly elected to 5-year terms, and all seats are voted on in each election. Senators are chosen by an electoral college and, under new rules passed in 2003 to shorten the term, serve for 6 years, with one-half of the Senate being renewed every 3 years. (As a transitional measure in 2004, 62 Senators were elected to 9-year terms, while 61 were elected to 6-year terms; subsequently, all terms will be 6 years.) The Senate's legislative powers are limited; the National Assembly has the last word in the event of a disagreement between the two houses. The government has a strong influence in shaping the agenda of Parliament, although the constitutional reform passed in July 2008 granted new authority to the Parliament to set its own agenda. The government also can declare a bill to be a question of confidence, thereby linking its continued existence to the passage of the legislative text; unless a motion of censure is introduced and voted, the text is considered adopted without a vote. The constitutional reform passed in July 2008 limited the process to the vote of the national budget, the financing of the social security, and to one bill per session of the Parliament. As of September 2009, impact assessment is mandatory for all draft laws going to the Council of State and the Parliament.
A distinctive feature of the French judicial system is that the Constitutional Council protects basic rights when they might be potentially violated by new laws, and the Council of State protects basic rights when they might be violated by actions of the state. The Constitutional Council examines legislation and decides whether it conforms to the constitution. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, it considers only legislation that is referred to it by Parliament, the prime minister, or the president. Moreover, it considers legislation before it is promulgated. The Council of State has a separate function from the Constitutional Council and provides recourse to individual citizens who have claims against the administration. The Ordinary Courts--including specialized bodies such as the police court, the criminal court, the correctional tribunal, the commercial court, and the industrial court--settle disputes that arise between citizens, as well as disputes that arise between citizens and corporations. The Court of Appeals reviews cases judged by the Ordinary Courts.
Traditionally, decision-making in France has been highly centralized, with each of France's departments headed by a prefect appointed by the central government. In 1982, the national government passed legislation to decentralize authority by giving a wide range of administrative and fiscal powers to local elected officials. In March 1986, regional councils were directly elected for the first time, and the process of decentralization continues, albeit at a slow pace.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Francois Fillon
Foreign Minister--Alain Juppe
Ambassador to the United States--Francois Delattre
Ambassador to the United Nations--Gerard Araud
France maintains its embassy in the U.S. at 4101 Reservoir Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-944-6000).
Nicolas Sarkozy assumed office on May 16, 2007 as France's sixth president under the Fifth Republic. In the April 22, 2007 first round of presidential elections, Sarkozy, the leader of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, placed first; Socialist candidate Segolene Royal placed second; centrist Francois Bayrou placed third; and extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen placed fourth out of a field of 12 candidates. Sarkozy prevailed in the May 6, 2007 second round, defeating Royal by a 53.06% to 46.94% margin. Royal's loss marked the third straight defeat for the Socialist candidate in presidential elections.
In electing Nicolas Sarkozy, French voters endorsed the wide-ranging program of reforms--including market-oriented social and economic reforms--that were the focal point of his campaign, implicitly giving him the green light to try and implement these reforms quickly, and allowing a way forward for overcoming France's 2005 rejection of the EU constitutional treaty. By embracing a figure long tagged as "pro-American," French voters also expressed their desire to renew trust in the U.S.-France relationship. During the campaign Sarkozy often ended his stump speeches--evoking Martin Luther King--by calling for a "French dream" of social equality, social mobility, and equal opportunity, and his first speech as President-elect assured his "American friends" that they could rely on France's friendship. After his inauguration, President Sarkozy focused his first months in office on improving the performance of France's economy through liberalization of labor markets, higher education, and taxes.
Legislative elections held on June 10 and 17, 2007 gave the UMP a large parliamentary majority. The UMP reinforced its ascendance over the Socialists by winning the June 7, 2009 European Parliament election with 27.88% of the vote, an increase of more than 11 percentage points over 2004. The Socialists finished a distant second, in a virtual tie with Europe Ecology, the French Green party. In the March 2010 regional elections, however, the Socialist Party won a majority of seats in 21 of the 22 regions of mainland France, marking a definitive resurgence for the main opposition party.
On October 27, 2010 France’s National Assembly voted 336 to 233 in favor of President Sarkozy’s controversial pension reform bill. Before it came to a vote, there were widespread strikes and protests in September and October over the bill's proposals. The provision drawing the most ire increases the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 for a partial pension and from 65 to 67 for a full pension.
In the fourth government reshuffle in a year, President Sarkozy announced a significant shift in three ministries on February 27, 2011. Alain Juppe, Defense Minister since November 2010, took over the Foreign Ministry from Michele Alliot-Marie; Conservative Senator Gerard Longuet took over the Defense Ministry from Juppe; and Claude Gueant was named Minister of the Interior, replacing Brice Hortefeux.
On March 20 and 27, 2011 France held “cantonal” (local) elections to elect members of departmental councils. Amid record low turnout of 44%, President Sarkozy’s center-right UMP fared poorly in the first round of elections. With 99% of the votes counted, the Socialist Party placed first with 25% of the first-round vote nationwide, the UMP was second with 17%, and the National Front (FN) was third with 15%, according to Ministry of Interior figures. Taken together, center-left parties won about 48% of the first-round vote while the center-right (without the FN) garnered about 32%. The center-left also won in the second round, forming a Socialist-Greens-Front de Gauche coalition and winning 61 of 101 departmental councils.
The Socialist Party (PS) and its allies won a slight majority in the French Senate in September 2011. The election marked the first time the left has achieved a majority in France’s upper chamber of Parliament in the history of the Fifth Republic. In terms of governance, the French Senate has the power to slow new legislation, but ultimately the National Assembly can pass a bill without the Senate’s approval. On the other hand, the Senate has the power to reject changes to the constitution. Political observers note, for instance, that President Sarkozy’s so-called Golden Rule amendment--which would require a balanced budget--has little chance of passage given the new left majority in the Senate.
The next presidential election will occur in two rounds of voting on April 22 and May 6, 2012. Legislative elections will follow a few weeks later. President Sarkozy announced his candidacy in February 2012. Sarkozy’s chief rival will be Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party (PS). Other candidates include Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front and Francois Bayrou of the centrist MoDem party. Most polls in 2011 showed Hollande ahead of Sarkozy by a wide margin, although many political observers expected the gap to narrow as election day approached.
With a GDP of $2.7 trillion, France is the world’s fifth-largest economy. It has substantial agricultural resources, a large industrial base, and a highly skilled work force. A dynamic services sector accounts for an increasingly large share of economic activity and is responsible for nearly all job creation in recent years. Government economic policy aims to promote investment and domestic growth in a stable fiscal and monetary environment. Creating jobs and reducing the high unemployment rate has been a top priority.
Real GDP increased by 1.5% in 2010 after falling 2.7% in 2009 due to the economic crisis. The government expects GDP growth of 1.0% for 2011 and 1.0% for 2012. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) downgraded its forecast for French GDP growth to 0.3% in 2012. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is likely to revise its forecast for French GDP growth of 1.4% in 2012. The unemployment rate in metropolitan France increased to 9.3% in the third quarter of 2011, up from 9.2% in the fourth quarter of 2010.
France joined 10 other European Union countries in adopting the euro as its currency in January 1999. Since then, monetary policy has been set by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. On January 1, 2002, France, along with the other countries of the euro zone, dropped its national currency in favor of euro bills and coins.
France has been very successful in developing dynamic telecommunications, aerospace, and weapons sectors. According to a Google-commissioned McKinsey study, 25% of French growth is attributable to Internet-related products and services. Despite significant reform and privatization over the past 15 years, the government continues to control a large share of economic activity. Government spending, at 56.2% of GDP in 2010, is among the highest in the G-7. The government continues to own shares in corporations in a range of sectors, including banking, energy production and distribution, automobiles, transportation, and telecommunications.
The French government has said that reducing budget deficits would help ensure sustainable growth, with structural reforms helping offset the recessionary effect of budget cuts. Structural reforms include pension reform, investment in infrastructure and education, and improved financial sector regulation, including global reforms that France planned to pursue through its presidency of the G-20. The government aims to continue budget cuts through the attrition of civil servants. Budget spending is set to increase 0.5% per year (excluding inflation) between 2012 and 2015, compared to 0.8% per year between 2011 and 2014. The government's target for the budget deficit is 5.5% of GDP for 2011 and 4.6% of GDP for 2012.
In 2008, in a move to make France more competitive, the National Assembly passed four bills introduced by the French Government to modernize the economy and reform the labor market. In October 2007, under President Sarkozy's impetus, overtime work beyond the 35-hour work week was exempted from income and payroll taxes, a move aimed at improving worker productivity. President Sarkozy is also credited with eliminating the annual flat business tax and increasing the tax credit for investments in small and medium enterprises that increase a firm's equity capital. In July 2009, the French Parliament approved a controversial bill allowing more businesses to stay open on Sundays.
Membership in France's labor unions accounts for approximately 5% of the private sector work force and is concentrated in the manufacturing, transportation, and heavy industry sectors. Most unions are affiliated with one of the competing national federations, the largest and most powerful of which are the communist-dominated General Labor Confederation (CGT), the Workers’ Force (FO), and the French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT).
With virtually no domestic oil production, France has relied heavily on the development of nuclear power, which now accounts for about 80% of the country's electricity production. Since the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan, the Government of France has been reviewing France’s dependence on nuclear energy, and whether or not new safety standards should be developed. French anti-nuclear environmental groups stepped up efforts to spark public opposition to nuclear power in France, and Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande has suggested reducing France’s dependence on nuclear power by 50% by 2025. Henri Proglio, chief executive of the government-controlled utility provider Electricite de France, estimated in a November 2011 interview that a switch to fossil fuel-derived energy would require an investment of $544 billion and endanger up to 400,000 jobs.
France is the second-largest trading nation in Western Europe (after Germany). France ran a $70 billion trade deficit in goods (Customs basis, f.o.b.) in the first 11 months of 2011. Total trade in goods for the first 11 months of 2011 amounted to $1.183 trillion, over 42% of GDP, 59% of which was with the other EU-27 countries. In 2010, U.S.-France trade in goods and services totaled $97 billion. U.S. industrial chemicals, aircraft and engines, electronic components, telecommunications, computer software, computers and peripherals, analytical and scientific instrumentation, medical instruments and supplies, and broadcasting equipment are particularly attractive to French importers. Principal French exports to the United States are aircraft and engines, beverages, electrical equipment, chemicals, cosmetics, and luxury products. France is the eighth-largest trading partner of the United States.
France is the European Union's leading agricultural exporter, accounting for about 17% of all agricultural land within the EU-27. The share of agriculture value-added in GDP has shown a steady decline since the early 1980s, representing less than 1.7% of France's GDP in 2010. Agricultural production not including subsidies fell 8.5% from the preceding year to €60.6 billion ($80 billion) in 2009. Northern France is characterized by large grain farms. Dairy, pork, poultry, and apple production is concentrated in the western region. Beef production is located in central France, while the production of corn, fruits, vegetables, and wine ranges from central to southern France. France is expanding its forestry and fishery industries. France remains extremely cautious about the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) plants at the domestic and EU levels. France is a proponent of the European preference principle and is attentive to protecting its interests in further agricultural trade liberalization at the EU and World Trade Organization (WTO) levels.
France is the world's second-largest agricultural producer after the United States. The destination of 66% of its 2011 exports was other EU member states, according to French Customs. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. exports of agricultural, fish, and forest products to France totaled $763.15 million in 2010. During the first 10 months of 2011 they totaled $615.5 million, up 5% compared to the same period in 2010. The top 10 products exported by the U.S. to France include tree nuts ($78.6 million), soybeans ($55.8 million), planting seeds ($31.4 million), vegetable oils ($25 million), wine and beer ($24.8 million), forest products ($24.6 million), hides and skins ($20.7 million), grapefruit ($19.6 million), surimi ($19 million), and salmon ($15.3 million.) The United States, the sixth-largest exporter to France in recent data, faces stiff competition from domestic production, other EU member states, and third countries. U.S. imports of agricultural, fish, and forest products from France totaled $1.99 billion in 2010. During the first 10 months of 2011 they were at $2 billion, up 24% compared to the same period in 2010. Half of it consisted of wine and beer.
France plays an influential global role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, NATO, the G-8, the G-20, the EU, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the WTO, la Francophonie, and other multilateral institutions. Among NATO members, France is second only to the United States in terms of troops deployed abroad. In 2011, President Sarkozy led the call for military intervention in Libya, and France took a leading role in the international community's efforts. France took over leadership of the G-20 on November 1, 2010 and of the G-8 on January 1, 2011. France’s priorities during its G-20 presidency included structural reforms, such as pension reform, investments in infrastructure and education, and improved financial sector regulations, including global reforms. President Sarkozy has been a strong proponent of UN Security Council expansion, including the need for one or more permanent seats for Africa.
A charter member of the United Nations, France is a member of most of its specialized and related agencies. France is also America's oldest ally; French military intervention was instrumental in helping Britain's American colonies establish independence. Because many battles in which the United States was involved during World War I and World War II took place in France, more American soldiers have been killed on French soil than on that of any other foreign country.
France is a leader in Western Europe because of its size, location, and large economy, membership in European organizations, strong military posture, and energetic diplomacy. France generally has worked to strengthen the global economic and political influence of the EU and its role in common European defense. It views Franco-German cooperation and the development of a Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) with other EU members as the foundation of efforts to enhance European security.
France supports Quartet (U.S.-EU-Russia-UN) efforts to implement the Middle East roadmap, which envisions establishment of a Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel. Recognizing the need for a comprehensive peace agreement, France supports the involvement of all Arab parties and Israel in a multilateral peace process. France also supports an easing of the Gaza blockade, stating that it will serve the interest of all parties concerned in the conflict. Since coming to office in 2007, President Sarkozy has worked hard to elevate France’s status as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. France has raised the status of the Palestinian Authority’s representatives in Paris from “delegation” to a “diplomatic mission” led by an Ambassador.
Since 2006, France has actively and repeatedly publicly stressed the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran and worked with the U.S. and other members of the P5+1 group (China, Russia, the U.K., the U.S., and Germany) to demand that Iran end its enrichment-related and preprocessing activities. In June 2010 France actively supported and voted for UNSC Resolution (UNSCR) 1929 regarding sanctions on Iran, as a means to persuade Iran to live up to its international obligations. In May 2009, France opened its first permanent military base in the Gulf region, in the United Arab Emirates.
France continues to play an important role in Africa, especially in its former colonies, through aid programs, commercial activities, military agreements, and cultural impact. The Sarkozy government announced a change in its sub-Saharan African policy shortly after it came to power, intending to modernize and rationalize relations in a future-oriented manner. The French military presence in Africa has been diminishing, with an increased emphasis on cooperating with Africa's sub-regional organizations such as Southern African Development Community (SADC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). France closed its former military base in Cote d’Ivoire and downsized its base in Senegal, while maintaining its bases in Gabon and Djibouti and its long-term deployment in Chad. Despite these reductions in its military presence, France is likely to continue to play an important role in promoting stability in the region. French support to the Government of Chad was crucial in 2008 in fending off a rebel attack, and in 2007, France played a leading role in the EU's formation of a peacekeeping mission in Chad and the Central African Republic designed to complement international efforts in Sudan and Darfur. France played an important role in ensuring a transition to democracy in Guinea in 2010. It was a leading member of the international community's efforts to support the United Nations and to give effect to 2010 elections in Cote d'Ivoire, which culminated in the entry into office of democratically elected President Alassane Ouattara in April 2011; Ouattara was formally inaugurated in May.
Beginning in Tunisia in December 2010, massive protests demanding democratic reform gave rise to a wave of movements in other countries known as the “Arab Spring” in 2011, trends that Foreign Minister Juppe called “irreversible,” saying the situation offered “an excellent opportunity that we should not be afraid of.” Uprisings in Libya against Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi resulted in a state-sponsored campaign of brutal and deadly repression against Libya’s own citizens. President Sarkozy strongly condemned these actions and called for Qadhafi to step aside. On February 23, Sarkozy suspended all economic and financial relations with Libya. March 17, 2011 marked the beginning of the UN-sanctioned no-fly zone in Libya. France played a leading role in the international coalition operations against Qadhafi’s ground forces and the enforcement of the no-fly zone.
France has extensive political and commercial relations with Asian countries, including those of Southeast Asia, China, and Japan, as well as an increasing presence in regional forums. It has strong links to Vietnam, a former French colony, and there is a large Vietnamese community in Paris. The country was an architect of the 1991 Paris Accords, which ended the conflict in Cambodia. France is seeking to broaden its commercial presence in China and will pose a competitive challenge to U.S. business, particularly in aerospace, high-tech, and luxury markets. France has strong trade relations and good overall ties with Japan. Japan often looks to France for support in areas such as North Korean denuclearization, relations with China, and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Maintaining close contact with the French also allows Japan a better understanding of Africa, where France has a much larger presence.
The Government of France responded quickly to the 2011 Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster diplomatically, financially, and with humanitarian aid. France led the call for a meeting of G-7 central bankers and finance ministers to discuss how to provide financial and monetary support to Japan, mainly through buying Japanese bonds. President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon established a working group for Japan with senior ministers, nuclear agencies, and nuclear industry representatives to determine how best to respond to the crisis and assist with recovery. Additionally, Government of France-controlled utility provider Electricite de France sent advanced, post-Chernobyl-designed robots to Japan to help monitor radiation, remove wreckage, and perform other tasks related to post-disaster relief.
French military doctrine is based on the concepts of national independence, nuclear deterrence, and military sufficiency. France released a white paper on defense in June 2008 that assessed foreign and domestic defense and security issues. The white paper was intended to provide a comprehensive security strategy for the next 25 years, reflecting a changed 21st century security environment, and to outline restructuring proposals to make the French military more flexible, technologically advanced, and better able to coordinate with allies such as the U.S. and multilateral organizations such as the EU, NATO, and the UN. Consistent with the white paper, France has undertaken a major restructuring to develop a professional military that will be smaller, more rapidly deployable, and better tailored for operations outside of mainland France. Key elements of the restructuring include reducing personnel, bases, and headquarters and rationalizing equipment and the armament industry. French military planners will update the white paper for 2012 to include strategies to protect French capabilities in space and a possible increase in French deployments in Asia and Africa. French active-duty military number about 350,000 (including Gendarmes). France completed the move to all-professional armed forces when conscription ended on December 31, 2002.
France is a founding member of NATO and has worked actively with Allies to adapt NATO, internally and externally, to the post-Cold War environment. In 1966, de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO's military bodies, although France remained a full participant in the alliance's political councils. In December 1995, France partially reversed this decision by increasing its participation in NATO's military wing, including the Military Committee. In April 2009, Sarkozy completed the process by announcing that France would once again rejoin the NATO integrated military command in Brussels. A transition of 900 French officers and over 1,200 personnel to NATO command in Brussels began soon thereafter, with plans to finish by 2015. The French reintegration was welcomed by President Barack Obama, who said that the “principle that European security was American security and vice versa” would be upheld by France’s decision.
At the November 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon, allies agreed to develop a more streamlined command structure, increase cyber security, develop missile defense in collaboration with Russia, and remain a nuclear alliance as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world. France strongly advocated the last point. France's nuclear deterrent is a core part of its own strategic posture. The country is a supporter of missile defense, seeing it as a complement to an independent nuclear deterrent.
France places a high priority on arms control and non-proliferation. After conducting a final series of six nuclear tests, the French signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996 and in March 2009 agreed on compensation for victims of French nuclear tests. The country has implemented a moratorium on the production, export, and use of anti-personnel landmines and supports negotiations leading toward a universal ban. It is an active participant in the major supplier regimes designed to restrict transfer of technologies that could lead to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction: the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Australia Group (for chemical and biological weapons), the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Missile Technology Control Regime. France participates actively in the Proliferation Security Initiative, and is engaged with the U.S., both bilaterally and at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), to curb nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) proliferation. It has joined with the U.S., Germany, and the other three permanent members of the UN Security Council to offer a package of incentives and disincentives to Iran to halt its uranium enrichment activities. France was a significant participant in seeking adoption of UNSCR 1929 calling for Iran to immediately cooperate with the IAEA on all outstanding issues related to a possible military use of its nuclear program by granting unrestricted access to all sites, persons, equipment, and documents requested by the IAEA. France continues to play an important role in the P5+1 process to encourage Iran to address the concerns of the international community regarding Tehran’s nuclear program. It has also signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention and participates in an international effort to locate and dispose of lingering chemical weapons stockpiles in post-Qadhafi Libya.
France has actively and heavily participated in a variety of peacekeeping/coalition efforts in the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans, often taking the lead in these operations. It had about 3,800 troops participating in operations in Afghanistan as of late 2011. The French commitment includes ground troops and air assets. French forces also participate in UN peacekeeping operations in Lebanon, West Africa, and elsewhere. The country remains a firm supporter of the OSCE and other efforts at cooperation.
France is actively engaged with the UN Security Council Counterterrorism Committee, the G-8’s Counterterrorism Action Group, the UNSCR 1267 Sanctions Committee (for the Taliban and al-Qa'ida), and the European Council’s Antiterrorism Strategy action plan. It is an original member of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and has continued to participate actively. France has remained a member of, and contributor to, the Container Security Initiative. As a Visa Waiver Program country, it continues to upgrade passports to the biometric standard and has held multiple talks with the Department of Homeland Security on data-sharing via the Terrorist Screening Center. The French Government has undertaken several counterterrorism operations with other countries, including the U.K., Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Spain. French citizens taken hostage in recent years by Al Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) include a groom and his best man who were taken at gunpoint from a bar in Niamey, Niger on January 9, 2011 and executed during a chase and gunfight with French Special Forces and the Nigerien military. As of October 2011, AQIM continued to hold hostage four French citizens captured in September 2010 in Arlit, Niger. The demands of AQIM in return for the hostages included 90 million euros (about $130 million), the release of several AQIM members from custody, and the removal of French troops from Afghanistan. French citizens also have encountered trouble off the coast of Somalia, including the April 2009 pirate attack on a French yacht, resulting in the death of one French citizen during a successful rescue attempt by the French navy. Al-Qa'ida's Osama bin Laden issued a fatwah in October 2010 specifically targeting France over its forces in Afghanistan and its law against burqas; bin Laden died in May 2011.
Relations between the United States and France are active and friendly. Mutual visits by high-level officials are conducted frequently. Bilateral contact at the cabinet level has traditionally been active. France and the United States share common values and have parallel policies on most political, economic, and security issues. Differences are discussed frankly and have not generally been allowed to impair the pattern of close cooperation that characterizes relations between the two countries.
France is one of NATO's top five troop contributors. The French support NATO modernization efforts and are leading contributors to the NATO Response Force (NRF). France is keen to build European defense capabilities, including through the development of EU battle-group sized force packages and joint European military production initiatives. President Sarkozy supports development of a European defense that complements and reinforces NATO, which remains at the core of transatlantic security. The President has underscored the French commitment to complete NATO's mission in Afghanistan, where about 3,800 French troops served as of November 2011. Sarkozy announced in July 2011 that 1,000 troops would return to France by the end of 2012 and that France remained committed to successfully transitioning security responsibility to Afghan forces in Surobi and Kapisa by 2014 and to remaining engaged in Afghanistan post-2014.
France is a close partner with the U.S. in counterterrorism efforts. It cooperates with the U.S. to monitor and disrupt terrorist groups and has processed numerous U.S. requests for information under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. French intelligence and security officials continue to actively investigate and prosecute cases of extremism. The French judiciary in December 2007 tried and convicted five French former Guantanamo detainees on terrorism charges. France is a strong partner in multiple non-proliferation fora and is a key participant in the Proliferation Security Initiative. As one of the P5+1 powers and as a leader of the EU, France is working to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The U.S. and France continue to cooperate closely on many issues, most notably in combating terrorism, efforts to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and on regional problems, including in Africa, Lebanon, and Kosovo. On Iraq, the French agreed to generous debt relief for Iraq in Paris Club negotiations and accepted the establishment of a NATO training mission there. President Sarkozy traveled to Baghdad in February 2009, turning the page in France’s relations with Iraq. Since President Sarkozy’s election in 2007, France has provided military trainers for the Iraqi army.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, France fully supports U.S. engagement in the peace process. President Sarkozy has repeatedly emphasized his admiration of Israel and support for its security balanced with calls for Israel's full respect of commitments under the Middle East roadmap with respect to settlements and restrictions on Palestinian movement within the occupied territories. President Sarkozy was active in developing a cease-fire during the Gaza fighting at the end of 2008. He continues to stress the importance of increased effort to secure a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The U.S. and France have worked closely to support a sovereign and independent Lebanon, free from Syrian domination. The U.S. and France co-sponsored in September 2004 UNSCR 1559, which called for full withdrawal of Syrian forces, a free and fair electoral process, and disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. In the wake of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005, the U.S. and France reiterated calls for a full, immediate withdrawal of all Syrian troops and security services from Lebanon. France also co-sponsored UNSCR 1701 and was one of the leading countries in Europe working to end hostilities between Israel and Hizballah in 2006 by committing 2,000 troops to UNIFIL-plus. Strong French backing led to adoption of UNSCR 1757 establishing a Special Tribunal for Lebanon to prosecute the perpetrators of the Hariri assassination and other killings of critics of Syria's interference in Lebanon. French efforts in Lebanon are focused on maintaining stability and promoting national reconciliation consistent with relevant UNSCRs. President Sarkozy's decision to pursue a rapprochement with Syria following the Doha accord to end fighting in Lebanon in 2008 was also reportedly contingent upon good-faith Syrian efforts to normalize relations with Lebanon; the two exchanged ambassadors in 2009. Beginning in early 2011, France has condemned the killings of pro-democracy protesters in Syria and urged the Syrian Government to introduce political reforms.
Trade and investment between the U.S. and France are strong. On average, over $1 billion in commercial transactions including sales of U.S. and French foreign affiliates take place every day, with the U.S. being France's eighth-ranked supplier and its eighth-largest customer. France ranks as the United States' eighth-largest trading partner for total goods (imports and exports). There are approximately 2,300 French subsidiaries in the U.S. that provide more than 598,000 jobs and that generate an estimated $306 billion in turnover. The U.S. is the top destination for French investments worldwide. Concurrently, the U.S. is the largest foreign investor in France, employing over 650,000 French citizens with aggregate investment estimated at $86 billion in 2009.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Charles H. Rivkin
Deputy Chief of Mission--Mark Taplin
Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs--Jonathan Cohen
Minister-Counselor for Economic Affairs--Wendela Moore
Minister-Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Daniel Harris
Minister-Counselor for Consular Affairs--Lisa Piascik
Minister-Counselor for Management Affairs--Patrick Truhn
Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs--Philip Breeden
Minister-Counselor for Agricultural Affairs--Daryl Brehm
Defense Attache--Col. Thomas B. Sweeney
Counselor for Scientific and Technological Affairs--Candy Green
Consulate General, Marseille--Diane Kelly
Consulate General, Strasbourg--Evan Reade
Consul, APP Lyon--Mark Schapiro
Consul, APP Toulouse--Matthew Purl
Consul, APP Rennes--Robert Tate
Consul, APP Bordeaux--Joel Maybury
Consul, VPP Lille--Jeffrey Hawkins
The U.S. Embassy in France is located at 2 Avenue Gabriel, Paris 8 (tel.  (1) 4312-2222). The United States also is represented in Paris by its mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).