France country brief

Overview

The Republic of France has a population of almost 65 million people, making it the second most populous nation in the European Union (EU) after Germany. Beyond Western Europe, France has overseas departments and collectivities in the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans that account for 20 per cent of its total territory and nearly five per cent of its population.

France is a permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council and is one of the five "Nuclear Weapons States". It has demonstrated a capability and willingness to project force in a significant way. It is a member of the Group of Seven (G7) and Group of 20 (G20) major economies.

As a founding member of the EU and host to a seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France is an influential member of the EU and attaches a high priority to European integration. France last held the EU presidency in the second half of 2008.

France is a representative republic with strong democratic traditions. The French political system is governed by the 1958 constitution, which established the 'Fifth Republic' as a semi-presidential system. The president is elected by universal suffrage and serves a five-year term. French presidents can serve a maximum of two terms. 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, headed by the prime minister, determines and implements national policy. Alongside the president, the prime minister is also responsible for national defence. The prime minister and all other ministers are appointed by the president, who also has the power to dismiss them.

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 — ministers are not allowed to serve concurrently as parliamentarians.

Elections for the National Assembly are held every five years. The most recent presidential elections were held in May 2017, during which Emmanuel Macron defeated the National Front’s Marine Le Pen in a second round run-off vote. President Macron’s centrist party, La République En Marche, holds a majority in the National Assembly. On 15 May 2017, President Macron named the Mayor of Le Havre, Edouard Philippe, as Prime Minister. Former Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was named Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs. Other key ministers include Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Economy and Finance, Florence Parly, Minister for the Armed Forces, and Christophe Castaner, Minister of the Interior.

France is a leading industrialised country with a mature and sophisticated market economy. France is the world’s sixth largest economy and the third largest in Europe (after Germany and the UK). The services sector, particularly tourism, is a cornerstone of the French economy. France is the world's fifth largest exporter, and the EU as a bloc is its most important trading partner.

Bilateral relationship

Australia's relations with France are positive and friendly. The bilateral relationship is underpinned by strong and enduring historical links. There has been consular and diplomatic engagement since 1842, and cooperation in both the First World War and the Second World War. Australia and France work together in many fields, such as security and environment, and have shared interests in our region. We both support a rules-based international order. 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 fora such as the G20 and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). Australia also served alongside France on the UN Security Council for the period 2013-2014. Our participation in these and other multilateral fora has increased the scope for high-level bilateral engagement.

The Joint Statement of Enhanced Strategic Partnership between Australia and France signed on 3 March 2017 encourages both countries to strengthen engagement in the Indo-Pacific region. The statement promotes two-way visits and cooperation in the following priority areas: political; defence; security and intelligence; economic; energy and resources; transport and infrastructure; education, science, technology and culture; innovation; shared memory of the First World War; environmental and climate issues; international development; and consular and crisis management. Regular contact between Australian and French ministers and senior officials in recent years has helped advance the implementation of partnership objectives.

On 2 May 2018 during the visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to Australia, then- Prime Minister Turnbull and President Macron released the Vision Statement on the Australia-France Relationship. Building upon the 2017 Joint Statement, the Vision Statement sets out a broad work agenda for bilateral cooperation. In it, Leaders agreed to launch the Australia-France initiative (AFiniti) to support the vision of the bilateral relationship and establish a lasting and prosperous relationship across all fields of human endeavour.

High level contact

High level contact and visits are important in promoting cooperation and understanding between the two countries. Most recently, Prime Minister Morrison and French President Emmanuel Macron met at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires in late November.

Recent senior visits include:

  • Florence Parly, French Minister for the Armed Forces visited Australia, for the signing of the Attack class submarine Strategic Partnering Agreement on 11 February 2019. Minister Parly also visited Australia in September 2018.
  • The Governor-General, HE General the Hon Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), visited France for the centenary of the Armistice in November 2018 and for World War One Commemorations in June 2018.
  • President Emmanuel Macron visited Australia in May 2018, the first stand-alone bilateral visit by a French President.
  • Foreign Minister Le Drian visited Australia in May 2018
  • Then-Prime Minister Turnbull visited France in April 2018 where he attended ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Villers-Bretonneux and opened the Sir John Monash Centre there.
  • Then-Prime Minister Turnbull visited France in July 2017. He met President Macron and formally opened the Australian Future Submarine Office.
  • Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, HE Jean-Marc Ayrault, visited Australia in March 2017. He met then-Prime Minister Turnbull, and with Minister Bishop signed the Joint Statement of Enhanced Strategic Partnership between Australia and France. He also met then-Minister for Trade and Tourism, Steven Ciobo.
  • The Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, visited France in December 2016. He met former Defence Minister Le Drian to discuss security issues and to sign an agreement on enhancing information-sharing between the two countries, including strengthening existing protections.
  • The Governor-General, HE General the Hon Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), visited France for ANZAC Day in April 2016, undertaking the first ever state visit to France. He also attended Bastille Day celebrations in July 2016, where Australian troops marched with New Zealand troops along the Champs-Élysées as guests of honour. He also visited the Sir John Monash Centre near Villers-Bretonneux in September 2017.
  • Then French Prime Minister Manuel Valls visited Australia in May 2016 to meet then-Prime Minister Turnbull and Minister Bishop, following the announcement that France’s Naval Group (formerly DCNS) had been selected as the preferred international partner for Australia’s Future Submarine Program.
  • Former Defence Minister Le Drian visited Australia in February 2016 to meet with Minister Payne and Minister Bishop.
  • Then-Prime Minister Turnbull took part in the 21st UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Paris in late 2015 where he met then-Prime Minister Valls.
  • Former President Hollande made a state visit to Australia in November 2014 in the lead up to Australia hosting the G20 Summit.

Pacific engagement

France is a valuable partner for Australia in the Pacific, and is committed to playing a substantive role in the 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 and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). In September 2016, New Caledonia and French Polynesia became full members of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

On 3 September 2015, then Minister for Education and Training, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, signed an arrangement between Australia, France and New Caledonia to advance education ties.

Under the Nouméa Accord, New Caledonia held an independence referendum on 4 November2018. A majority voted for New Caledonia to remain a part of France. Australia supports the Nouméa Accord process, and encourages all parties to engage through that process to determine the future governance and institutional arrangements for New Caledonia.

Defence and security cooperation

Australia's defence relationship with France is solid and based on shared values and a commitment to maintaining the rules-based global order. It continues to grow with frequent exchanges, single service and joint meetings, and major equipment procurement programs. The Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Republic of France regarding the Provision of Mutual Logistical Support between the Australian Defence Force and the French Armed Forces, signed in Sydney on 2 May 2018, 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, particularly in the Pacific and Southern Oceans, including for emergency and disaster relief and operations against illegal fishing. The importance of our defence relationship with French forces in the Pacific was highlighted in Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper.

Then-Prime Minister Turnbull and then-Defence Minister Payne announced in April 2016 that France’s Naval Group (formerly DCNS) had been selected as the preferred international partner for Australia’s Future Submarine Program (FSP). Australia’s FSP is now the key cooperation activity in the defence relationship with France, representing a significant, long-term strategic partnership between the two countries. In December 2016, Australia and France signed the Framework Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the French Republic Concerning Cooperation on the Future Submarine Program that formally establishes the framework that will support Australia’s FSP. The agreement entered into force on 5 May 2017.

On 11 February 2019, Australia signed the Attack class submarine Strategic Partnering Agreement with Naval Group, representing the contractual basis for the program.

In 2016, the Australian and French Governments also signed an agreement to improve the sharing of classified information between the two countries and to strengthen existing protections. The Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the French Republic regarding the exchange and reciprocal protection of classified information was signed in Paris by then-Attorney-General, George Brandis, and then-French Defence Minister Le Drian. The agreement was a significant milestone in the development of a strategic partnership between France and Australia, and directly supports delivery of the FSP.

Australia and France have developed a good working relationship in the counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism fields, including as founding members of the Proliferation Security Initiative to combat the trafficking in weapons of mass destruction. France is a valuable partner in these areas, with significant expertise and experience in combating terrorism, prosecuting terrorists and dealing with returning foreign fighters and radicalised lone actors.

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 fifth largest contributor to the UN, and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, 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.

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. Some 46,000 Australians lost their lives on the Western Front during the First World War. Each year many Australians travel to the Western Front to participate in commemorative activities and visit the 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 furthered interest. The Governor-General, HE General the Hon Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), represented Australia at the 2016 service.

Joint commemorative activities, such as the annual Anzac Day ceremonies at Villers-Bretonneux and Bullecourt, continue to be important elements of our bilateral engagement. During the Centenary of World War I period (2014-18). During the Centenary of World War I period (2014-18), commemorations in France marked the Battles of Fromelles (July 2016), Pozieres (July 2016), Villers-Bretonneux (April 2018), le Hamel (July 2018), and the Centenary of the Armistice (November 2018). The Australian Remembrance Trail along the Western Front includes seven key sites developed in France and Belgium in partnership with local authorities as part of the Centenary. The trail honours the courage and sacrifice of more than 295,000 Australians who served on the Western Front. On 24 April 2018, then-Prime Minister Turnbull officially opened the Sir John Monash Interpretive Centre at the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux.

Bilateral trade and investment

There are substantial trade and investment links between Australia and France. In 2017-18, Australia’s two-way goods and services trade with France was valued at A$9.9 billion, making France Australia’s 17th largest trading partner, and fourth largest in the EU (behind the UK, Germany, and Italy).

In 2017-18, goods imports from France were valued at A$5.1 billion, and Australian goods exports to France at A$1.6 billion. Australia’s services imports from France were $2.3 billion and Australia’s services exports to France were $931 million.

In 2017, France’s total investment stock in Australia was valued at $24.8 billion. In 2017, the stock of Australian investment in France totalled $51 billion. France is the 9th ranked market for Australian investment abroad.

Australia and the European Union (EU) launched negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) on 18 June 2018. The first Negotiating Round was held in Brussels in July 2018, and the second in Canberra in November 2018.

The arts

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. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Cultural Diplomacy Grants’ Program has helped promote cultural relations between Australia and France. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also supported the inaugural French Festival, held in Adelaide in January 2018. Australia has made a significant contribution to the Musée du Quai Branly, a museum dedicated to the world's indigenous arts and cultures, which has a major piece of indigenous art installed on the roof of the museum.

Education, tourism and other people-to-people links

Australia and France people-to-people links in the area of education continue to grow. In 2016, France was the fifth largest source of international students from Europe studying in Australian universities, English language colleges and vocational education and training institutes. France is an important academic, research and exchange agreements partner, and there are some 440 current agreements or memoranda of understanding between Australian and French universities. In 2012, the Australia-France Alumni Network (AFAN) was established to facilitate links between French graduates of Australian institutions. The network is administered by the Australian Embassy in Paris.

There are over 100,000 French students, working holiday makers and tourists visiting Australia each year. On any given day, on average, there are around 15,000 French nationals in Australia on visitor visas, and over 37,000 French nationals are in Australia on temporary visas. France receives more than 1.2 million Australian tourists every year.

The Working Holiday Maker Agreement, signed between France and Australia in 2003, has contributed to advancing the bilateral relationship between the two countries. Over 200,000 French citizens have visited Australia under this arrangement since it commenced, contributing to enhancing cross-cultural exchange and interpersonal links between the two countries. In the year ended June 2018, 23,217 Working Holiday visas were granted to French passport holders, an increase of 3.8 per cent on the previous year.

Last Updated: 12 February 2019