France country brief
The Republic of France has a population of more than 64 million people. France has overseas departments and collectivities (islands) in the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans. Metropolitan France in Western Europe accounts for just over 80 per cent of the territory and 96 per cent of the population of the French Republic.
France is an influential member of the European Union (EU). It attaches a high priority to European integration. France last held the EU Presidency 1 July-31 December 2008. France is a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and is a nuclear weapons power. It is a member of the Group of Eight (G8) and Group of 20 (G20) major economies. France held the Presidency of both the G8 and the G20 in 2011, and hosted the G20 Summit in Cannes in November 2011. France takes a leading role in contributing to the Middle East peace process and development issues in Africa.
System of government
The French political system is governed by the Constitution of 1958, which established the 'Fifth Republic', a Presidential system. The President is elected by universal suffrage and serves a five-year term. Following recent constitutional changes, French Presidents can serve a maximum of two terms. Presidential elections were held in May 2012. Socialist candidate François Hollande defeated the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr Hollande, was sworn in on 15 May. On 16 May a new Government was formed under Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, with Laurent Fabius appointed as Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian as Defence Minister, and Pierre Moscovici as Finance Minister.
The national legislature, which may be dissolved by the President, is composed of two Houses: the Upper House or Senate (348 members who serve six year terms) and the Lower House or National Assembly (577 members). There is a clear separation of executive and legislative powers. The Prime Minister and all other Ministers are appointed by the President, who also has the power to dismiss them. Elections for the National Assembly are held every five years – the most recent elections took place on 10 and 17 June 2012. The Socialist Party’s victory cemented its domination of the French political landscape. For the first time in modern French history, one party controls the presidency, both houses of Parliament, 21 of the 22 French regions and most of the large French cities, départements and municipalities. Under the 1958 Constitution the President is the head of the armed forces, guarantor of national independence and responsible for signing international treaties. The government determines and implements national policy and the Prime Minister is responsible for national defence.
On 21 July 2008, both houses of the French Parliament (Congress) agreed to broad constitutional reforms which further define the president's powers, including requiring consultation with Parliament on appointments and military deployments, setting the above-mentioned two term maximum mandate and limiting discretionary powers. Under the reforms the President is able to address both houses of parliament for the first time since 1875. The reforms also serve to reinforce the powers of the parliament and provide new rights for French citizens, including legal recognition of the right of equal access for men and women to high level positions.
France is a leading industrialised country with a mature and sophisticated market economy. GDP is dominated by the services sector. France is the world's fifth largest exporter — the European Union as a bloc is France's most important trading partner. Paris is a leading financial market in the Eurozone. France is the most energy independent of the G8 industrialised countries owing to its heavy reliance on nuclear energy. Over 75 per cent of electricity is generated by nuclear power plants.
France performed better than most other European countries during the global financial crisis, despite an economic contraction of 2.5 per cent in 2009, (the contraction for the euro area as a whole was 4.1 per cent). Recovery was assisted by a €26 billion (A$51.3 billion) stimulus package announced in December 2008 and the provision of bank guarantees and funding to recapitalise French banks. The government also established a sovereign investment fund to help maintain France's manufacturing capacity, with the automotive sector a key recipient. France followed the lead of the UK by implementing a temporary one-year tax on bank bonuses. Despite this, a number of large-scale strikes were held in 2009 over the government's handling of the crisis, driven by an unemployment rate that had risen to 9.9 per cent.
France's various deficits and unemployment are the most important challenges facing the country in exiting the global financial crisis. France has committed in its 2010-2013 Stability Program, presented to the European Commission on 1 February 2010, to reducing its high national budget deficit (7.8 per cent of GDP in 2010) to 3 per cent of GDP by 2013 (the Maastricht Treaty era ceiling). Public debt in France reached record levels of 81.7 per cent of GDP in 2010, and the Government expects it to increase to around 88 per cent in 2012, after which it is projected to decline as a result of the Government's austerity program.
The French Parliament is currently considering President Hollande’s draft 2013 budget, which seeks to reduce the Government’s deficit from an expected 4.5 per cent of GDP in 2012 to the target of 3 per cent in 2013. An additional €33 billion in savings measures must be found – assuming real GDP growth of 1 per cent in 2013 (analysts predict growth of 0.5 per cent). The budget aims for a balance between expenditure restraint and higher taxes for the wealthy and large corporations. Unemployment currently stands at over 10 per cent. France lost its Standard & Poor’s triple-A credit rating in January 2012. France registered a record trade deficit in 2011 (France has not run a trade surplus since 2002).
Australia's relations with France are positive and friendly. The bilateral relationship is underpinned by strong and enduring historical links – consular and diplomatic engagement since 1842, and cooperation in two World Wars. Dialogue and practical cooperation between the two countries on key global issues have been strengthening on many fronts in recent years, including through our common membership of major forums such as the G20, Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM – which Australia joined in October 2010), and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which Australia joined in 2009 as an Asian Partner for Cooperation. Our participation in these and other multilateral meetings has increased the scope for high-level bilateral engagement.
Australia-France relations are broadly and comprehensively defined by the bilateral Joint Statement of Strategic Partnership signed in January 2012. The Statement encourages both countries to strengthen engagement - including in the Pacific where both countries have direct interests - through two-way visits, and cooperation in political, defence, security, economic and development fields. Senator Carr’s visit to Paris on 20 September was important in taking stock, with the Hollande Administration, of progress in Partnership objectives.
High level contact
High level contact and visits are important in promoting cooperation and understanding between Australia and France.
- High level contact and visits are important in promoting cooperation and understanding between Australia and France.
- The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, met President Hollande at the ASEM Summit in Vientiane 5-7 November 2012. They had previously met at the June G20 Summit in Mexico, and at the NATO Leaders’ Summit in Chicago 20-21 May 2012.
- The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Bob Carr, met French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during his bilateral visit to France on 20 September 2012, and at the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in June 2012.
- The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, and for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Richard Marles MP, visited France on 4 September, meeting his counterpart, French Minister for Overseas France Mr Victorin Lurel.
- The Minister for Veterans' Affairs, and Minister assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of Anzac, the Hon Warren Snowdon MP, visited Franceon 23 October 2-12 , and met French Minister Delegate for Veterans’ Affairs Mr Kader Arif to discuss Centenary commemoration plans.
- The former Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, visited France on 19 January 2012. Mr Rudd and former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé signed a Joint Statement of Strategic Partnership which covers historical, political, economic, defence and security interests, and people-to-people links.
- Former French Minister for Foreign and European Affairs, Mr Alain Juppé, visited Australia 10-11 September 2011 (Sydney and Canberra). His visit was part of a wider trip to the region including New Zealand and China. Mr Juppé was the most senior French Minister to have visited Australia since 2008 (when then-Defence Minister Herve Morin visited). His was the first visit by a French Foreign Minister since 1983.
- Former French Minister for Transport, Thierry Mariani, who represented France at the 2011 ANZAC Day Dawn Service in northern France, visited Australia in August 2011. He is standing for election in 2012 as a Member for French expatriates in the Asia-Pacific.
France has direct strategic and economic interests in the region through its Pacific entities of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna. France is a member of the Pacific Community (formerly the South Pacific Commission — SPC) and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), and has been a dialogue partner of the Pacific Islands Forum since 1989. France convened its third France-Oceania Summit in Noumea on 31 July 2009. Previous Summits were held in Paris (2006) and Papeete (2003).
Australia and France cooperate on Pacific issues in areas of development assistance to Pacific island countries, including through such initiatives as the joint Australia-France HIV and STI programs for Pacific Islands, announced in July 2003. Cooperation is well established in some defence areas, including disaster relief coordination under the trilateral FRANZ arrangement with New Zealand (activated in 2009 in response to the tsunamis in the Pacific), and maritime fisheries surveillance, also under trilateral arrangements with New Zealand. The latter cooperation was formalised under a joint declaration signed in Canberra in March 2006.
Australia's defence relationship with France is solid and continues to grow in terms of personal contact at high levels, frequent exchanges, single Service and Joint meetings, and major equipment procurement programs. In 2006, a new Defence Cooperation Agreement between the two countries was signed, providing a framework for further cooperation. The Agreement entered into force on 7 July 2009. Negotiations continue on a Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement (MLSA) which will facilitate our work together in coalition operations, exercises and other activities, such as regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Australia and France regularly participate in combined force training exercises. Australian and French forces have co-operated in the Pacific and Southern Oceans, including for emergency and disaster relief and operations against illegal fishing.
In recent years Australia and France have developed a good working relationship in the counter-terrorism field, including as founding members of the Proliferation Security Initiative to combat the trafficking in weapons of mass destruction. France is a valuable partner in this area, with significant expertise and experience in combating and prosecuting terrorism, a system of specialist counter-terrorism judges, and global reach, including in regions where Australian knowledge is limited, e.g. North Africa.
Australia works closely with France in arms control regimes such as the Australia Group, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Missile Technology Control Regime and the Proliferation Security Initiative, to strengthen export controls and non-proliferation norms. As the fourth largest contributor to the United Nations and a P5 Member, France's positive approach to reform of the Security Council is important. The UN Peace Building Commission and Democracy Fund are reform initiatives where Australia and France share common views and together play a leading role. The French company Thales has a major investment stake in Australian defence industries. France is currently the world's fourth largest exporter of defence materiel with a 6 per cent share of the international market.
World War commemorations
The legacy of Australian involvement on French soil in the First and Second World Wars plays an important role in the bilateral relationship. Over 45,000 Australians lost their lives on French soil in the two conflicts — more than in any other country in the world. Each year many Australians travel to the Western Front, whether through an interest in the battles of that era, to participate in commemorative activities, or to visit individual grave sites. The Government's decision in 2008 to hold an annual ANZAC Day Dawn Service at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux has further increased that interest. Mr Snowdon represented Australia at the 2012 Service.
Mr Snowdon also awarded the 2012 Australia-France Foundation Sadlier-Stokes Scholarship to the Lycée Professionnel Alfred Kastler, Denain (Nord). The Sadlier-Stokes Scholarship is awarded annually to students and schools in the Somme or Nord Pas-de-Calais regions. The scholarship commemorates the great courage of two Australian soldiers, Lieutenant Clifford Sadlier and Sergeant Charlie Stokes, during the battle to liberate Villers-Bretonneux on 24-25 April 1918. The battle is recognised as one of the Allies' greatest moments on the Western Front and a turning point in the war. The scholarship is funded by the Australia-France Foundation.
Joint commemorative activities, such as the ANZAC Day ceremony, dedication of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, and the 95th anniversary of the battle of Fromelles (July 2011) continue to be important elements of our bilateral engagement as the centenary of World War I (2014-18) approaches. A Western Front interpretive trail will develop seven key sites in France and Belgium in partnership with local authorities in the lead-up to the centenary. The trail will honour the courage and sacrifice of the more than 290,000 Australians who served on the Front. The sites currently under consideration are Villers-Bretonneux, Pozieres, Bullecourt, Fromelles, Mont St Quentin (in France) and Ypres and Tyne Cot (in Belgium).
The Governor-General, HE Ms Quentin Bryce AC, represented Australia at the 19 July 2010 dedication ceremony of the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery with HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall. Their participation in the ceremony recognised the losses incurred by both Australia and the United Kingdom during the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916, which saw the single biggest loss of life in Australian military history, with 5,533 casualties and 1,917 soldiers killed. The Cemetery is the final resting place for the soldiers discovered at Pheasant Wood in excavations conducted in 2008 and 2009, and is the first full cemetery that the Commission has constructed in more than 50 years.
The Governor-General's visit reinforced Australia's historic ties with France, particularly those relating to Australia's military commitment during WWI and the scale of our sacrifice. Those links are warmly remembered and commemorated, particularly in the north of France, and underpin broader French perceptions of Australia as a country with a tradition of engagement and a strong contribution to make to shared global challenges.
Bilateral trade and investment
Trade and investment links between Australia and France are substantial but with the balance firmly in France's favour. France is our 18th largest merchandise trading partner overall (A$4.9 billion in 2011). Australia's merchandise exports to France totalled A$1.2 billion in 2011, dominated by coal (A$606 million). Imports from France in the same period totalled A$3.7 billion, with major products including medicaments incl. veterinary (A$647 million) and alcoholic beverages (A$223 million).
In 2011 Australia exported A$653 million in services to France. Services imports were valued at A$1 billion, with the bulk of exports and imports comprising personal travel services. Tourist links between the two countries are significant, with Australia receiving approximately 94,600 French visitors in 2010-11.
Total Australian investment in France in 2011 was valued at A$27 billion (A$491 million of which was FDI). Total investment by France in Australia was valued at A$20 billion in 2011 (A$6.7 billion of which was FDI).
An important initiative to boost our trade and investment relationship with France was the establishment in 2007 of the Australian Business in Europe (ABIE) Paris Chapter's Corporate Club. The Corporate Club has a high-level membership (pitched at CEO or MD engagement) of the main Australian and French multinationals involved in the bilateral trade and investment relationship. Its launch has already paid dividends, stimulating contact and collaboration between some of the participants. The initiative has also helped strengthen the Paris chapter of ABIE by bringing a number of the major multinationals into the organisation for the first time. Recent events have included presentations by senior academics and business people on the global economic crisis, and cross cultural communication in business.
Australia and France have a dynamic relationship in all fields of the arts, with Australian artists enthusiastic to work within the French cultural tradition, and many French counterparts keen to explore Australia's vibrant culture. Institutional links are encouraged within the framework of the 1977 Australia-France Agreement on Cultural and Scientific Cooperation. The Australian Embassy in Paris administers the Australia-France Foundation, which promotes cultural and people-to-people exchanges. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Cultural Awards Scheme has also helped promote cultural relations between Australia and France.
The National Gallery of Australia presented masterpieces from the collection of the Musée d'Orsay from December 2009-April 2010. Australia was the first country to exhibit the chosen works together outside France. Australia has made a significant contribution to the Musée du Quai Branly, a major international museum dedicated to the world's indigenous arts and cultures that opened in Paris in June 2006. A permanent installation of works by eight Australian Indigenous artists commissioned by the Australian Government has been incorporated into the structure of one of the main buildings of the museum.
As part of Photoquai 2011, the Australian Embassy in Paris, in association with Magnum Photos and Stills Gallery, is presenting the exhibitions Minutes to Midnight, and Coming Soon, by Trent Parke, and Between Worlds by Polixeni Papapetrou (to 13 January 2011).
Education and other people-to-people links
France is the third largest source of international students from Europe studying in Australian universities, English language colleges and vocational education and training institutes, with 4,735 enrolments in 2010. France is an important academic, research and exchange agreements partner.
An Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Qualifications(AMRQ) between France and Australia was signed on 6 October 2009 – by Universities Australia and by representatives of French universities, the French Vice-Chancellors' Committee and the French Engineering Schools Directors' Committee.
The French Company Internship Program (FCIP) – developed by the Embassy of France in Canberra – was launched on the same day. The FCIP aims to increase collaboration between France and Australia by giving Australian students an opportunity to work in France and so improve their French language skills. Ten French companies and four Australian universities are partners in the FCIP which began in January 2010. The French Embassy also offers language Assistant Scholarships (80) to Australians to work in France, and Travel Grants (20) for Australians to study in France.
During his visit to France in January 2012, former Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP highlighted the positive contribution of education to the bilateral relationship at an education promotion event in Paris with his then French counterpart Mr Alain Juppé. He also launched the Australia-France Alumni Network (A-FAN) for French graduates of Australian institutions (administered by the Australian Embassy in Paris).
Australia and France signed a Working Holiday Maker Agreement in 2003. France is Australia's fastest growing source of working holiday makers. Around 20,000 young French citizens visit Australia each year under the scheme. The scheme encourages cross-cultural exchange and enhances interpersonal links between Australia and France.
Updated November 2012