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France – Part II

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Economy:

France’s economy combines extensive private enterprise (nearly 2.5 million companies registered) with substantial (though declining) state enterprise and government intervention. The government retains considerable influence over key segments of infrastructure sectors, with majority ownership of railway, electricity, aircraft, nuclear power and telecommunications. It has been gradually relaxing its control over these sectors since the early 1990s. The government is slowly corporatizing the state sector and selling off holdings in France Télécom, Air France, as well as the insurance, banking, and defence industries. France has an important aerospace industry led by the European consortium Airbus, and has its own national spaceport, the Centre Spatial Guyanais.

According to the WTO, in 2009 France was the world’s sixth-largest exporter and the fourth-largest importer of manufactured goods. In 2008, France was the third-largest recipient of foreign direct investment among OECD countries at $117.9 billion, ranking behind Luxembourg (where foreign direct investment was essentially monetary transfers to banks located in that country) and the United States ($316.1 billion), but above the United Kingdom ($96.9 billion), Germany ($24.9 billion), or Japan ($24.4 billion). In the same year, French companies invested $220 billion outside of France, ranking France as the second most important outward direct investor in the OECD, behind the United States ($311.8 billion), and ahead of the United Kingdom ($111.4 billion), Japan ($128 billion) and Germany ($156.5 billion).

France is the smallest emitter of carbon dioxide among the seven most industrialized countries in the world, due to its heavy investment in nuclear power. As a result of large investments in nuclear technology, most of the electricity produced in the country is generated by 59 nuclear power plants (78% in 2006, up from only 8% in 1973, 24% in 1980, and 75% in 1990). In this context, renewable energies are having difficulties taking off the ground.

France derives 78.8% of its electricity from nuclear power, the highest percentage in the world.

Large tracts of fertile land, the application of modern technology, and EU subsidies have combined to make France the leading agricultural producer and exporter in Europe. Wheat, poultry, dairy, beef, and pork, as well as an internationally recognized foodstuff and wine industry are primary French agricultural exports.

Labour market:

The French GDP per capita is similar to the GDP per capita of other comparable European countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom. GDP per capita is determined by:

– productivity per hour worked, which in France is the highest of the G8 countries in 2005, according to the OECD.

– the number of hours worked, which is one of the lowest of developed countries.

– and the employment rate. France has one of the lowest 15–64 years employment rates of the OECD countries: in 2004, only 69% of the French population aged 15–64 years were in employment, compared to 80% in Japan, 79% in the UK, 77% in the US, and 71% in Germany.

This gap is due to the very low employment rates at both age extremes: the employment rate of people aged 55–64 was 38,3% in 2007, compared to 46,6% in the EU15; for the 15–24 years old, the employment rate was 31,5% in 2007, compared to 37,2% in EU25. These low employment rates are explained by the high minimum wages that prevent low productivity workers – such as young people – from easily entering the labour market, ineffective university curricula that fail to prepare students adequately for the labour market, and, concerning the older workers, restrictive legislation on work and incentives for premature retirement.

The unemployment rate decreased from 9% in 2006 to 7% in 2008 but remains one of the highest in Europe. In June 2009, the unemployment rate for France was 9.4%. Shorter working hours and the reluctance to reform the labour market are mentioned as weak spots of the French economy in the view of the right, when the left mentions the lack of government policies fostering social justice. Liberal economists have stressed repeatedly over the years that the main issue of the French economy is an issue of structural reforms, in order to increase the size of the working population in the overall population, reduce the taxes’ level and the administrative burden.

Tourism:

With 81.9 million foreign tourists in 2007, France is ranked as the first tourist destination in the world, ahead of Spain (58.5 million in 2006) and the United States (51.1 million in 2006). France features cities of high cultural interest (Paris being the foremost), beaches and seaside resorts, ski resorts, and rural regions that many enjoy for their beauty and tranquillity (green tourism). France also attracts many religious pilgrims to Lourdes, a town in the Hautes-Pyrénées department, that hosts a few million visitors a year.

Disneyland Paris is France’s and indeed Europe’s most popular tourist site, with 15,405,000 combined visitors to the resort’s Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park in 2009.

Other popular tourist sites include: the Eiffel Tower (6.2 million), the Louvre Museum (5.7 million), the Palace of Versailles (2.8 million), the Musée d’Orsay (2.1 million), the Arc de Triomphe (1.2 million), the Centre Pompidou (1.2 million), and the Mont-Saint-Michel abbey (1 million) to name just a few.

Religion:

Since 1905 the French government has followed the principle of laïcité, in which it is prohibited to recognize any religion (except for legacy statutes like that of military chaplains and the local law in Alsace-Moselle). Instead, it merely recognizes religious organizations, according to formal legal criteria that do not address religious doctrine. Conversely, religious organizations should refrain from intervening in policy-making.

Public health:

The French healthcare system was ranked first worldwide by the World Health Organization in 1997 and then again in 2000. Care is generally free for people affected by chronic diseases such as cancer, AIDS or Cystic Fibrosis. Average life expectancy at birth is 79.73 years.

Marianne:

Marianne is a symbol of the French Republic. She is an allegorical figure of liberty and the Republic and first appeared at the time of the French Revolution (1789-1799). She represents the values of the French Republic: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood).

Famous painting by Eugène Delacroix in 1830: La Liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty leading the people), which celebrates the July Revolution (Louvre Museum).

The earliest representations of Marianne are of a woman wearing a Phrygian cap. The origins of the name Marianne are unknown, but Marie-Anne was a very common first name in the 18th century. Anti-revolutionaries of the time derisively called her La Gueuse (the Commoner). It is believed that revolutionaries from South of France adopted the Phrygian cap as it symbolised liberty, having been worn by freed slaves in both Greece and Rome. Mediterranean seamen and convicts manning the galleys also wore a similar type of cap.

Marianne is one of the most prominent symbols of the French Republic. The origins of Marianne, depicted by artist Honoré Daumier, in 1848, as a mother nursing two children, Romulus and Remus, or by sculptor François Rude, during the July Monarchy, as an angry warrior voicing the Marseillaise on the Arc de Triomphe, are uncertain. In any case, she has become a symbol in France: considered as a personification of the Republic, she was often used on pro-Republican iconography — and heavily caricatured and reviled by anti-Republicans. Although both are common emblems of France, neither Marianne nor the rooster enjoys official status: the flag of France, as named and described in Article 2 of the French constitution, is the only official emblem.

Under the Third Republic (1870-1914), statues, and especially busts, of Marianne began to proliferate, particularly in town halls and law courts. She was represented in several different manners, depending on whether the aim was to emphasise her revolutionary nature or her “wisdom”. Over time, the Phrygian cap was felt to be too seditious, and was replaced by a diadem or a crown. In recent times, famous French women have been used as the model for those busts. Recent ones include Sophie Marceau, and Laetitia Casta.

Her profile stands out on the official seal of the country, is engraved on French euro coins and appears on French postage stamps; it also was featured on the former franc currency.

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