The Republic of France is one of the most modern and influential nations in Europe. A key player on the world stage, it was at the center of two world wars and has a leading role in European integration and international organizations such as NATO and the G-7 and G-20.
The capital city is Paris, and the country covers a vast territory that extends to the Mediterranean Sea and includes the islands of Corsica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, Reunion, and the French Polynesia. French culture is well known around the globe for its cuisine, fashion, art, and language.
It is a semi-presidential republic with a bicameral parliament called the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale) and the Senate. A constitutional reform in 2008 rebalanced the relationship between Parliament and Government, to make it more parliamentary. The head of state and government is the President, who appoints the Prime Minister and other ministers and exercises executive power. A legislative body, the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), represents the people directly, while the Senate (Senat) indirectly represents the interests of the regions, departments, and arrondissements.
A central pillar of the French system is the idea that everyone has the right to express their ideas and opinions freely and openly. The media in France is relatively free from government control and influences, and newspapers and magazines are mostly independent of the major political parties. A popular, well-established newspaper is Le Monde. Other notable publications include Agence France-Presse, the French general interest newspaper Le Figaro, and the specialized news site Le Point.
The Constitution of France enshrines the concept of the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. This principle is reflected in the French legal system, which places great emphasis on precedent and the importance of the rule of law. The Constitution also guarantees freedom of religion and imposes equality between men and women in the labor market.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of the French culture is its concept of “living well.” The term embodies an appreciation for fine dining, wine, and other leisure activities. The French are known for enjoying life by taking time to appreciate and share moments with family, friends, and colleagues — for example, over meals of bouillabaisse or Boeuf Bourguignon or an afternoon strolling through the gardens of Versailles.
The French also enjoy five weeks of paid vacation, every Catholic holiday ever invented, and a strong commitment to education and the arts. As a result, the French are considered to be among the most wealthy in the world.