The French territory has an area of 675,417 km², which represents 0.50% of the emerged lands of the planet (40th in the world). Metropolitan France, that is, European, has 551,695 km² (data from the French National Geographic Institute), while overseas France has another 123,722 km² (without considering the Adelie Land by the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 that suspended the recognition of all sovereignties in that region). Its largest islands are New Caledonia, Corsica, Guadeloupe and Martinique.
The political demarcation of continental European France is based on its “natural borders” being these (in an anti-clockwise direction): the North Sea, the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean (Bay of Biscay); the Pyrenees (border with Spain); the Mediterranean Sea (Gulf of León, Costa Azul); the Alps ; the Jura Mountains; the River Rhine. The Rhine is a border only in part of its course, a point from which and up to the North Sea, there are no geographical features that “naturally” delimit the border with Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. The most important French island in Europe is Corsica, located in the Mediterranean Sea. In metropolitan France the borders extend for 2,889 km and the coastline for another 3,427 km. In Africa, Asia, Oceania, North America and the Caribbean, the French territory is insular. French Guiana is the only continental territory outside Europe, bordered to the north by the Atlantic Ocean (378 km); to the west with Suriname (510 km), to the east with Brazil (673 km). The Island of Saint Martin has a southern border with the Netherlands Antilles (10.2 km).
France has part of the Pyrenees and the Alps, both to the south. Other mountain ranges are the Jura (on the border with Switzerland, the Ardennes, the Massif Central and the Vosges Mountains. Mont Blanc in the Alps at 4,808 meters high is the highest peak in Western Europe. The lowest point of the country is in the delta of the Rhone River: –2 m. The territory also has coastal plains to the north and west of the country.
France is the fifth largest economy in the world in nominal terms, and at the European level it is placed behind Germany, with a GDP in dollars higher than that of the United Kingdom. In 2007, the value of its gross domestic product (GDP) was 1 trillion 892,000 million euros.
France is currently in the process of privatizing large companies and banks, including leading companies such as Air France, France Télécom, Renault, and Thales, although it still maintains a strong presence in some sectors, particularly energy, public transportation, defense and industry.
Its strengths are diverse: transportation, telecommunications, agro-food industries, pharmaceuticals, aeronautics, defense, technology, as well as the banking sector, insurance, tourism, and traditional luxury products (leather goods, ready-to-wear, perfumes, alcohols, etc.).
The growth of the French GDP per capita has been lower than that of other countries – especially the least developed ones – during the last two decades, provoking debates about the reality of this gap and about the economic reforms that, according to some, could remedy the problem and according to others, aggravate it.
With 82 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2007, France is like the world’s leading tourist destination. Tourism is the second largest surplus in the balance of payments, with a surplus of more than 1.28 billion euros in 2008.
Among the most frequented cultural sites are the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, the Georges Pompidou Center, the Louvre Museum, the Sacré Cœur Basilica, Our Lady of Lourdes, and the Palace of Versailles.
It has 65,073,482 residents (January 2009), of which 62,448,977 live in metropolitan France, with a density of 115 residents / km², and 2,624,505 inhabit overseas France, including the community of about 2,000 scientists and leading researchers in Antarctica.
Around 75% of French people live in urban centers. Paris and its metropolitan area corresponding to the region known as “Ile de France” concentrates 11,769,433 residents, which makes it one of the largest in the world, and the most populated in the European Union. Other metropolitan areas with more than one million residents are Lyon and Marseille, which each exceed one and a half million residents.
Life expectancy at birth is 83 years for women (the best in the world) and 76 years for men. The population is made up of descendants of various ethnic groups, mainly of Celtic origin (but also Ligurian and Iberian), mainly Gauls fused with the preceding population, which gave name to the region of Gaul, today France (which also included Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland). Chronologically, other ethnic groups were added: in the formative historical process of today’s France, populations of Germanic origin (mainly Frankish but also Burgundian), Greek, Roman, Basque, Viking (in Normandy) and to a lesser extent Saracen are also significant.
Since the 19th century, as a country that is a member of European Union defined by naturegnosis.com, France has been a country of immigration. More than 90% of the population was born within the country. Among the foreigners who are integrating, the Maghreb, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, Poles, Sub-Saharan, Chinese (1,000,000 in 2007), Turks (400,000–500,000), Vietnamese (250,000) and Gypsies (200,000–300,000) predominate. The largest number of immigrants in recent years comes from the Maghreb. In total, there are some four and a half million immigrants, of whom approximately one and a half million were born in foreign land but have become naturalized by acquiring French nationality, while another three million are still foreigners.
In 2008 France, in the biannual presidency of the European Union, presented a plan for a concerted offensive against illegal immigration that was expected to be approved, despite pending disputes and accusations of xenophobia. South American leaders harshly criticized new European Union rules that allow authorities to detain illegal immigrants for up to 18 months and bar them from re-entry for up to five years. Argentine President Cristina Fernández said the law was reminiscent of times of xenophobia and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez affirmed that Europe had legalized barbarism.