Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs.
Official Name: 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, Bordeaux.
Climate: Temperate; similar to that of the eastern U.S.
Population: 58 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.5%.
Ethnic groups: Celtic and Latin with Teutonic, Slavic, North African, Indochinese, and Basque minorities.
Religion: Roman Catholic 90%.
Education: Years compulsory--10. Literacy--99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--7/1,000.
Work force (25 million): Services--66%; industry and commerce--28%; agriculture--6%.
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: Rally for the Republic (Gaullists/conservatives); Union for French Democracy (a center-right conglomerate of 5 parties: Democratic Force, Republican Party, and Radical Party are the three major components.) Socialist Party; Communist Party; National Front; Greens; Ecology Generation; various minor parties.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP: $1.5 trillion.
Avg. annual growth rate: 2.2%.
Per capita GDP: $26,500.
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--$287 billion: chemicals, electronics, automobiles, automobile spare parts, machinery, aircraft, foodstuffs.
Imports--$266 billion: crude petroleum, electronics, machinery, chemicals, automobiles, automobile spare parts. 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, less than 2% are Protestant, and about 1% are Jewish. More than 1 million Muslims immigrated in the 1960s and early 1970s from North Africa, especially Algeria. At the end of 1994, there were about 4 million persons of Muslim descent living in France.
Education is free, beginning at age two, and mandatory between ages six 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 69 universities and special schools, such as the Grandes Ecoles, technical colleges, and vocational training institutions.
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 into the era of 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 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 four years of occupation and strife, Allied forces liberated France in 1944. A bitter legacy carries over to the present day. A nation-wide debate has emerged over how much responsibility France should bear for the crimes and collaborations of the Vichy regime.
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 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), and neo-Gaullist Jacques Chirac (elected in spring 1995).
President Mitterrand's second seven-year term ended in May 1995. During his 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.
Current 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 ex-Yugoslavia and helped promote the peace accords negotiated in Dayton and signed in Paris in December 1995. Chirac also took the major step of initiating discussions with NATO on possible French reintegration into NATO's military structure.
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, the president is elected directly for a seven-year term. 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. Headed by the prime minister, who is the nominal head of government, the cabinet is composed of a varying number of ministers, ministers-delegates, and secretaries of state. Parliament meets for one nine 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 National Assembly is the principal legislative body. Its deputies are directly elected to five-year terms, and all seats are voted on in each election. Senators are chosen by an electoral college for nine-year terms, and one-third of the Senate is renewed every three 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 link its life to any legislative text, and 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 only considers 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.
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.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Lionel Jospin
Ambassador to the United States--Francois Bujon de l'Estang
Ambassador to the United Nations--Alain Dejammet
France maintains an embassy in the U.S. at 4101 Reservoir Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-944-6000).
During his first two years in office, President Chirac's prime minister was Alain Juppe, who served contemporaneously as leader of Chirac's neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR) party. Chirac and Juppe benefited from a very large, if rather unruly, majority in the National Assembly (470 out of 577 seats). Mindful that the government might have to take politically costly decisions in advance of the legislative elections planned for spring 1998, in order to ensure France met the Maastricht criteria for the single European currency, Chirac decided in April 1997 to call early elections. The Left, however, led by Socialist Party First Secretary Lionel Jospin, unexpectedly won a solid National Assembly majority (319 seats, with 289 required for an absolute majority) in the two rounds of balloting, which took place May 25 and June 1, 1997. President Chirac named Jospin prime minister on June 2, and Jospin went on to form a government composed primarily of Socialist ministers, along with some ministers from allied parties of the Left, such as the Communists and the Greens. Jospin stated his support for continued European integration and his intention to keep France on the path of toward Economic and Monetary Union, albeit with greater attention to social concerns.
The tradition in periods of "cohabitation" (president of one party, prime minister of another) is for the president to exercise the primary role in foreign and security policy, with the dominant role in domestic policy falling to the prime minister and his government. Jospin stated, however, that he would not a priori leave any domain exclusively to the president.
With a 1995 GDP of more than $1.5 trillion, France is the fourth-largest Western industrialized economy. It has substantial agricultural resources, a diversified modern industrial system, and a highly skilled labor force. In 1995, France's economic growth rate was 2.2%. The estimated growth rate for 1996 is 1.4%.
Government policy stresses investment promotion and maintenance of fiscal and monetary discipline. It seeks to ensure the franc's stability and strength within the European Monetary System. The government continues to exert considerable control over the industrial sector both through planning and regulatory activities and through direct state ownership, although a modest privatization program has been implemented. This policy has helped keep France's inflation rate (1.8% in 1995) low compared with rates among the other Group of Seven (G-7) industrial countries.
One main area of concern, however, continues to be an unemployment rate that is well over 12%. France's well-developed and diversified industrial enterprises generate over one-half of the GDP and employ about one-fifth of the workforce. This distribution is similar to that of other highly industrialized nations. The most important areas of industrial production include steel and related products, aluminum, chemicals, and mechanical and electrical goods.
France also 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 produces about 80% of the country's electrical energy. Nuclear waste is stored on site at reprocessing facilities.
Membership in France's labor unions accounts for about 10% of the workforce. Included in the composition of the several competing union confederations are the largest, oldest, and most powerful unions: the Communist-dominated General Labor Confederation, the Workers' Force, and the French Democratic Confederation of Labor.
France is the second-largest trading nation in Western Europe (after Germany). In 1996, France achieved a record trade surplus of over $20 billion. The surplus was partly attributable to the surge in exports due to greater competitiveness of French products, which, in turn, was partly due to low domestic inflation and wage costs. For 1996, the country's trade surplus rose even higher. Its total trade for 1995 amounted to more than $550 billion. Trade with European Union (EU) countries accounts for 60% of French trade.
In 1995, U.S.-France trade totaled about $40 billion. U.S. exports accounted for 7.8% (or about $21 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 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 currently expanding its forestry and fishery industries. The implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Uruguay Round of the GATT Agreement have resulted in reforms in the agricultural sector of the economy.
France is the world's second largest agricultural producer, after
the United States. However, the destination of 70% of its exports
are 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 other 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 exports to the United States are
mainly cheese, processed products and wine. They amount to over
$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.
Europe. 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 as the foundation of efforts to enhance European security.
President Chirac has declared his support for eventual implementation of economic and monetary union and is committed to maintaining France's central role in the EU. France remains a firm supporter of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other efforts at cooperation.
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 homeland 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.
Africa. 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.
Asia. 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 was instrumental in launching the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) process which could eventually emerge as a competitor to APEC. France is seeking to broaden its commercial presence in China and will pose a competitive challenge to U.S. business, particularly in aerospace, hi-tech and luxury markets. In Southeast Asia, France was an architect of the Paris Accords, which ended the conflict in Cambodia, and looks forward to reinforcing France's influence in the region during the Francophone summit to be held in Vietnam in the summer of 1997.
Latin America. France supports strengthening democratic institutions in Latin America. It supports 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). President Chirac has suggested that France may return to NATO's integrated military structure, depending on progress toward an increased European Security and Defense Identity within the Alliance. Paris hosted the May 1997 NATO-Russia Summit for the signing of the Founding Act on on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security.
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 which 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 1997 numbered approximately 475,000, of which nearly 60,000 were assigned outside of metropolitan France. The overall force is expected to decline by approximately 25,000 per year through 2002.
France places a high priority on arms control and non-proliferation. It supported the indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995. After conducting a final series of six nuclear tests, the French signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) 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 (CFE) 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 (NSG), the Australia Group (for chemical and biological weapons) and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). France has signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Relations between the United States and France are active and cordial. Mutual visits by high-level officials are conducted on a regular basis. 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--to be appointed
Charge d'Affaires a.i.--Donald K. Bandler
Acting Deputy Chief of Mission--John Medeiros
Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs--William M. Bellamy
Financial Attache--Stephen Donovan
Minister-Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Emilio Iodice
Counselor for Scientific and Technological Affairs--Jerome J. Bosken
Minister-Counselor for Consular Affairs--James L. Ward
Minister-Counselor for Administrative Affairs--William Hudson
Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs--Christopher Snow
Defense Attache--Col. Peter Herrly (U.S. Army)
Acting Minister-Counselor for Economic Affairs --Deborah McCarthy
Consulate General, Marseille--Jackson C. McDonald
Consulate General, Strasbourg--Steven Wagenseil
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.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on immigration practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas, are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at U.S. State Department Home Page; this site has a link to the DOSFAN Gopher Research Collection, which also is accessible at gopher://gopher.state.gov.
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information, including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
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