The French economy, which is one of the most advanced in the European Community, has seen a stormy development since the 1950s.
As the largest European producer and exporter of agricultural products, France benefits greatly from the generous subsidy policy of the European Union, despite the fact that the importance of agriculture is constantly decreasing. Small farmers, who are the majority, are given assistance in consolidating holdings, modernizing technology and creating agricultural cooperatives. Overproduction of wheat, dairy products and wine is causing problems in the EU and overseas.
According to ebizdir, France has the largest area of agricultural and arable land in Europe, it also takes the leading place in terms of per capita. Crop production is dominated by the cultivation of wheat (barley and corn production is also important) and sugar beet. Potatoes, sunflowers, olives, hops, tobacco, and even rice are also grown. The production of various vegetables and fruits is significant. Normandy and Brittany are famous for growing apples, producing cider and apple brandy (calvados). Aquitaine in the southwest is also famous for its plums. Peaches and apricots are grown in the warm Rhone Valley.
France is the second largest grape grower after Italy. Most of the wine is supplied in the south of Languedoc, but the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions produce the largest volume of top wines. The most valuable sparkling wines come from Champagne.
Livestock production dominates the production value. The government supports the orientation of peasants to cattle breeding and meat production, thereby reducing surpluses of cereals and oilseeds. Cattle breeding for meat and milk prevails, pig breeding is also important. Formerly traditional sheep are widespread in the less fertile highlands and mountains of central and southern France.
The country is the third largest producer of wood in Europe. A large part of the forest areas is managed by the state, an extensive forest restoration program is being implemented. Fishing is mainly concentrated on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, while the fishing opportunities are not very great on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Oyster farming is traditional. The most important fishing ports are La Rochelle, Concarneau, Boulogne and Lorient.
Industry and Commerce
During World War II, the industry of France was greatly damaged. Its recovery was initially funded by American aid under the Marshall Plan, which sought to resurrect the war-ravaged European economy, and coordinated by a state-led recovery plan. Currently, France is the fourth most powerful industrial power in the world, after the United States, Japan and Germany.
Compared to other European countries, there are fewer large companies operating in the country. A large state sector is characteristic, but its share has been decreasing in recent years, and its existence is planned. The oil crises of the 1970s and 1980s caused an industrial recession, and strengthened the country’s orientation towards nuclear energy. France’s mineral resources are already limited. The rich reserves of iron ore and black coal in Lorraine are being used less and less for cheap imports. Bauxite, potash, rock salt and uranium ore reserves are significant in Europe. To a lesser extent, oil and natural gas are produced in the southwest in the Landes region and in the Paris Basin.
In terms of the share of electricity produced in nuclear power plants (almost 80%), France ranks second in the world after Lithuania. A number of hydroelectric plants have been built on the Rhône and its Alpine tributaries. Thermal power plants are concentrated around Paris, in the coal basin in the north and in Lorraine. France experienced the decline of traditional industries – coal mining, steelmaking and textile production, concentrated in the north, and on the other hand the development of modern engineering, electronics and chemical industries. Extensive petrochemicals were built in ports on imported oil (Fos near Marseille and Le Havre).
France ranks 2nd in Europe in the production of cars and 3rd in the production of steel, it is also the main producer of civil and military aircraft. Their development is carried out as part of joint European projects, such as Airbus. France is also at the forefront of European space research. The production of other means of transport (high-speed railway sets), weapons, artificial fibers, tires and world-famous cosmetics is very important. A high level is maintained by the textile industry concentrated in the north and in Paris – the center of world fashion and clothing production. The food industry is very extensive, diverse and high-quality.
The main pillars of French exports are industrial products, especially means of transport. This is followed by chemicals and agricultural products (grains, meat, wine and cheese).
France has the most extensive network of roads and railways in Europe, excluding Russia. Road transport in and through cities is insufficiently addressed. Road transport dominates the transport of both people and goods. France ranks first in the world in the degree of automobileization.
Paris, with dozens of roads radiating out from it, is the largest transport hub in Europe. State railway transport is world-class, especially in connection with its extensive modernization. TGV trains (train á grande vitesse) travel at speeds of up to 300 km/h on reconstructed and completely new lines.
Paris has three main airports: Charles de Gaulle and Le Bourget, the largest in the north, Orly in the south, and after London it handles the most passengers in Europe. The second most important airport is Nice on the Cote d’Azur.
France boasts the longest system of inland waterways in Europe. Many rivers have been regulated, but only the most modern parts of the system, located in the industrial Northeast, are navigable for larger cargo ships. The largest seaports are Marseille (2nd in Europe) with the Fos-Lavéra oil terminal, Le Havre and Dunkerque. Oil pipelines leading from Marseille to northern France and Germany are of European importance.
Significant foreign tourism, directed mainly to Paris and the French Riviera, helps balance the passive balance of foreign trade.
Press and media
France has an excellent publishing tradition. Many newspapers and magazines – e.g. Le Monde, Le Figaro, Paris-Match, and the well-known women’s magazines Elle and Marie Claire – are world famous.
The main mass media – radio and television – were until recently somewhat monotonous due to the state monopoly. In 1975, the state company ORTF was divided and its individual parts are managed by representatives of the state, parliament, the press and the station operators themselves.
Health and social care
The French social security system was established in the 1930s and was further expanded after World War II. It is largely financed by the state, and employees and employers must contribute to it. Medical costs are covered by an insurance system, which is based on a standard fee scale, so that private practice can exist alongside public services. Medical services are world-class, but there is a shortage of hospital beds. The capacities of specialized facilities, such as psychiatric hospitals and homes for the elderly, are also severely limited.
France has an excellent tradition of public education, which is free at all levels. School attendance is compulsory from 6 to 16 years of age. After elementary school, which is attended by children up to the age of 11, part of the lyceum (gymnasium) students prepare for matriculation and further studies, while the others continue at second-level schools with a general or technical focus.
Universities were reformed after student riots in 1968 and today include multidisciplinary universities, polytechnics and professional colleges such as medical schools. The quality of public education is so high that private schools are not used much; they are mostly Catholic, but some receive limited government subsidies. Due to the fact that study at universities is only exceptionally limited, there is a large number of unemployed university students.