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France – Part I

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France, officially the French Republic (in French: République française), is a state in Western Europe with several of its overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans.

Metropolitan France is surrounded by the North Sea in the north, the English Channel in north-west, the Atlantic Ocean in the west and by the Mediterranean Sea in south-east.

France is also nicknamed “the Hexagon” because of its geometric shape.

Logo of the French Republic with its motto: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood).

  • The largest cities in France, in terms of population, are: Paris (11,769,433), Lyon (1,748,271), Marseille (1,605,000), Lille (1,164,716), Nice (1,197,751), Toulouse (1,102,882), Bordeaux (999,149) and Nantes (804,000).
  • France has a surface area of 670,922 km² if we take into account its overseas territories. Metropolitan France has a surface area of 547,030 km² (211,209 sq mi), which is the largest area among European Union members and slightly larger than Spain.
  • France is one of the most woody countries in Western Europe, the forests occupying 28 % of its surface area.
  • French is the official language (le français). Many regional languages are still being spoken in France today (see map below) and even taught at school such as the breton, the alsacien, the basque, the catalan, the corse, and the occitan to name just a few.

  • With an estimated population of 65.4 million people (as of 1st Jan. 2010), France is the 20th most populous country in the world.
  • France is one of the most developed countries in the world and possesses the fifth largest economy by nominal GDP and seventh largest economy by purchasing power parity. France enjoys a high standard of living as well as a high public education level, and has also one of the world’s highest life expectancies.
  • France is the most visited country in the world, receiving 82 million foreign tourists annually.
  • France is one of the founding members of the European Union. It is also a founding member of the United Nations, and a member of the Francophonie, the G8, G20, NATO, OECD, WTO, and the Latin Union. It is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and possesses the third largest nuclear weapons stockpile in the world.
  • Unlike many European countries, France has two kinds of boundaries: land and maritime boundaries. Metropolitan France shares land boundaries with 8 countries, totalling 2,889 km:

Spain : 623 km
Belgium : 620 km
Switzerland : 573 km
Italy : 488 km
Germany : 451 km
Luxembourg : 73 km
Andorra : 56,6 km
Monaco : 4,4 km

  • French overseas departments and collectivities also share land borders with Brazil (673 km) and Suriname (510 km) for French Guiana, and the Netherlands Antilles (bordering Saint-Martin). France is linked to the United Kingdom by the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English Channel.
  • Metropolitan France also has 5,853 km of maritime boundaries, which is huge.
  • France’s total land area, with its overseas departments and territories (excluding Adélie Land), is 674,843 km2 (260,558 sq mi). However, France possesses the second-largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world, covering 11,035,000 km2 (4,260,637 sq mi), approximately 8% of the total surface of all the EEZs of the world, just behind the United States (11,351,000 km2/4,382,646 sq mi) and ahead of Australia (8,232,000 km2/3,178,393 sq mi).
  • France is a member state of the European Union, the largest one by area. It is also the third largest in Europe behind Russia and Ukraine. It would be second if its extra-European territories like French Guiana were included. France has been a major power for several centuries with strong economic, cultural, military and political influence. During the 17th and 18th centuries, France colonised great parts of North America; during the 19th and early 20th centuries, France built the second largest empire of the time, including large portions of North, West and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and many Pacific islands.
  • The basic principles that the French Republic must respect are found in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which is famous across the world:

Geography:

  • While Metropolitan France is located in Western Europe, France also has a number of territories in North America, the Caribbean, South America, the southern Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and Antarctica (Adélie Land). These territories have varying forms of government ranging from overseas department to overseas collectivity.
  • France possesses a wide variety of landscapes, from coastal plains in the north and west to mountain ranges in the Alps in the south-east, the Massif Central in the south-central and Pyrénées in the south-west. France also has dormant volcanoes, especially in the Auvergne region.
  • At 4,810 m above sea level, the highest point in Europe, Mont Blanc, is located in the Alps on the border between France and Italy. Metropolitan France also has extensive river systems such as the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne, the Rhin, and the Rhône, which divides the Massif Central from the Alps and flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the Camargue, the lowest point in France (2 m/6.56 ft below sea level).

Climates:

In spite of its small surface area, France enjoys various climates. The north and north-west have a temperate climate, while a combination of maritime influences, latitude and altitude produce a varied climate in the rest of Metropolitan France. In the south-east, a Mediterranean climate prevails. In the west, the climate is predominantly oceanic with a high level of rainfall, mild winters and cool to warm summers. Inland the climate becomes more continental with hot, stormy summers, colder winters and less rain. The climate of the Alps and other mountainous regions is mainly alpine, with snow cover lasting for up to six months.

Transport:

The railway network of France, which stretches over 31,840 kilometres (19,784 mi), is the most extensive one in Western Europe. It is operated by the SNCF, and high-speed trains include the Thalys, the Eurostar and TGV, which travels at 320 km/h (199 mph) in commercial use.

The Eurostar, along with the Eurotunnel Shuttle, connects with the United Kingdom through the Channel Tunnel. Rail connections exist to all other neighbouring countries in Europe, except Andorra. Intra-urban connections are also well developed with both underground services and tramway services complementing bus services.

There are approximately 893,300 kilometres (555,071 mi) of serviceable roadway in France. The Paris region is enveloped with the most dense network of roads and highways that connect it with virtually all parts of the country. French roads also handle substantial international traffic, connecting with cities in neighboring Belgium, Spain, Andorra, Monaco, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. There is no annual registration fee or road tax; however, motorway usage is through tolls except in the vicinity of large communes.

The new car market is dominated by domestic brands such as Renault (27% of cars sold in France in 2003), Peugeot (20.1%) and Citroën (13.5%). Over 70% of new cars sold in 2004 had diesel engines, far more than contained petrol or LPG engines.

France possesses the world’s tallest road bridge: the Millau Viaduct, and has built many important bridges such as the Pont de Normandie.

The Millau viaduct is the tallest road bridge in the world. It is located in the Midi-Pyrénées region.

There are approximately 478 airports in France, including landing fields. Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport located in the vicinity of Paris is the largest and busiest airport in the country, handling the vast majority of popular and commercial traffic of the country and connecting Paris with virtually all major cities across the world. Air France is the national carrier airline, although numerous private airline companies provide domestic and international travel services.

There are 10 major ports in France, the largest of which is in Marseille, which is also the largest bordering the Mediterranean Sea. 14,932 kilometres (9,278 mi) of waterways traverse France including the Canal du Midi which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean through the Garonne river.

Administrative divisions:

France is divided into 26 administrative regions. 22 are in metropolitan France (21 are on the continental part of metropolitan France; one is the territorial collectivity of Corsica), and 4 are overseas regions.

The regions are further subdivided into 100 departments, which are numbered (mainly alphabetically). This number is used in postal codes and vehicle number plates amongst others. The 100 departments are subdivided into 341 arrondissements, which are, in turn, subdivided into 4,032 cantons. These cantons are then divided into 36,680 communes, which are municipalities with an elected municipal council. There also exist 2,588 intercommunal entities grouping 33,414 of the 36,680 communes (i.e. 91.1% of all the communes). Three communes, Paris, Lyon and Marseille are also subdivided into 45 municipal arrondissements.

The regions, departments and communes are all known as territorial collectivities, meaning they possess local assemblies as well as an executive. Arrondissements and cantons are merely administrative divisions. However, this was not always the case. Until 1940, the arrondissements were also territorial collectivities with an elected assembly, but these were suspended by the Vichy regime and definitely abolished by the Fourth Republic in 1946. Historically, the cantons were also territorial collectivities with their elected assemblies.

Overseas regions/departments, collectivities and territories:

Among the 100 departments of France, 4 (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Réunion) are in overseas regions (ROMs) that are also simultaneously overseas departments (DOMs). They are an integral part of France (and the European Union) and thus enjoy a status similar to metropolitan departments.

In addition to the 26 regions and 100 departments, the French Republic also has 6 overseas collectivities (French Polynesia, Mayotte, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna), one sui generis collectivity (New Caledonia), one overseas territory (French Southern and Antarctic Lands), and one island possession in the Pacific Ocean (Clipperton Island).

Overseas collectivities and territories form part of the French Republic, but do not form part of the European Union or its fiscal area. The Pacific Collectivities (COMs) of French Polynesia, Wallis and Fortuna, and New Caledonia continue to use the Pacific franc whose value is linked to that of the euro. In contrast, the 4 overseas regions used the French franc and now use the euro.

Territory of the French Republic in the world (excl. Antarctica where sovereignty is suspended):

Click on the map to enlarge it.

Overseas regions/departments, collectivities, and territories:

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