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France - Introduction

As 2014 began, French troops deployed alongside African counterparts to try to quell the religious violence in the Central African Republic, military analysts say a new strategic order is emerging in Europe. France was taking the lead in intervening in foreign conflicts, particularly in Africa - and British military chiefs expressed fears that Britain has lost its nerve. Frances increasingly assertive role in global security contrasted with ally and neighbor Britain. In August 2013, Britain shocked its allies after parliament voted against taking part in any military strikes on Syria, following claims that President Bashar al- Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians.

In a speech in September 2013, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France would adapt to changing strategic challenges. "France will remain a global player, and provided that it manages to regain its economic margin and competitiveness, it will remain a 'power of influence.' "France is a powerful state. "It has an undisputed international status, and the resources to meet the challenges of the new world," said Fabius.

In France, like in the United States, there's usually a sort of 'rally around the flag' effect - a sense of patriotism and support for troops at the start of an operation. But the French were lukewarm about intervening in CAR from the beginning. That was not the case in Mali. French troops - and later President Hollande - were greeted by cheering crowds. Polls found a hefty majority of French supported the Serval operation there. But by early 2014 six out of ten French were against the intervention in CAR. Opposition politicians say France cannot do it alone. European and other international allies must do more to help.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in January 2014 that France would expand its military presence in Africa's troubled Sahel region. During a visit to Washington on 24 January 2014, Le Drian told VOA's French to Africa service the new plan includes about 3,000 French soldiers to be permanently deployed in the region. He said there will be three main bases, to be located in Mali, Niger and Chad, with a logistics supply platform in Ivory Coast. Le Drian told a press conference Friday in Washington with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that the new deployment will allow France to better react to threats in the Sahel. "France has decided to reorganize its posture in Africa in order to have, all over the zone, a larger reactivity, a larger specialization, so that with the support of the neighboring states, we can have prevention actions or intervention in a regional approach so that altogether we can make sure that the security of the entire zone is lasting," he said.

Co-operation on the European Defence Initiative has been a key element of intensifying Franco-British relations. A Joint Declaration on European Defence was issued at St Malo in December 1998. This reflects our shared aims of a stronger, swifter, more coherent voice in international foreign policy backed up by strengthened European military capabilities, to enable Europe to respond better to security challenges.

Foreign investors say they find Frances skilled and productive labor force, good infrastructure, technology, and central location in Europe attractive. Frances EU and eurozone membership facilitates the movement of people, services, capital, and goods. However, notwithstanding French efforts at economic reform, market liberalization, and attracting foreign investment, U.S. and foreign companies often point to the tax environment, high cost of labor, rigid labor markets and occasional negative attitudes toward foreign investors planning to restructure, downsize or close as disincentives to investing in France.

Since prehistoric times, France has been a crossroads of trade, travel, and invasion. Three basic European ethnic stocks -- Celtic, Latin, and Teutonic (Frankish) -- have blended over the centuries to make up its present population. France's birth rate was among the highest in Europe from 1945 until the late 1960s. Since then, its birth rate has fallen but remains higher than that of most other west European countries.

Traditionally, France has had a high level of immigration. More than 1 million Muslims immigrated in the 1960s and early 1970s from North Africa, especially Algeria. About 85% of the population is Roman Catholic, 10% Muslim, less than 2% Protestant, and about 1% Jewish. However, the government does not keep statistics on religious affiliation, and according to a January 2007 poll, 51% of respondents describe themselves as Catholic, and another 31% describe themselves as having no religious affiliation. In 2004, there were over 6 million Muslims, largely of North African descent, living in France. France is home to both the largest Muslim and Jewish populations in Europe.

Education is free, beginning at age 2, and mandatory between ages 6 and 16. The public education system is highly centralized. Private education is primarily Roman Catholic. Higher education in France began with the founding of the University of Paris in 1150. It now consists of 91 public universities and 175 professional schools, including the post-graduate Grandes Ecoles. Private, college-level institutions focusing on business and management with curriculums structured on the American system of credits and semesters have been growing in recent years.

The French language derives from the vernacular Latin spoken by the Romans in Gaul, although it includes many Celtic and Germanic words. Historically, French has been used as the international language of diplomacy and commerce. Today it remains one of six official languages at the United Nations and has been a unifying factor in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Caribbean.




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