Historical facts and information: the history of France

Facts and information about the history of France, including stats about the government, climate, geography, population, economy and culture.


Background: Although ultimately a victor in World Wars I and II, France lost many men, much wealth, its extensive empire, and its rank as a dominant nation-state. France has struggled since 1958—arguably with success—to construct a presidential democracy resistant to the severe instabilities inherent in the parliamentary democracy of early 20th century France. In recent years, its reconciliation and cooperation with Germany have proved central to the economic integration of Europe, including the advent of the euro in January 1999.


Location: Western Europe, bordering the Bay of Biscay and English Channel, between Belgium and Spain southeast of the UK; bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Italy and Spain

Geographic coordinates: 46 00 N, 2 00 E

Map references: Europe


total: 547,030 sq km

land: 545,630 sq km

water: 1,400 sq km

note: includes only metropolitan France, but excludes the overseas administrative divisions

Area—comparative: slightly less than twice the size of Colorado

Land boundaries:

total: 2,892.4 km

border countries: Andorra 60 km, Belgium 620 km, Germany 451 km, Italy 488 km, Luxembourg 73 km, Monaco 4.4 km, Spain 623 km, Switzerland 573 km

Coastline: 3,427 km

Maritime claims:

contiguous zone: 24 nm

continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm (does not apply to the Mediterranean)

territorial sea: 12 nm

Climate: generally cool winters and mild summers, but mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean

Terrain: mostly flat plains or gently rolling hills in north and west; remainder is mountainous, especially Pyrenees in south, Alps in east

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Rhone River delta -2 m

highest point: Mont Blanc 4,807 m

Natural resources: coal, iron ore, bauxite, fish, timber, zinc, potash

Land use:

arable land: 33%

permanent crops: 2%

permanent pastures: 20%

forests and woodland: 27%

other: 18% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 16,300 sq km (1995 est.)

Natural hazards: flooding; avalanches

Environment—current issues: some forest damage from acid rain; air pollution from industrial and vehicle emissions; water pollution from urban wastes, agricultural runoff

Environment—international agreements:

party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulphur 85, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling

signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol

Geography—note: largest West European nation; occasional strong, cold, dry, north-to-northwesterly wind known as mistral


Population: 58,978,172 (July 1999 est.)

Age structure:

0-14 years: 19% (male 5,638,462; female 5,375,911)

15-64 years: 65% (male 19,302,121; female 19,235,235)

65 years and over: 16% (male 3,825,232; female 5,601,211) (1999 est.)

Population growth rate: 0.27% (1999 est.)

Birth rate: 11.38 births/1,000 population (1999 est.)

Death rate: 9.17 deaths/1,000 population (1999 est.)

Net migration rate: 0.53 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1999 est.)

Sex ratio:

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 1 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.68 male(s)/female

total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (1999 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 5.62 deaths/1,000 live births (1999 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:

total population: 78.63 years

male: 74.76 years

female: 82.71 years (1999 est.)

Total fertility rate: 1.61 children born/woman (1999 est.)


noun: Frenchman(men), Frenchwoman(women)

adjective: French

Ethnic groups: Celtic and Latin with Teutonic, Slavic, North African, Indochinese, Basque minorities

Religions: Roman Catholic 90%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim (North African workers) 1%, unaffiliated 6%

Languages: French 100%, rapidly declining regional dialects and languages (Provencal, Breton, Alsatian, Corsican, Catalan, Basque, Flemish)


definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 99%

male: 99%

female: 99% (1980 est.)


Country name:

conventional long form: French Republic

conventional short form: France

local long form: Republique Francaise

local short form: France

Data code: FR

Government type: republic

Capital: Paris

Administrative divisions: 22 regions (regions, singular—region); Alsace, Aquitaine, Auvergne, Basse-Normandie, Bourgogne, Bretagne, Centre, Champagne-Ardenne, Corse, Franche-Comte, Haute-Normandie, Ile-de-France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Limousin, Lorraine, Midi-Pyrenees, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Pays de la Loire, Picardie, Poitou-Charentes, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, Rhone-Alpes

note: metropolitan France is divided into 22 regions (including the "territorial collectivity" of Corse or Corsica) and is subdivided into 96 departments; see separate entries for the overseas departments (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion) and the overseas territorial collectivities (Mayotte, Saint Pierre and Miquelon)

Dependent areas: Bassas da India, Clipperton Island, Europa Island, French Polynesia, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, Glorioso Islands, Juan de Nova Island, New Caledonia, Tromelin Island, Wallis and Futuna

note: the US does not recognize claims to Antarctica

Independence: 486 (unified by Clovis)

National holiday: National Day, Taking of the Bastille, 14 July (1789)

Constitution: 28 September 1958, amended concerning election of president in 1962, amended to comply with provisions of EC Maastricht Treaty in 1992; amended to tighten immigration laws 1993

Legal system: civil law system with indigenous concepts; review of administrative but not legislative acts

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Executive branch:

chief of state: President Jacques CHIRAC (since 17 May 1995)

head of government: Prime Minister Lionel JOSPIN (since 3 June 1997)

cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president on the suggestion of the prime minister

elections: president elected by popular vote for a seven-year term; election last held 23 April and 7 May 1995 (next to be held by May 2002); prime minister nominated by the National Assembly majority and appointed by the president

election results: Jacques CHIRAC elected president; percent of vote, second ballot—Jacques CHIRAC 52.64%, Lionel JOSPIN 47.36%

Legislative branch: bicameral Parliament or Parlement consists of the Senate or Senat (321 seats—296 for metropolitan France, 13 for overseas departments and territories, and 12 for French nationals abroad; members are indirectly elected by an electoral college to serve nine-year terms; elected by thirds every three years) and the National Assembly or Assemblee Nationale (577 seats; members are elected by popular vote under a single-member majoritarian system to serve five-year terms)

elections: Senate—last held 27 September 1998 (next to be held September 2001); National Assembly—last held 25 May-1 June 1997 (next to be held NA May 2002)

election results: Senate—percent of vote by party—NA; seats by party—RPR 99, Centrist Union 52, Republicans and independents 47, PS 78, PCF 16, other 29; National Assembly—percent of vote by party—NA; seats by party—PS 245, RPR 140, UDF 109, PCF 37, PRS 13, Ecologists 8, MDC 7, LDI-MPF 1, FN 1, various left 9, various right 7

Judicial branch: Supreme Court of Appeals or Cour de Cassation, judges are appointed by the president from nominations of the High Council of the Judiciary; Constitutional Council or Conseil Constitutionnel, three members appointed by the president, three members appointed by the president of the National Assembly, and three appointed by the president of the Senate; Council of State or Conseil d'Etat

Political parties and leaders: Rally for the Republic or RPR [Philippe SEGUIN]; Union for French Democracy or UDF (coalition of PR, FD, RAD, PPDF) [Francois BAYROU]; Parti Republican or PR [Alain MADELIN]; Democratic Force or FD [leader NA]; Socialist Party or PS [Francois HOLLANDE]; Communist Party or PCF [Robert HUE]; National Front or FN [Jean-Marie LE PEN]; The Greens [Jean-Luc BENNAHMIAS]; Generation Ecology or GE [Brice LALONDE]; Citizens Movement or MDC [Jean Pierre CHEVENEMENT]; National Center of Independents and Peasants or CNIP [Oliver d'ORMESSON]; Radical Socialist Party or PRS (previously the Left Radical Movement or MRG) [Jean-Michel BAYLET]; Movement for France or LDI-MPF [Philippe DEVILLIERS]; Mouvement des Reformateurs [Jean-Pierre SOISSON]; Mouvement Ecologiste Independant [Jenevieve ANDUEZA]; Parti Populaire Pour la Democratie Francaise or PPDF [Herve de CHARETTE]; Parti Radical [Thierry CORNILLET]; Adherents Directs [Pierre-Andre WILTZER]; Centrist Union [leader NA]; Republican Party [leader NA]; La Droite [Charles MILLON]; National Front-National Movement [Bruno MEGRET]

Political pressure groups and leaders: Communist-controlled labor union (Confederation Generale du Travail) or CGT, nearly 2.4 million members (claimed); Socialist-leaning labor union (Confederation Francaise Democratique du Travail) or CFDT, about 800,000 members (est.); independent labor union or Force Ouvriere, 1 million members (est.); independent white-collar union or Confederation Generale des Cadres, 340,000 members (claimed); National Council of French Employers (Conseil National du Patronat Francais) or CNPF or Patronat


Diplomatic representation in the US:

chief of mission: Ambassador Francois V. BUJON DE L'ESTANG

chancery: 4101 Reservoir Road NW, Washington, DC 20007

telephone: [1] (202) 944-6000

FAX: [1] (202) 944-6166

consulate(s) general: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco

Diplomatic representation from the US:

chief of mission: Ambassador Felix G. ROHATYN

embassy: 2 Avenue Gabriel, 75382 Paris Cedex 08

mailing address: PSC 116, APO AE 09777

telephone: [33] (1) 43-12-22-22

FAX: [33] (1) 42 66 97 83

consulate(s) general: Marseille, Strasbourg

Flag description: three equal vertical bands of blue (hoist side), white, and red; known as the French Tricouleur (Tricolor); the design and colors are similar to a number of other flags, including those of Belgium, Chad, Ireland, Cote d'Ivoire, and Luxembourg; the official flag for all French dependent areas


Economy—overview: One of the four West European trillion-dollar economies, France matches a growing services sector with a diversified industrial base and substantial agricultural resources. Industry generates one-quarter of GDP and more than 80% of export earnings. The government retains considerable influence over key segments of each sector, with majority ownership of railway, electricity, aircraft, and telecommunication firms. It has been gradually relaxing its control over these sectors since the early 1990s. The government is slowly selling off its holdings in France Telecom, in Air France, and in the insurance, banking, and defense industries. Meanwhile, large tracts of fertile land, the application of modern technology, and subsidies have combined to make France the leading agricultural producer in Western Europe. A major exporter of wheat and dairy products, France is practically self-sufficient in agriculture. The economy expanded by 3% in 1998, following a 2.3% gain in 1997. Persistently high unemployment still poses a major problem for the government. France has shied away from cutting exceptionally generous social welfare benefits or the enormous state bureaucracy, preferring to pare defense spending and raise taxes to keep the deficit down. The JOSPIN administration has pledged both to lower unemployment and trim spending, pinning its hopes for new jobs on economic growth and on legislation to gradually reduce the workweek from 39 to 35 hours by 2002. France joined 10 other EU members to launch the euro on 1 January 1999.

GDP: purchasing power parity—$1.32 trillion (1998 est.)

GDP—real growth rate: 3% (1998 est.)

GDP—per capita: purchasing power parity—$22,600 (1998 est.)

GDP—composition by sector:

agriculture: 2.4%

industry: 28.4%

services: 69.2% (1997)

Population below poverty line: NA%

Household income or consumption by percentage share:

lowest 10%: 2.5%

highest 10%: 24.9% (1989)

Inflation rate (consumer prices): 0.7% (1998)

Labor force: 25.4 million

Labor force—by occupation: services 69%, industry 26%, agriculture 5% (1995)

Unemployment rate: 11.5% (1998)


revenues: $222 billion

expenditures: $265 billion, including capital expenditures of $NA (1998 est.)

Industries: steel, machinery, chemicals, automobiles, metallurgy, aircraft, electronics, mining, textiles, food processing, tourism

Industrial production growth rate: 3.9% (1998)

Electricity—production: 480.783 billion kWh (1996)

Electricity—production by source:

fossil fuel: 8.72%

hydro: 12.92%

nuclear: 78.25%

other: 0.11% (1996)

Electricity—consumption: 411.743 billion kWh (1996)

Electricity—exports: 72.64 billion kWh (1996)

Electricity—imports: 3.6 billion kWh (1996)

Agriculture—products: wheat, cereals, sugar beets, potatoes, wine grapes; beef, dairy products; fish

Exports: $289 billion (f.o.b., 1998)

Exports—commodities: machinery and transportation equipment, chemicals, foodstuffs, agricultural products, iron and steel products, textiles and clothing

Exports—partners: Germany 16%, UK 10%, Italy 9%, Spain 8%, Belgium-Luxembourg 8%, US 6.5%, Netherlands 4.5%, Japan 2%, Russia 0.9% (1997)

Imports: $255 billion (f.o.b., 1998)

Imports—commodities: crude oil, machinery and equipment, agricultural products, chemicals, iron and steel products

Imports—partners: Germany 17%, Italy 10%, US 9%, Belgium-Luxembourg 8%, UK 8%, Spain 7%, Netherlands 5%, Japan 3%, China 2.5% (1997)

Debt—external: $117.6 billion (1996 est.)

Economic aid—donor: ODA, $8.4 billion (1995)

Currency: 1 French franc (F) = 100 centimes

Exchange rates: French francs (F) per US$1—5.65 (January 1999), 5.8995 (1998), 5.8367 (1997), 5.1155 (1996), 4.9915 (1995), 5.5520 (1994)

note: on 1 January 1999, the European Union introduced a common currency that is now being used by financial institutions in some member countries at the rate of 0.8597 euros per US$ and a fixed rate of 6.55957 French francs per euro; the euro will replace the local currency in consenting countries for all transactions in 2002

Fiscal year: calendar year


Telephones: 35 million (1987 est.)

Telephone system: highly developed

domestic: extensive cable and microwave radio relay; extensive introduction of fiber-optic cable; domestic satellite system

international: satellite earth stations—2 Intelsat (with total of 5 antennas—2 for Indian Ocean and 3 for Atlantic Ocean), NA Eutelsat, 1 Inmarsat (Atlantic Ocean region); HF radiotelephone communications with more than 20 countries

Radio broadcast stations: AM 41, FM 800 (mostly repeaters), shortwave 0

Radios: 49 million (1993 est.)

Television broadcast stations: 310 (in addition, there are about 1,400 repeaters) (1997)

Televisions: 29.3 million (1993 est.)



total: 32,027 km ( 31,940 km are operated by French National Railways (SNCF); 13,803 km of SNCF routes are electrified and 12,132 km are double- or multiple-tracked)

standard gauge: 31,928 km 1.435-m gauge

narrow gauge: 99 km 1.000-m gauge

note: does not include 33 tourist railroads, totaling 469 km, many being of very narrow gauge (1996)


total: 892,900 km

paved: 892,900 km (including 9,900 km of expressways)

unpaved: 0 km (1997 est.)

Waterways: 14,932 km; 6,969 km heavily traveled

Pipelines: crude oil 3,059 km; petroleum products 4,487 km; natural gas 24,746 km

Ports and harbors: Bordeaux, Boulogne, Cherbourg, Dijon, Dunkerque, La Pallice, Le Havre, Lyon, Marseille, Mullhouse, Nantes, Paris, Rouen, Saint Nazaire, Saint Malo, Strasbourg

Merchant marine:

total: 64 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 1,826,364 GRT/2,962,338 DWT

ships by type: bulk 5, cargo 5, chemical tanker 6, combination bulk 1, container 6, liquefied gas tanker 4, multifunction large-load carrier 2, oil tanker 20, passenger 3, roll-on/roll-off cargo 5, short-sea passenger 6, specialized tanker 1

note: France also maintains a captive register for French-owned ships in Iles Kerguelen (French Southern and Antarctic Lands) (1998 est.)

Airports: 474 (1998 est.)

Airports—with paved runways:

total: 267

over 3,047 m: 13

2,438 to 3,047 m: 31

1,524 to 2,437 m: 94

914 to 1,523 m: 73

under 914 m: 56 (1998 est.)

Airports—with unpaved runways:

total: 207

1,524 to 2,437 m: 3

914 to 1,523 m: 75

under 914 m: 129 (1998 est.)

Heliports: 3 (1998 est.)


Military branches: Army (includes Marines), Navy (includes Naval Air), Air Force (includes Air Defense, National Gendarmerie

Military manpower—military age: 18 years of age

Military manpower—availability:

males age 15-49: 14,666,286 (1999 est.)

Military manpower—fit for military service:

males age 15-49: 12,203,675 (1999 est.)

Military manpower—reaching military age annually:

males: 411,911 (1999 est.)

Military expenditures—dollar figure: $39.831 billion (1997)

Military expenditures—percent of GDP: 2.5% (1995)

Transnational Issues

Disputes—international: Madagascar claims Bassas da India, Europa Island, Glorioso Islands, Juan de Nova Island, and Tromelin Island; Comoros claims Mayotte; Mauritius claims Tromelin Island; territorial dispute between Suriname and French Guiana; territorial claim in Antarctica (Adelie Land); Matthew and Hunter Islands east of New Caledonia claimed by France and Vanuatu

Illicit drugs: transshipment point for and consumer of South American cocaine and Southwest Asian heroin

*Information obtained from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Fact Book.

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