France is known the world over for its cuisine, fashion, culture and language. It is the most visited tourist destination in the world.
OFFICIAL NAME: French Republic
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Republic
OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: French
PRESIDENT: Francois Hollande
PRIME-MINISTER: Manuel Valls
AREA: 210,026 square miles (543,965 square kilometers)
MAJOR MOUNTAIN RANGES: Alps, Pyrenees, Massif Central
MAJOR RIVERS: Seine, Rhine, and Rhône
France, the largest country in Western Europe, has long been a gateway between the continent’s northern and southern regions. Its lengthy borders touch Germany and Belgium in the north; the Atlantic Ocean in the west; the Pyrenees Mountains and Spain in the south.
It also borders the Mediterranean Sea in the southeast; and the Alps, Switzerland, and Italy in the east. France has a very diverse landscape. There are beaches on the southeast coast, home to the French Riviera, and towering mountains in the south and east, including Europe’s tallest peak, Mont Blanc, which rises to 15,781 feet (4,810 meters) within the French Alps.
Wide fertile plains dominate most of the north and west, making France the agricultural epicenter of Europe. The sprawling, forested plateau of the Massif Central, a range of ancient mountains and extinct volcanoes, occupies France’s southern interior.
France has ample land area to provide habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals. More than 25 percent of its territory is covered with forest, and another 50 percent is countryside or farmland.
Lowland forests are home to deer and wild boar, while the woodlands of the Alps and Pyrenees provide refuge for rare chamois antelope, ibex, brown bears, and alpine hares, among many other species. The Mediterranean coastline is a stopover of millions of migrating African birds, including flamingos,vultures, egrets, and bee-eaters.
The French government has made a broad commitment to preserving open spaces and the wildlife they contain. About 10 percent of the country has been set aside as national or regional parklands and nature reserves.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
France is one of the oldest nations on Earth and the most ethnically diverse country in Europe. These deep and broad influences have made France a world leader throughout history in nearly all aspects of culture, including cuisine, wine-making, politics, philosophy, music, art, film, fashion, literature, and sports.
President: Francois Hollande
Francois Hollande beat the conservative incumbent, Nicolas
Sarkozy, in May 2012 to become France’s first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand held the post from 1981 to 1995.
Despite coming from his party’s moderate win, Mr Hollande campaigned on strongly left-wing proposals, including a 75% top income tax rate, 60,000 new teachers, and the renegotiation of the European Union fiscal growth pact.
His Socialists went on to win a comfortable majority in the June 2012 parliamentary elections.
Prime minister: Manuel Valls
Manuel Valls was appointed as prime minister by President Hollande in March 2014. He replaced Jean-Marc Ayrault, who resigned after the governing Socialist party suffered heavy losses in municipal elections.
The 51-year-old Mr Valls had served as interior minister since 2012 and opinion polls long suggested that he would be a popular choice for prime minister, though he leans to the right of most of his colleagues.
Some key dates in France’s history:
1789 – French Revolution ends rule of monarchy going back to 9th century; followed by establishment of the First Republic.
1804-1814 – Napoleon Bonaparte crowns himself emperor of First French Empire; series of military successes brings most of continental Europe under his control.
1815 – Napoleon defeated in Battle of Waterloo; monarchy re-established.
1914-18 First World War – Massive casualties in trenches in north-east France; 1.3 million Frenchmen are killed and many more wounded by the end of the war.
1939-45 – Second World War – Germany occupies much of France. Vichy regime in unoccupied south collaborates with Nazis. General de Gaulle, undersecretary of war, establishes government-in-exile in London and, later, Algiers. Rise of French Resistance.
1946-58 – Fourth Republic is marked by economic reconstruction and the start of the process of independence for many of France’s colonies.
1957 – France joins West Germany and other European nations in the forming of the European Economic Community (EEC), now known as the European Union.
1958 – Charles De Gaulle returns to power on back of Algerian crisis and founds the Fifth Republic, with a stronger presidency.
1962 – Algeria granted independence from French colonial rule.
1969 – De Gaulle leaves office. Georges Pompidou elected president.
1981 – Socialist candidate Francois Mitterrand is elected president.
1995 – Jacques Chirac elected president, ending 14 years of Socialist presidency.