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Essay/Term paper: France

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France, which is the largest nation in Western Europe, is a presidential republic. France is a very important nation in Europe and it continues to be involved in contemporary policy issues. Helping the world as one of the great trading nations, France is a very important trading partner with the United States. Not only is France important to the United States, they are also important to countries all over the world. Their abundance of both mineral and agricultural resources make them a very important supplier of products all over the world. I chose to report on France because it is an interesting county and I wanted to learn more about it.


France is located in Western Europe and has an area of approximately 211,000 square miles. Along with being the capital, Paris is also the largest city in France. Spain borders France in the south, Italy and Switzerland in the east, and Germany, Luxembourg, and Belgium in the northeast. The French Alps are located in the east where snow capped peaks, such as Mont. Blanc reach heights of 15,781 feet. About one-half of France"s total border is formed by coastline, with the Mediterranean Sea on the Southeast and the Atlantic and the English Channel on the west and northwest. Many rivers and canals run through France forming a vast network, tying different regions and cities together. The Seine is the country"s largest navigable river. It flows northwest from eastern France through the city of Paris, and empties into the channel at Le Harre. The Rhone River is the largest in the country in terms of volume of discharge. Along with its tributaries, it drains the French Alpine region. Although France has many rivers, it only has a few lakes. One of the lakes in France is Lake Geneva (also known as Lake Leman), but in lies mainly in Switzerland.

France is richly endowed with an excellent balance of both mineral and agricultural resources. The nation produces substantial amounts of iron ore. In addition, France has sizable deposits of antimony magnesium, pyrites, tungsten, salt, potash, radioactive materials, lead and zinc. Coal mining has decreased significantly since the 1960"s, as many mines have been depleted and are now closed. Currently, the production of natural gas and sulfur is being developed.


France has one of the most complete records of human history in all of Europe. Archaeologists have uncovered artifacts that are more than 100,000 years old.

During the 16th century, Protestantism spread across France leading to a number of religious and civil wars. The wars between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics resulted in the massacre of some 3,000 Protestants in Paris on the eve of St. Bartholomew"s Day in 1572. The statecraft of such royal advisers as the cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin helped France in becoming the greatest power in Europe during the 17th century. Unfortunately, defeats in a series of costly foreign wars during the 18th century caused France to loose many of their overseas territories, and brought the country near bankruptcy. In 1789 revolution toppled the King, Louis XVI, and proclaimed the rights of man. The French Revolution took a bloody turn and ended in a weak government of five directors. France soon fell into the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte, who ruled from 1799-1814, first as consul, then as emperor. Napoleon"s far fetched military ventures ended in 1815 with his downfall. A limited monarchy was restored and, with the exception of a brief republican period (1848-52), brought about the creation of the Third Republic.

After WWI, a resistance movement known as Free France was organized in Britain under the leadership of General Charles de Gaulle. Allied and Free French forces liberated France in 1944. Parliamentary democracy was restored to France under the Fourth Republic. Another costly war against nationalist guerrillas in Algeria and other French colonies during the 1950"s brought an end to the Fourth Republic. In 1958, Gaulle returned as president of the Fifth Republic. In 1981, France elected its first Socialist president, Francois Mitterand, who served 2 terms until 1995. France"s current president, elected in 1995, is Jacques Chirac.


One of the things that make France so unique is the people that live there. Due to the current concerns with making money and being successful, more people are working in France than ever before. Great emphasis is being put on efficiency. Some say that France has been Americanized. This is because the United States is a world symbol of the technological society and it"s consumer products.

Since the 1940"s, the French population has been growing at a rapid rate. The most recent estimate of France"s population is 58,804,944 people. This averages out to 280 persons per square mile. Out of these 58 million some civilians, 94% of them are natives of France and are of Caucasian decent. The largest foreign-born groups are Portuguese, Algerians, Moroccans, Italians and Turkish. More recently many elements in the modern French nation have come to include descendants of the Senegalese, Congolese, Indochinese, and other African and Asian peoples, as well as Germans, Russians, Poles and Spaniards.

Roman Catholicism is the faith of 81% of French residents. Islam is the next largest with about 5% of the population. Protestants and Jews account for about 1-2% respectively. In 1905, because of popular opposition to the political influence of the Roman Catholic church and to the Catholic country of public education, legislation prohibited the payment of public funds to the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish clergies. By the provisions of that and other subsequent legislation, the French government withdrew official recognition of religious denominations.

The French are said to be tolerant of all kinds. This does not mean that they are wholly without prejudice, but in general they do not regularly exclude whole groups of people. There has always been a fairly continuous acceptance of newcomers. To be French is not so much to claim any certain ancestry as it is to "feel" French.

French is the official language of France. It is taught and spoken all over the country. Although French is the official language, as well as other countries sections of France speak languages such as German and Italian.


France has a constitution that is somewhat similar to that of the Untied States. Also similar to the Untied States, France"s constitution is the bases of their governmental system. Adopted in 1958, France"s constitution is fairly new. This document reduces the power of the parliament and enlarges authority of the president. This constitution puts the sovereignty of the republic in the French people, who exercise their political powers through a representative parliament as well as through referenda. The constitution of 1958 established a new body, the Constitutional Council, which has general power to supervise elections and referenda. They also have the power to decided constitutional questions. The council consists of 9 appointed members and all former presidents of the republic. Constitutional amendments may be adopted after approval by both chambers of Parliament and by a subsequent popular referendum, or merely by approval of 3/5 of Parliament.

National Government

France is a multi party democracy dominated by a strong executive. France"s national government has three branches. The executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. The president and the Prime Minister head the executive branch. The president is elected for a seven-year term by direct popular vote. The president is commander of the armed forces and presides over High Council of the Judiciary, the Committee of National Defense, and the Council of Ministers. The president also designates the Prime Minister and he appoints cabinet ministers. The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers are responsible only to the National Assembly, although they do have the right to ask the Senate for approval of a general declaration of policy. The Prime Minister oversees the day-to-day affairs of the government, while the president, as head of the state, focuses more on the direction of national policy and foreign affairs. The president can dissolve the National Assembly and call for new elections at any time. In an emergency, he can assume almost complete power. Due to the stated powers of the president, the executive branch does hold some higher importance over the legislative branch.

The legislative branch is the Parliament. It consists of two houses—the National Assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly has 577 deputies who are elected for five years by direct universal suffrage. They have the final say in any issue that is being debated. They can accept the Senate"s version of bill of they may adopt their own. The constitution limits the National Assembly to 2 regular sessions a year. The Senate is made up of 321 members who are elected for nine years through an indirect system using an electoral college. They are the advisory body that has the right to examine and render opinions on legislation and policies initiated in the National Assembly. The Assembly is the more powerful of the two houses.

There is a hierarchy of courts in the French judicial system. Civil cases are tried in higher and lower courts, criminal cases are tried in courts of correction, and minor offenses are tried in police courts. The administrative courts, which are under the control the Council of State, examine cases on appeal. The police and the "gendarmaerie" maintain public law and order. All of these courts are subject to the control of the Court of Cassation. Very exceptionally, in cases of high treason, a High Court of Justice composed of members of the National Assembly and of senators is empowered to try the president of the republic and the ministers. This court can also try them if they have committed felonies or misdemeanors during their term of office.

The National School of Magistracy recruits more than 5,000 judges by means of competitive examinations. Judges can serve successively as members of the bench and the public prosecutor"s department.

Local Government

France is divided into 22 regions for planning, budgetary policy and national development. Within the mainland regions are 95 departments. Each department has a main town and is run by a general council that includes a commissioner representing the national government and also a local president. The departments are divided into smaller units called "arrondissements". These in turn are subdivided into "communes," or townships. There are about 36,500 communes in France, ranging in size from small villages to entire cities. Mayors elected by local municipal councils run the communes. One of the mayor"s duties is to perform marriages. In France, stability is provided both nationally and locally by a "political class" of men and women whose entire working lives are spent as professionals in government service.

Governmental Services and Budget

Besides things such as roadways, and police and fire protection, France provides universal social protection to its citizens regardless of income. This Social Security service was created in 1945. It finances or largely reimburses the health care expenditures of 58 million inhabitants. Both employers and workers finance national health insurance mainly through mandatory contributions.

Overall, France is the fourth exporting nation in the world. They rank first in sales of luxury goods and second in exporting. Their yearly budget is approximately 265 billion dollars. Regarding France"s military, their total armed forces are numbered at 358,800 troops. Of these troops 203,200 serve in the army, 63,300 in the navy, 78,100 in the airforce, and the remainder serve in strategic nuclear forces or in central staff positions. France requires all men between the ages of 18 and 35 to do national service for 10 months.


The current leader of France is president, Jacques Chirac. He founded the Rally for the Republic political party. In France one must be the age of 18 to vote for officals such as the president. When a Franciscan reaches the age of 18, their are many political parties that they may choose to vote with.

The concept of Left and Right in describing political parties stems from the French Revolution. At that time, the radicals sat on the left side of the assembly and the conservatives sat on the right. Today, about five major political parties span the French spectrum from left to right. On the left are the Socialist Party and the smaller Communist Party. On the right are the Rally for the Republic (RPR), the Union for French Democracy (UDF) and the extremely conservative National Front.

The leftist parties support public ownership or control of most industries. The rightist parties want less government regulation of the economy. The RPR favors free enterprise but also a strong national government, a strong military and an independent foreign policy. The National Front (FN) strongly opposes immigration. Labor unions and the Green Party also exert pressure on the government.

In general, French liberals and conservatives today both believe in "big government." When civic and economic problems arise, most citizens expect the government to take care of them.

Foreign Relations

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 has generally worked to strengthen the global economic and political influence of the European Union and its role in common European defense.

France is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). France rejoined NATO in 1995, after French military forces had withdrawn from the NATO command. France has also supplied troops for the United Nations peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, Somalia, and the former Yugoslavia. France is currently the 4th leading contributor to the UN budget. In 1994, France paid out $101.4 million in assessed contributions and $995 million in voluntary contributions to institutions in the UN system.

Currently in Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries with which France has long had friendly relations with are involved in regional conflicts. Because of these past ties, France is taking an active part in international efforts to find a fair solution.


The people of France are looking towards a great future. They are currently awaiting the acceptance of a new currency, the Euro. This currency will be instated all through out Europe hoping to make the traveling between countries less difficult.

Such a youthful population means an urgent demand for better schools to train young people in the skills needed in today"s world. It necessitates creating new jobs to bring millions of young men and women into productive careers. It results in the great deal of purchasing power in the hands of teenagers and young adults. These are buyers who want to enjoy what they can get now, who are confident of tomorrow, and whose tastes show a willingness to experiment, to sample the new, and to use up and replace goods.

Since the late 1950"s, life in France has indeed taken on qualities of rush, tension, and the pursuit of material gain. Some of the strongest critics of the new way of life are the young, especially university students. They are concerned with the future and they fear that France is threatened by the triumph of competitive, goods-oriented culture. Regardless of what some French citizens may think, France is doing very well, and will continue on improving technologically and industrially in the future.


France is a very interesting and unique country. Due to the lengthy history of the origination of France, they have many fascinating features. Their government is in many ways similar to the United State"s government. The three branches of government do their best to help make and carry out the law.

Not only is France a beautiful country, it is also the home to many interesting people. It is a very prestigious nation that is constantly changing and growing economically and politically. France will continue to have strong international influence and will strive to keep on forming and carrying out policy that will benefit their country and the rest of the world.

Works Cited

Dell, Dick, ed. People and Places. Vol. 2. Chicago: World Book Inc., 1996.

Dr. Warmenhoven, Henri. "France." Grolier Global Studies. 1991 ed.

Famighettie, Robert, ed. World Almanac Books. New Jersey: World Almanac Books,


"France." Encyclopedia Britannica. 1998 ed.

Lands and Peoples. Vol. 3. Connecticut: Grolier Educational, 1999.

Murphy, C. "France Almost Goes Capitalist." Fortune 21 September 1999: 46-48.

Sancton, T.A. "French revolution." TIME October 1999: 76.

World Mark Encyclopeida of the Nations. Edition 7. New York: Worldmark Press,

LTD. 1988.


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