Bonjour, soyez bienvenus à la France — le terrain de la Tour Eiffel et de la belle ville de Paris. Hello, welcome to France — the land of the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful city of Paris. Known best for its fine wines and fresh-baked baguettes, France has so much more to offer the everyday tourist. Thousands of tourists flock to the country year after year to see the famous palace of Versailles and the beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame. The land of Joan of Arc captures the hearts of many people through its rich history dating back to the time of the Roman Empire. Here in this land of harmonious language and rolling farmlands there is something to be found for everyone — all wrapped in up in the country called France.
France, the largest country in Western Europe, is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Spain, and Switzerland. The country with its 210,668 sq. mi. has beautiful sloping hills and flat plains with a few mountain regions such as the Pyrenees and the Alps. These high mountain ranges usher in cooler temperatures by trapping the clouds and bringing rain. The climate in France is a humid temperate climate with mild winters and warm summers with the exception of the Mediterranean coastline where the weather is much hotter (Central Intelligence Agency). The temperatures range from an average of 61oF in July to 45oF in January with an average rainfall of 32 inches; near the Mediterranean the temperatures range from 45oF to 73oF with an average rainfall of 23 inches (Noin).
France’s history is a tale of conquering nations, warring factions, and various people groups which all have contributed to French culture. Some of the first people who invaded France were the Celts, the Romans, and the Franks. Charlemagne’s three grandsons partitioned off the western portion of Europe after its unification under Charlemagne’s rule and established Christianity. Beginning with Charles the Bald and continuing through the Capetian and Valois lines, France became a powerful nation unrivaled in Western Europe with the exception of Great Britain. Louis XIV, the Sun King, summoned France into its golden age; his court dominated the known world. The Roman Catholicism grew in strength during this time, dominating French culture and sharing power with the kings. Because the next few kings proved to be weak, the country went through an intellectual and political revolution which lasted until Napoleon Bonaparte ushered in the First Republic and declared himself emperor. It was not until after World War I, however, that France ever dominated the European scene again in the Third Republic; the Fourth Republic came to power after World War II. France is currently in the Fifth Republic which was established by Charles de Gaulle on September 28, 1958 (Pearson Education).
Ethnically, France remains dominantly French with the addition of a few regional minorities, and the language of France is French. Religion, as seen through history, has always been a key source of power in France, specifically the Catholic Church. Currently, 67% of France claims to be Christian (which includes Catholicism), 20% non-religious, 10% Muslim, and 3% other. Of the 67% which claim to be Christian, only 1.58% are Protestant. Because of the grasp which the Catholic Church has on the hearts of the people of France, it is truly a great mission field. Some 738 missionaries are currently serving in France from the United States alone. France remains a country that needs great prayer (Johnstone, 255).
France’s demography has remained comparably consistent over the years. Life expectancy is about 81 years with a population growth rate of 0.574 which means that France’s doubling time is roughly forty-two years. The population pyramid predicts that within the next generation, France will have a large percent of its population in retirement. Because of its institutionalized system of healthcare, the country’s economy will begin to feel the strain within the next twenty years. France’s fertility rate is 2.0 children per woman; the sex ratio is 0.96:1, men to women. People aged 15 to 64 constitute the majority of the population at 65.2% while ages 0-14 come second at 18.6% and ages 65 and older come last at 16.3%. So, the majority of France’s population is in the work force which helps lessen the burden of the unemployed (Central Intelligence Agency).
Until the Second World War, the majority of France’s population lived in rural areas as small agricultural farmers on private tracks of land. The war caused a swift change which led to rapid urbanization (Steele, 40). The Germans destroyed hundreds of cities which created lots of opportunities for construction jobs under the reconstruction period. Since that time, large farms have replaced the small ones, sending the majority to the cities looking for jobs. Approximately 74% of France has been urbanized during the twentieth century (de Blij, 26). Because of this new trend in jobs, France reorganized its education system. Currently, all French children ages 6 to 16 can attend the public schools for free, going from nursery school to elementary to secondary before finally enrolling in either a general or technical university (New Encyclopedia Britannica, 447). Once the teenagers have finished their education, they take a comprehensive national examination covering everything they have learned at the university; when the exam is passed, the results help direct them into a certain job sector (New Encyclopedia Britannica, 427-530).
Over the years, France’s government has attempted to bolster the economy through many types of reform. Currently the growth rate of the national economy is 1.9% while the inflation of the euro is 3.4%. Despite the fact that the unemployment rate is 7.5%, almost 28 million people serve in the work force with 71.8% in services, 24.3% in industry, and 3.8% in agriculture making the economy based on tertiary activity. The French economy experiences some relief from tourism because over 75 million people travel to France every year, making it rank third in the world for tourism. Tourism provides the economy with about six percent of its income. France’s current gross domestic product (GDP) is around $2.097 trillion and $32,700 per capita. GDP is composed of 2.2% agriculture, 20.3% industry, and 77.4% services (Central Intelligence Agency).
France is a nation with abundant resources. Uranium, coal, bauxite, iron ore, timber, and fish – all are just a few of the vast amounts of natural resources available to the nation of France (Pearson Education). Some of the major industries which bring money into the country by using the natural resources are cars, planes, electronics, chemicals, machinery, textiles, food, and tourism (Pearson Education). France’s major trading partners for exports and imports include the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands (Compton’s, 368). Some of the products traded with these countries are wine, chemicals, grain, cars, food, fruits and vegetables, meat, crude petroleum and machinery (Compton’s, 368). France is perhaps best known for some of its agricultural products which consist of cereals, wine grapes, fish, beef, beets, wheat, potatoes, and dairy products (Central Intelligence Agency). Because a third of the land is arable, France is the most economically self-sufficient nation in Europe for basic foods (Compton’s, 352).
France’s territorial morphology can be rather hard to explain since the edges of the country are very serrated, yet the state remains a compact shape. With the stretch of the imagination, the country does resemble a five-pointed star. While France’s home borders are relatively secure, her overseas territories are places of great dispute. In the Eastern Hemisphere, the island of Madagascar debates with France over the possession of Bassas da India, the Glorioso Islands, Europa Island, and Juan de Nova Island (Pearson Education). In the Western Hemisphere, France and Suriname battle over the boundaries of French Guiana, and in the southern hemisphere, part of Antarctica is still claimed by France (Pearson Education). Furthermore, France struggles with illicit drug trade, because the country is a stopping place for heroin, cocaine, and synthetic drugs imported from South America, Southwest Asia, and other European countries (Central Intelligence Agency). An article published by Cedro discussed research done by the United Nation’s International Narcotics Control Board which connected Morocco to France for illicit drug trading (van Solinge). These international debates keep France involved in several world realms as it fights to keep her colonial possessions.
Since the French Revolution, France has exhausted four republics. The Fifth Republic, however, continues to persevere under the influence of President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon (Pearson Education). The Fifth Republic adopted a written constitution when it was founded in 1958 by Charles de Gaulle, and this constitution allows for a bicameral house with three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial (Steele, 158). The president of France is elected every five years by popular vote, and the prime minister is nominated by the National Assembly (Central Intelligence Agency). Eight political parties fight for recognition every election, ranging from conservative to liberal to communist, and politics tends to swing from one extreme to the other (France-pub). When on party needs a majority in the national election, the other parties under its category, whether moderate, liberal, or conservative, will support the one closest to their party’s political aspirations. The legislative branch has two houses consisting of the Senate with 331 seats and the National Assembly with 577 seats (Central Intelligence Agency). The three levels of the judicial system are the Council of State, the Constitutional Council, and the Supreme Court of Appeals (Central Intelligence Agency). The Fifth Republic has proven to be the most stable so far and has brokered much success compared to the ones preceding it.
France has joined numerous organizations and alliances over the years including North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO), the United Nations (UN), the UN Security Council, G-8, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to name a few (Central Intelligence Agency). France has also joined the European Union. As one of the EU’s founding members in 1993, France is also the largest country in the Union (Europa). One of the newest developments in French politics is President Sarkozy’s Union for the Mediterranean which hopes to stop Middle East conflicts (Pearson Education). The Mediterranean Union is composed of the EU members plus addition countries surrounding the Mediterranean. Despite the fact that France has declined to support the Iraq War, the country is attempting to reform its foreign policy in hopes of helping bring about world peace for future generations. President Sarkozy also faces the problems of high taxes due to the welfare system, a high unemployment rate, and a large bureaucracy (Johnstone, 254). The president has currently received a great deal of domestic criticism for returning the military to NATO’s integrated military command this spring; his decision is an attempt to change previous hostile opinions that France has held towards NATO and the United States (Economist.com).
France has much to offer through rich heritage and quaint traditions for tourists and travelers alike. Whether visiting castles or strolling through old-world villages, every person regardless of personality and preferences can find some place which feels like home. People from around the world have gathered to climb the Eiffel Tower, to stroll down the Champs-Elysees, and to pray in the chapel at Mont Saint-Michel on the English Channel. To those who have visited the fair land of France, the people of France say farewell. Adieu.
– Hannah S. Bowers
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