Fast Facts

Population:
60,742,000
Capital:
Paris; 9,854,000
Area:
543,965 square kilometers (210,026 square miles)
Language:
French
Religion:
Roman Catholic
Currency:
Euro
Life Expectancy:
79
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $26,000
Literacy Percent:
99
Flag: France
Map: France

Fertile plains cover two-thirds of France, which is the largest country in Western Europe. With more than half the land under cultivation, France leads the European Union in food exports. The mountain ranges are mostly in the south, including the Alps, Pyrenees, and Massif Central. Forests cover one-third of the land area in France and are a source of environmental and scenic wealth. The north is humid and cool, while the south is dry and warm. Favorable conditions for grape growing in the south make French wines world-renowned—and France the world's largest producer. The nation sets a fast pace in telecommunications, biotechnology, and aerospace industries. Sophia Antipolis, a booming high-tech complex on the Riviera, attracts scientists from throughout Europe. Coal and steel industries are concentrated in the northeast near major coalfields.

The government continues to play a large role in directing economic activity. The national road network is the world's densest, and the high-speed train (TGV) runs at speeds of 270 kilometers (167 miles) per hour or more. Both road and rail transport tourists, helping to make France the most visited country on Earth. Nuclear power, which supplies 80 percent of France's electricity, enjoys widespread support, in part because there is virtually no domestic oil. Government policies provide for a 35-hour workweek and five weeks of paid vacation annually.

Paris has long been France's cultural, political, and business epicenter. In the early 19th century Napoleon Bonaparte divided large, traditional provinces into small departments, which have since been regrouped into larger, regional units. Low turnout in the 2002 elections was interpreted as voter apathy due to the dominant influence of Paris. Amendments to the constitution, approved in 2003, give more political power to the country's 22 regions and 96 departments.

Heavy losses in both world wars bled France of labor, wealth, and prestige. After World War II, France's colonial subjects, from Algeria to Vietnam, struggled for independence. Immigration from France's former colonies, especially Algeria, contributes to some four million persons of Arab descent living in France today. An independent defense doctrine, launched by President Charles de Gaulle in 1966, has turned the nation into one of the world's largest arms suppliers. France maintains ties with its former colonies through aid, trade, and military pacts. The French have developed modern political ties with former colonies still under French administration. Overseas departments (officially part of France) with their own elected governments are French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Réunion. Territories with varying degrees of autonomy are French Polynesia, French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Mayotte, New Caledonia, St.-Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Machinery, chemicals, automobiles, metallurgy, aircraft, electronics, textile
  • Agriculture: Wheat, cereals, sugar beets, potatoes; beef; fish
  • Exports: Machinery and transportation equipment, aircraft, plastics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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