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02/03/2006 15:53 Local Time 
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France

France
Head of State:
President Jacques Chirac
Head of Government: Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin
Foreign Minister: Dominique de Villepin
Area: 550,000 km2
Population: 60.7 million (2001)
Language: French
Capital: Paris
Currency: Euro
GDP per capita: 23,356 € (2000)
GDP growth: 1.8% (2001)

Constitution - Domestic politics

The French political system features a unique combination of presidential and parliamentary powers. Directly elected for a five-year term, the French president has wide executive powers, particularly in the formulation of defence and foreign policies. The president appoints the prime minister and the other members of the government on the premier’s recommendation. The Parliament consists of two chambers: the National Assembly to which members are directly elected for a five-year term and the Senate to which members are indirectly elected for a nine-year term. In the event of disagreement between the two chambers, final decisions lie with the National Assembly.

Conservative Jacques Chirac, who has been president since 1995, won a second term in May 2002 in a clear victory over far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose success in the first round came as a surprise to many in France and beyond. The centre right coalition led by Chirac, the Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP), subsequently went on to win the elections for the National Assembly, marking the end of a relationship dubbed ‘co-habitation’, i.e. a divided executive. The new government plans to crack down on crime, decentralise power, cut income tax and introduce pension reforms.

Economy

The French economy is highly diversified. Agriculture and the agro-food industries account for a larger share of economic activity than in many other EU countries. Tourist-related economic activities figure prominently in the economically predominant tertiary sector. Although its role has declined somewhat in recent years, the state still plays a leading role in the sectors of healthcare, education, telecommunications and transport. The country's broad manufacturing base includes steel, aluminium, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles, rail transport equipment, telecommunications equipment and aerospace.

Among the government’s medium-term targets are the reduction of the budget deficit and the unemployment rate. This may necessitate wide-ranging reforms to the country's tax and benefits system, public administration and the labour market.

Foreign policy

France has been one of the chief architects of European integration, viewing the development of a strong EU as a guarantee for stability and peace in Europe. It is also a driving force behind the development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). France sees the future EU neither as a federation nor a free trade area, but rather an entirely new configuration which takes into consideration Europe’s history and uniqueness.
France plays a prominent role on the international scene and has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The country has historically maintained close ties with Africa, particularly North Africa. The three key elements of France’s Africa policy are loyalty to a tradition of commitment and solidarity, adaptation of her cooperation machinery and opening up of her policy to embrace the whole of the continent.

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