France is a cultural epicentre, a defence heavyweight, one of Europe’s largest economies, and the country of liberté, égalité, fraternité
At France’s core is the two-hundred-year-old Republican trinity of liberté, égalité, fraternité. The country’s commitment to citizen sovereignty, inalienable individual freedoms and nationwide equality is outlined in the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (DDHC), which is enshrined in the constitution of the Fifth Republic. France is also committed to upholding laïcité, the country’s unique brand of state-religion separation. These values and qualities can, however, sometimes be interpreted differently (on everything from police powers and face masks to combatting radicalisation).
France holds immense cultural and soft power. The country has produced some of Europe’s best philosophers, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jacques Derrida. Critical thinking remains a central part of the French state education system; all lycéens (high-school pupils) must take philosophy in their final year.
France’s tourist economy is enormous, too. In 2019, famous artists like Eugène Delacroix, Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne assisted the Louvre in welcoming almost 10 million people through its doors. Paris was the world’s second most visited city in 2019, and the city’s Charles de Gaulle Airport is now Europe’s largest.
The political spectrum of the Fifth Republic is fascinating. Emmanuel Macron, who was an adviser to former president François Hollande (2012-2017) in a previous life, is France’s current president. He is supported by prime minister Jean Castex. Mr Castex’s government is a centrist coalition. Mr Macron will be cross-examined by the public at the next presidential election in 2022. When Mr Macron was elected in 2017, his centrist party, La République en Marche, transformed the political landscape by blending centre-left and centre-right. His presidency has, however, not been free of challenges. Early on, Mr Macron had to confront widespread protests by the gilets jaunes (Yellow Vests). His reform of the country’s wealth tax was particularly controversial, not to mention his proposed separatism law, which aims to target radicalisation and strengthen laïcité. The European Union has been central to Mr Macron’s presidency. Mr Macron has been particularly passionate about issues of “European sovereignty” (see here) and collective European defence.
The far-right Rassemblement national (RN), spearheaded by Marine Le Pen, has significant support among those who feel left behind in an age of rapid globalisation. The party sits at Mr Macron’s heels. Ms Le Pen is likely to be Mr Macron’s opponent in the 2022 presidential election. The centre-right party Les Républicains faces the challenge of redefining itself in a landscape where centrist Mr Macron has pinched a considerable portion of its support base. The party has not won the presidency since Nicolas Sarkozy‘s presidency between 2007 and 2012. Mr Macron will likely stay centre-right in the run up to 2022 in order to prevent RN from expanding its ground.
What about France’s left wing? It is intensely fragmented. Will the Parti socialiste (PS) manage to regain the confidence of the French people by 2022 following the mishaps of the Hollande presidency? PS must first find its USP. The left also accommodates the left-wing populist party La France Insoumise, and France’s green party, Les Verts, which gained much support in the country’s local elections in 2019.
Why should you care? In a fragmented world, France is one of the European Union‘s most influential powers. The Franco-German partnership is particularly important to France, with Germany being the EU’s largest power. Post-Covid-19, France’s government has proposed an extensive recovery plan with €100 billion for the economy. The environment, cohesion and competitiveness are its three pillars. France has been an important actor in its efforts to prevent climate change. The 2015 COP21 agreement on carbon emissions was concluded in Paris in 2015.
Defence-wise, France is the only European Union member state to hold a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, following Brexit. France possesses the EU’s largest defence capabilities, with 300 nuclear missiles and 200,000 military personnel. Its army is particularly active in sub-Saharan Africa. Brexit has been a particularly important issue for France. France and the United Kingdom countries have historically cooperated on questions of security such as cross-Channel migration and intelligence sharing.