| U.S. Department of State
France, October 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
AT A GLANCE
Official Name: French Republic
Area: 551,670 sq. km. (220,668 sq. mi.); largest West European
country, about four-fifths the size of Texas.
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.
Education: Years compulsory--10.
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
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
Political parties: Rally for the Republic
(Gaullists/conservatives); Union for French Democracy (center-right); Socialist
Party; Republican Party (center-right); Communist Party; National Front;
Greens; Ecology Generation; various minor parties.
Suffrage: Universal at
GDP: $1.3 trillion.
Avg. annual growth rate: 2.4%.
capita GDP: $24,900.
Agriculture: Products--wine, cheeses, cereals, sugar
beets, potatoes, and beef.
Industry: Types--aircraft, electronics,
transportation, textiles, clothing, food processing, chemicals, machinery,
Trade (est.): Exports--$235 billion: chemicals, electronics,
automobiles, automobile spare parts, machinery, aircraft, foodstuffs.
Imports--$219 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
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
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
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
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.
President Jacques Chirac has vowed that fighting unemployment
(more than 11% overall; 25% among younger, unskilled workers) will be his top
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, minister-delegates, and secretaries of state. Parliament meets in
regular session twice annually for a maximum of three months on each occasion.
Special sessions are common. 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
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--Alain Juppe
Ambassador to the United States--Francois Bujon de l'Estang
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).
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
France has assumed a leading role in trying to resolve the
conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Its troops represent the largest contingent
of the UN Protection Force stationed in the area.
Furthermore, a number of French organizations have played an
active role in providing humanitarian assistance to victims of the war.
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 Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the
Palestinians 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. Key advisory positions
are staffed by French nationals in many African countries. In those former
colonies where the French presence remains important, France contributes to
political, military, and social stability.
Asia. France has extensive commercial relations with Asian
countries, including China, South Korea, Indonesia, and Japan (which presents
serious competition in automobiles, electronics, and machine tools). France has
taken a leading role in efforts to achieve a settlement to the Cambodian
conflict, and, at the Tokyo Conference in June 1992, French and American
leaders met to discuss Cambodian reconstruction. France is also seeking to
broaden its commercial influence in Vietnam and Laos.
Latin America. France supports strengthening democratic
institutions in Latin America. It supports the ongoing efforts to restore
democracy to Haiti and has agreed to participate in Phase II of the UN Mission
Security Issues. French military doctrine is based on the
concepts of national independence, nuclear deterrence, and military
sufficiency. France is a charter signatory to the North Atlantic Treaty and is
a member of the North Atlantic Council and its subordinate institutions. Since
1966, it has not participated in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
integrated military command structure, although it remains a member of some
alliance military bodies.
The French army currently is undergoing a major reorganization
which aims at reducing personnel, garrisons, and headquarters; enlarging a
reduced number of corps and divisions; and modernizing equipment. In 1993, the
French armed forces numbered about 270,000; in 1997, after restructuring, the
level will be 227,000.
France's foremost arms control concern relates to the worldwide
proliferation of ballistic missiles, nuclear technologies, and conventional
weapons. In each of these areas, France has worked closely with the United
States in a determined effort to preclude such advanced technologies from
spreading to unstable regions. Moreover, it has actively participated in the
Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) process and the Geneva Conference on
President Chirac announced in June 1995 his decision that France
would complete a series of eight nuclear tests in 1995 and 1996. The French
Government indicates that these tests are designed to ensure the safety and
reliability of the French nuclear weapons force. President Chirac has
underlined France's commitment to negotiate and sign a Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty by the end of 1996.
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
Deputy Chief of Mission--Avis T.
Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs--William Bellamy
Minister-Counselor for Economic Affairs--John Medeiros
Minister-Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Peter
Counselor for Labor Affairs--Vacant
Counselor for Scientific
and Technological Affairs--Jerome J. Bosken
Minister-Counselor for Consular
Affairs--James L. Ward
Minister-Counselor for Administrative
Affairs--Charles R. Allegrone
Minister-Counselor for Public
Defense Attache--Col. Daniel Larned (U.S. Army)
Consulate General, Marseille--Jackson C. McDonald
General, Bordeaux--Alan Eastham, Jr.
Strasbourg--Shirley E. Barnes
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.