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Last Updated: Monday, 16 April 2007, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
France: key facts and figures
As France elects a new president, we give you facts and figures on a diverse country at the vanguard of European integration.

GEOGRAPHY

Map of France

France is the second largest country by area in continental Europe, after Ukraine. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra, and Spain.

Two-thirds of the country is made up of mountains and hills with the Alps, Pyrenees, Vosges and Massif Central forming the largest ranges. Mont Blanc in the Alps is the highest mountain in Europe.

Farms and forests cover 48 million hectares - 82% - of the total area of mainland France.

France has a number of territories overseas - remnants of a past empire. Together with mainland France and Corsica, they make up 26 administrative regions.

It is further divided into 100 "departements", four of which - French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Réunion - are outside Europe.

HISTORY

France emerged from the dark years of World War II and German occupation when it was liberated in 1945.

General de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, returned from London and formed an alliance with former resistance leaders to set up a provisional government.

Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle led the Free French during World II

Major assets such as coal mines, air transport and Renault cars were nationalised.

In the 1950s France went through a painful period of decolonisation, culminating in a war of independence in Algeria.

De Gaulle redesigned the constitution and the Fifth Republic was born in 1959.

The president was given a seven-year term of office (now five years), the right to call new parliamentary elections and a strong role in implementing policy.

When de Gaulle stood down in 1969 he was succeeded by his right-hand man, Georges Pompidou, who died suddenly in 1974.

OTHER KEY DATES
1962 Yes vote for Algerian independence prompts flood of 'pied noir' refugees into France
1968 Student uprising and national strike against government policies and lack of social reform
1995 France attracts world condemnation by conducting nuclear tests in the Pacific
2002 Euro replaces Franc, first minted in 1360
2005 French vote against proposed EU constitution
2006 New youth employment laws spark mass demonstrations in Paris and other cities
His successor, Valery Giscard D'Estaing, developed a close relationship with Germany's Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and together they turned their dream of a more integrated Europe into reality.

Giscard D'Estaing was blamed for France's economic downturn and lost the presidential election to Francois Mitterrand, France's first socialist president, in 1981.

He lost control of the National Assembly and had to "cohabit" with the right-wing Gaullist leader Jacques Chirac as his prime minister.

MAIN POLITICAL PARTIES - 2007
Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) - centre right coalition
Parti Socialiste (PS)
Parti Communiste Français (PCF)
Union pour la Démocratie Française (UDF)
Les Verts the greens
Rassemblement Pour la France (RPF)
Democratie Liberale (DL)
Parti Radical de Gauche (PRG)
Mouvement des Citoyens (MDC)
Front National

The French tired of a socialist presidency in 1995 and elected Jacques Chirac as president.

In the 2002 presidential elections, Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the right-wing anti-immigrant National Front Party, shocked France when he finished in second place in the first round.

Lionel Jospin, the main left-wing presidential contender whom Le Pen knocked out, decided to retire from politics and threw his support behind incumbent president Chirac. Chirac won with an overwhelming 82.2% of the vote in the second round.

Chirac's centre-right coalition won an absolute majority in parliament.

ECONOMY

Agriculture is still one of France's major industries but the economy is relying more on service industries and manufacturing.

THE BASICS
GDP - US$ 2.117 trillion (Euro 1.707 trillion, £1.16301 trillion)
Inflation - 1.9% (September 2006)
Major Industries- Aerospace, automotive, pharmaceuticals, industrial machinery, food and drink, tourism
Major trading partners- US and European markets
Source: FCO
It is also a major producer of chemical products and textiles.

France is the most popular country in the world among tourists, receiving about 75 million visitors a year and has the third largest income in the world from tourism.

But France's economy has grown more slowly than any other developed country in the world.

Graph showing the tax burden in France compared with other countries

In 2006, its 2% growth was the worst in Europe. It also has one of the highest unemployment rates - 9.8% - of any European country.

Many large companies, banks and insurers have been partially or fully privatised and stakes in Air France, France Telecom, Renault, and defence company Thales have been sold off.

But the government still controls key assets such as power, public transport and defence industries - sources of national pride.

There continues to be a strong will towards social equity, with laws protecting workers and high public spending on public health and welfare.

Public finances are coming under strain from the pension system and rising healthcare costs and the tax burden is one of the highest in Europe, at nearly 50% of GDP in 2005.

Rigid employment laws and the tax burden make it difficult for businesses to compete in an increasingly globalised economy.

Bar chart shows unemployment rates in France and other countries
The 35-hour week introduced by Lionel Jospin's Socialist government in 2000 has been a source of hot debate. It was designed to create new jobs by shortening the time worked by each person from 39 hours.

The government has since relaxed the law extending the maximum number of overtime hours allowed per year, acknowledging it has put unfair restrictions on both employees who want to earn more and businesses that want a more flexible workforce.

In another attempt to improve employment rates, the government tried to introduce first-job contracts, which made it easier to fire young workers.

But following weeks of protests from trades unions and students in spring 2006, President Chirac announced it would be dropped.

Employment rate - France vs other OECD countries

SOCIETY

France has the fifth largest population in Europe at 63 million. Its citizens enjoy free healthcare and education.

Those in work enjoy a relatively high standard of living and five weeks' statutory paid holiday.

Although frequent strikes and demonstrations have been an effective way of achieving - or objecting to - reform, unions are relatively weak in France.

TYPICAL ANNUAL SALARIES
Professionals 70,126 euros (£47,778)
Executives 39,360 euros (£26,816)
Farm workers 21,114 euros (£14,385)
Clerical 14,850 euros (£10,117)
Source: French Foreign Affairs Ministry

Only 9% of the workforce belong to a union, the lowest figure in Europe, compared with Italy at 30%, the UK at 29% and Germany at 27% .

State-subsidised childcare is readily available, while tax and travel concessions for families with three children or more have helped to increase what had been a declining birth rate and encouraged women back into the workplace.

France can still boast one of Europe's highest rates of female employment.

Some 81% of women aged between 25 and 49 are in work, including three-quarters of those with two children.

French demonstrator stands in front of riot police - Paris March 2006
In 2006 young people protested against employment reforms
For hundreds of years, artists, writers and philosophers - both French and foreign - have thrived in a nation that prides itself on its cultural heritage.

France has long had a high level of immigration.

There are now 4.9m immigrants in France and the French Muslim population is estimated to be the largest in western Europe.

Many live in the suburbs in low-standard social housing, often in tower blocks known as HLMs.

Unemployment is high among these communities and crime is a problem on the estates.

In many cases the most disaffected people are the second or third generation immigrants who were born in France.

Burnt-out car in Clichy-sous-Bois - October 2005
Riots in 2005 highlighted the deep discontent of a disaffected youth

A series of riots began in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois in October 2005, following the deaths of two teenagers attempting to hide from police.

Unrest quickly spread to other parts of the city and within days, the violence had spread to other towns and cities across France.

Some observers have seen the riots as proof that France's policy of "assimilation" of immigrants and their children is not working.

This policy is essentially trying to make immigrants "French" rather than the British policy of multiculturalism.

It has its roots in the French state concept of everyone being equal before the law, that people should be treated and judged as individuals rather than as part of a particular community.

This concept also means that there is no collection of data on ethnic minorities by the state and that businesses cannot ask job candidates about their ethnic origin.

Religion has to be entirely separate from the state and so there are no state-run faith schools, for example.

French Muslim schoolchildren are banned from wearing the headscarf at school, something that has caused great controversy.






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