France, officially the French Republic (French, Republique Française), major industrialized nation in western Europe. France is the third largest country in Europe, after Russia and Ukraine, and the fourth most populous. The French Republic includes ten overseas possessions, most of them remnants of France’s former colonial empire. Paris is the nation’s capital and largest city.
Roughly hexagonal in shape, France shares boundaries with Belgium and Luxembourg to the northeast; Germany, Switzerland, and Italy to the east; and Spain and Andorra to the southwest. In the northwest, France is bounded by the English Channel.
France is a nation of varied landscapes, ranging from coastal lowlands and broad plains in the north, to hilly uplands in south central France, to lush valleys and towering, snow-capped Alps in the east. Mountainous and hilly areas lie on nearly all of France’s borders, creating a series of natural boundaries for the country. Only the nation’s northeastern border is largely unprotected. Several major rivers drain France, including the Seine, Loire, Garonne, and Rhone.
France is highly urbanized. Three-quarters of the population lives in cities, including more than ten million people in the metropolitan area of Paris, the most densely populated region in France. A comprehensive social welfare system is in place, guaranteeing all citizens a minimal standard of living and health care. Most citizens speak French, the principal language. The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism.
The economy of France is large, diverse, and one of the most highly developed in the European Union (EU). It is a leading manufacturing nation, producing goods such as automobiles, electrical equipment, machine tools, and chemicals. France is the EU’s most important agricultural nation—shipping cereals, wine, cheese, and other agricultural products to the rest of Europe and the world. In recent decades service industries, including banking, retail and wholesale trade, communications, health care, and tourism, have come to dominate the French economy. In recent decades, France has played a leading role in the move toward greater European economic and political integration.