France country profile
- 12 February 2016
- From the section Europe
France is known the world over for its cuisine, fashion, culture and language. It is the most visited tourist destination in the world.
A key player on the global stage and a country at the political heart of Europe, France paid a high price in both economic and human terms during the two world wars.
The years which followed saw protracted conflicts culminating in independence for Algeria and most other French colonies in Africa as well as decolonisation in south-east Asia.
France was one of the founding fathers of European integration as the continent sought to rebuild after the devastation of the Second World War.
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Population 63.5 million
Area 543,965 sq km (210,026 sq miles)
Major language French
Major religion Christianity
Life expectancy 78 years (men), 85 years (women)
President: Francois Hollande
Francois Hollande beat the conservative incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, in May 2012 to become France's first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand held the post from 1981 to 1995.
Despite coming from his party's moderate win, Mr Hollande campaigned on strongly left-wing proposals, including a 75% top income tax rate, 60,000 new teachers, and the renegotiation of the European Union fiscal growth pact.
His Socialists went on to win a comfortable majority in the June 2012 parliamentary elections.
Prime minister: Manuel Valls
Manuel Valls was appointed as prime minister by President Hollande in March 2014. He replaced Jean-Marc Ayrault, who resigned after the governing Socialist party suffered heavy losses in municipal elections.
The 51-year-old Mr Valls had served as interior minister since 2012 and opinion polls long suggested that he would be a popular choice for prime minister, though he leans to the right of most of his colleagues.
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France enjoys a free press and has more than 100 daily newspapers. Most of them are in private hands and are not linked to political parties.
Public broadcaster Radio France targets the domestic audience, French overseas territories and foreign audiences. Radio France Internationale is one of the world's leading international stations. Its Arabic-language Monte Carlo International service broadcasts across the Middle East.
Global news channel France 24 TV broadcasts in French, English and Arabic. It has said it aims to present "a different point of view from the Anglo-Saxon world".
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Some key dates in France's history:
1789 - French Revolution ends rule of monarchy going back to 9th century; followed by establishment of the First Republic.
1804-1814 - Napoleon Bonaparte crowns himself emperor of First French Empire; series of military successes brings most of continental Europe under his control.
1815 - Napoleon defeated in Battle of Waterloo; monarchy re-established.
1914-18 First World War - Massive casualties in trenches in north-east France; 1.3 million Frenchmen are killed and many more wounded by the end of the war.
1939-45 - Second World War - Germany occupies much of France. Vichy regime in unoccupied south collaborates with Nazis. General de Gaulle, undersecretary of war, establishes government-in-exile in London and, later, Algiers. Rise of French Resistance.
1946-58 - Fourth Republic is marked by economic reconstruction and the start of the process of independence for many of France's colonies.
1957 - France joins West Germany and other European nations in the forming of the European Economic Community (EEC), now known as the European Union.
1958 - Charles De Gaulle returns to power on back of Algerian crisis and founds the Fifth Republic, with a stronger presidency.
1962 - Algeria granted independence from French colonial rule.
1969 - De Gaulle leaves office. Georges Pompidou elected president.
1981 - Socialist candidate Francois Mitterrand is elected president.
1995 - Jacques Chirac elected president, ending 14 years of Socialist presidency.
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