France (02/03)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


French Republic

Area: 551,670 sq. km. (220,668 sq. mi.); largest west European country, about four-fifths the size of Texas.
Cities: Capital--Paris. Other cities--Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nice, Rennes, Lille, Bordeaux.
Terrain: Varied.
Climate: Temperate; similar to that of the eastern U.S.

Nationality: Adjective--French.
Population (June 2002 est.): 59.3 million.
Annual growth rate (2001): 0.37%.
Ethnic groups: Celtic and Latin with Teutonic, Slavic, North African, Sub-Saharan African, Indochinese, and Basque minorities.
Religion: Roman Catholic 90%.
Language: French.
Education: Years compulsory--10. Literacy--99%. Health: Infant mortality rate--4.46/1,000.
Work force (25 million): Services--71%; industry and commerce--26%; agriculture--3%.

Type: Republic.
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). Four overseas departments (Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, and Reunion); five overseas territories (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna Islands, and French Southern and Antarctic Territories); and two special status territories (Mayotte and St. Pierre and Miquelon).
Political parties: Union for a Popular Majority (UMP) [a new coalition of center-right parties, among which are Rally for the Republic (Gaullists/conservatives) and Liberal Democracy]; Union for French Democracy (a center-right conglomerate of smaller parties); Socialist Party; Communist Party; National Front; Greens; various minor parties. Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Flag: flag of france

GDP (2001): $1.3 trillion.
Avg. annual growth rate (2001): 1.8%.
Per capita GDP: $22,500.
Agriculture: Products--grains (wheat, barley, corn); wines and spirits; dairy products; sugarbeets; oilseeds; meat and poultry; fruits and vegetables.
Industry: Types--aircraft, electronics, transportation, textiles, clothing, food processing, chemicals, machinery, steel.
Trade (est.): Exports (2001)--$349.49 billion: aircraft, automobile spare parts, pharmaceuticals, electronic components, wine, electricity. Imports (2001)--$345.95 billion: crude oil, automobiles and automobile spare parts, natural gas, pharmaceuticals, electronics, aircraft spare parts. Major trading partners--EU, U.S., Japan.

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. About 90% of the people are Roman Catholic, 7% Muslim, less than 2% Protestant, and about 1% Jewish. More than 1 million Muslims immigrated in the 1960s and early 1970s from North Africa, especially Algeria. In mid-2002, there were between 4 and 6 million persons of Arab 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, such as the post-graduate Grandes Ecoles.

The French language derives from the vernacular Latin spoken by the Romans in Gaul, although it includes many Celtic and Germanic words. French has been an international language for centuries and is a common second language throughout the world. It is one of five official languages at the United Nations. In Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the West Indies, French has been a unifying factor, particularly in those countries where it serves as the only common language among a variety of indigenous languages and dialects.

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 materiel. 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 occupied in June 1940. The German victory left the French groping for a new policy and new leadership suited to the circumstances. On July 10, 1940, the Vichy government was established. Its senior leaders acquiesced in the plunder of French resources, as well as the sending of French forced labor to Germany; in doing so, they claimed they hoped to preserve at least some small amount of French sovereignty.

The German occupation proved quite costly, however, as a full one-half of France's public sector revenue was appropriated by Germany. After 4 years of occupation and strife, Allied forces liberated France in 1944. A bitter legacy carries over to the present day.

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. The mixed nature of the coalitions and a consequent lack of agreement on measures for dealing with Indochina and Algeria 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 in the divisive Algerian issue. A threatened coup led the Parliament to call on General de Gaulle to head the government and prevent civil war. He became prime minister in June 1958 (at the beginning of the Fifth Republic) and was elected president in December of that year.

Seven years later, in an occasion marking the first time in the 20th century that 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 Fran�ois 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 Fran�ois Mitterrand (1981-95), and neo-Gaullist Jacques Chirac (first elected in spring 1995 and reelected in 2002.

While France continues to revere its rich history and independence, French leaders are increasingly tying the future of France to the continued development of the European Union. During President Mitterrand's tenure, he 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 September 1992. President Jacques Chirac assumed office May 17, 1995, after a campaign focused on the need to combat France's stubbornly high unemployment rate.

The center of domestic attention soon shifted, however, to the economic reform and belt-tightening measures required for France to meet the criteria for Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) laid out by the Maastricht Treaty. In late 1995, France experienced its worst labor unrest in at least a decade, as employees protested government cutbacks. On the foreign and security policy front, Chirac took a more assertive approach to protecting French peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia and helped promote the peace accords negotiated in Dayton and signed in Paris in December 1995. The French have been one of the strongest supporters of NATO and EU policy in Kosovo and the Balkans. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the U.S., France played a central role in the war on terrorism. French forces, including the Charles de Gaulle carrier battle group, participated in Operation Enduring Freedom. French troops also took part in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan. See Political Conditions for most recent election.

The constitution of the Fifth Republic was approved by public referendum on September 28, 1958. It greatly strengthened the authority of the executive in relation to Parliament. Under the constitution, presidents have been elected directly for a 7-year term since 1958. Beginning in 2002, the term of office is now 5 years. Presidential arbitration assures regular functioning of the public powers and the continuity of the state. The president names the prime minister, presides over the cabinet, commands the armed forces, and concludes treaties.

The president may submit questions to a national referendum and can dissolve the National Assembly. In certain emergency situations, the president may assume full powers. Besides the president, the other main component of France's executive branch is the cabinet. 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. Parliament meets for one 9-month session each year. Under special circumstances an additional session can be called by the president.

Although parliamentary powers are diminished from those existing under the Fourth Republic, 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 for 9-year terms, and one-third of the Senate is renewed every 3 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. 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 most distinctive feature of the French judicial system is that it is divided into the Constitutional Council and the Council of 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, decisionmaking 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
President--Jacques Chirac
Prime Minister--Jean-Pierre Raffarin
Ambassador to the United States--Jean-David Levitte
Ambassador to the United Nations--Jean-Marc Rochereau de la Sabli�re

France maintains an embassy in the U.S. at 4101 Reservoir Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-944-6000).

President Jacques Chirac and his center-right coalition won the May 2002 elections. Chirac was first elected in 1995, with an absolute majority in the National Assembly (470 out of 577 seats). During his first 2 years in office President Chirac's prime minister was Alain Jupp�, who served contemporaneously as leader of Chirac's neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR) Party. However, during the legislative elections of 1997, the left won a majority in the Assembly, and Jupp� was subsequently replaced by Socialist Lionel Jospin. This right-left "cohabitation" arrangement, which ended with Jospin's resignation following his defeat in the first round of the May 2002 presidential elections, was the longest lasting in the history of the Fifth Republic.

During Chirac's first incumbency, a referendum was passed changing the presidential term of office from 7 to 5 years. This change means that, henceforth, presidential and legislative elections could take place at nearly the same time. As expected, in the second round of the presidential election on May 5th, 2002, Jacques Chirac comfortably defeated Jean-Marie Le Pen, a veteran leader of the far-right National Front. Mr. Chirac won the second round by the largest margin (82% to 19%) ever recorded in the second round of a French presidential election; at the same time, abstention reached a record level of 20%.

The ensuing legislative elections proved to be a victory for the center-right and a reversal of the 1997 elections. The center-right coalition party led by both Chirac and a resurgent Jupp�--Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP)--won 399 out of 577 seats in the National Assembly, thereby securing for Chirac and his party a majority in the government. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, whom Chirac had named as interim Prime Minister in May, was confirmed. Meanwhile, the combined left, which had previously held 320 seats, took only 178, including 154 for the Socialists (PS), 21 for the Communists (PCF), and three for the Greens. The extreme-right National Front, despite the second-place finish of its leader Le Pen in the April/May presidential election, won no seats. Abstention at 39% set a new record. The UMP was rechristened the Union for a Popular Movement following the legislative elections.

During the election campaign, President Chirac's team made pledges on reforms which could diminish the high level of overall structural unemployment. Experts also have called on France to reduce government spending, the budget deficit, and public debt, and to allow flexibility in the implementation of the 35-hour work week. Mounting pressure for short- and long-term reforms include more labor-market flexibility, less taxation, and an improved business climate, including further privatization and liberalization. French and EU analysts stress that longer term measures must focus on reducing the future burden of ballooning public pension and health care budgets.

With a GDP of $1.3 trillion, France is the fourth-largest Western industrialized 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 (72% in 1997) and is responsible for nearly all job creation in recent years. GDP growth was 1.8% in 2001, after 3 years at 3% or above.

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. The Government of France successfully reduced an unemployment rate of 12% to 9%, recently. France joined 10 other European Union countries in adopting the euro as its currency in January 1999. 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. Henceforth, monetary policy will be set by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

Despite significant reform and privatization over the past 15 years, the government continues to control a large share of economic activity: Government spending, at 52.7% of GDP in 2001, is among the highest in the G-7. Regulation of labor and product markets is pervasive. The government continues to own shares in corporations in a range of sectors, including banking, energy production and distribution, automobiles, transportation, and telecommunications.

Legislation passed in 1998 shortened the legal work week from 39 to 35 hours for most employees effective January 1, 2000. A key objective of the legislation was to encourage job creation, for which significant new subsidies were made available. It is difficult to assess the impact of work week reduction on growth and jobs since many of the key economic parameters, such as the impact on labor costs and a company's ability to reorganize work schedules, depend on the outcome of labor-management negotiations that are ongoing.

France has been very successful in developing dynamic telecommunications, aerospace, and weapons sectors. 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. Nuclear waste is stored on site at reprocessing facilities.

Membership in France's labor unions accounts for less than 10% 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).

France is the second-largest trading nation in western Europe (after Germany). After experiencing a modest deficit in its foreign trade balance in 2000, France enjoyed a $3.54 billion surplus in 2001. Total trade for 2001 amounted to $695.44 billion, or nearly 50% of GDP. Trade with EU countries accounts for 60% of French trade.

In 2000, U.S.-France trade in goods and services totaled almost $75 billion. According to French trade data, U.S. exports accounted for 8.7%--about $25 billion--of France's total imports. U.S. industrial chemicals, aircraft and engines, electronic components, telecommunications, computer software, computers and peripherals, analytical and scientific instrumentation, medical instruments and supplies, broadcasting equipment, and programming and franchising 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 ninth-largest trading partner of the United States.

France is the European Union's leading agricultural producer, accounting for about one-third of all agricultural land within the EU. Northern France is characterized by large wheat farms. Dairy products, pork, poultry, and apple production are concentrated in the western region. Beef production is located in central France, while the production of fruits, vegetables, and wine ranges from central to southern France. France is a large producer of many agricultural products and is expanding its forestry and fishery industries. The implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Uruguay Round of the GATT Agreement resulted in reforms in the agricultural sector of the economy. Continued revision of the CAP and potential reforms under a still to-be-negotiated Doha round of WTO may further change French agriculture.

France is the world's second-largest agricultural producer, after the United States. However, the destination of 70% of its exports is other EU member states. Wheat, beef, pork, poultry, and dairy products are the principal exports. The United States, although the second-largest exporter to France, faces stiff competition from domestic production, other EU member states, and third countries. U.S. agricultural exports to France, totaling some $600 million annually, consist primarily of soybeans and products, feeds and fodders, seafood, and consumer oriented products, especially snack foods and nuts. French agricultural exports to the United States are mainly cheese, processed products, and wine. They amount to more than $900 million annually.

A charter member of the United Nations, France holds one of the permanent seats in the Security Council and is a member of most of its specialized and related agencies.

France is a leader in western Europe because of its size, location, strong 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 European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI) as the foundation of efforts to enhance European security.

Middle East
France supports the Middle East peace process as revitalized by the 1991 Madrid peace conference. In this context, France backed the establishment of a Palestinian state and the withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territories. Recognizing the need for a comprehensive peace agreement, France supports the involvement of all Arab parties and Israel in a multilateral peace process. France has been active in promoting a regional economic dialogue and has played an active role in providing assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

France plays a significant role in Africa, especially in its former colonies, through extensive aid programs, commercial activities, military agreements, and cultural impact. In those former colonies where the French presence remains important, France contributes to political, military, and social stability.

France has extensive political and commercial relations with Asian countries, including China, Japan, and Southeast Asia as well as an increasing presence in regional fora. 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. In Southeast Asia, France was an architect of the Paris Accords, which ended the conflict in Cambodia.

Latin America
France supports strengthening democratic institutions in Latin America. It endorses the ongoing efforts to restore democracy to Haiti and seeks to expand its trade relations with all of Latin America.

Security Issues
French military doctrine is based on the concepts of national independence, nuclear deterrence, and military sufficiency. France is a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and has worked actively with Allies to adapt NATO--internally and externally--to the post-Cold War environment. In December 1995, France announced that it would increase its participation in NATO's military wing, including the Military Committee (the French withdrew from NATO's military bodies in 1966 while remaining full participants in the alliance's political councils). France remains a firm supporter of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other efforts at cooperation.

Outside of NATO, France has actively and heavily participated in recent peacekeeping/coalition efforts in Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans, often taking the lead in these operations. 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 active-duty military at the beginning of 2001 numbered about 446,000, of which nearly 35,000 were assigned outside of metropolitan France. France completed the move to all-professional armed forces when conscription ended on December 31, 2001.

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. France has implemented a moratorium on the production, export, and use of anti-personnel landmines and supports negotiations leading toward a universal ban. The French are key players in the adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe to the new strategic environment.

France 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, and the Missile Technology Control Regime. France has signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Relations between the United States and France are active and cordial. 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 been allowed to impair the pattern of close cooperation that characterizes relations between the two countries.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Howard H. Leach
Deputy Chief of Mission--Alejandro D. Wolff
Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs--Sharon A. Wiener
Minister-Counselor for Economic Affairs--Thomas J. White
Minister-Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Robert Kohn
Minister-Counselor for Consular Affairs--Donald Wells
Minister-Counselor for Administrative Affairs--Howard (Kerry) Wiener
Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs---Renee Earle
Defense Attache--General Felix Dupre
Counselor for Scientific and Technological Affairs--Raymond Clore

Consuls General
Consulate General, Marseille--Leslie McBee
Consulate General, Strasbourg--Christopher Davis
Consul, APP Lyon--Scott Thompson
Consul, APP Toulouse--Laurie Farris
Consul, APP Rennes--Gary Clements
Consul, APP Bordeaux--Nancy Cooper
Consul, APP Lille--Katherine Koch

The U.S. Embassy in France is located at 2 Avenue Gabriel, Paris 8 (tel. [33] (1) 4312-2222). The United States also is represented in Paris by its mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).