Like many European nations, France can trace back presence of mankind to prehistoric times. Known as Gaul by the Romans and Greeks, it was occupied by three main tribes, the Gauls, Aquitani and Belgae.
Gaul came under the occupation of Julius Caesar’s Roman legions between 59 and 51 BC. As the Romans declined, Gaul was overrun by northern European tribes and it was only in the Fifth Century that Gaul was reunited by a Frankish King, Clovis I.
France underwent the Hundred Years’ War between 1337 and 1453 with the House of Valois the eventual victors.
From the 15th to 17th Centuries France experienced the Renaissance and in the 16th Century also went through the Protestant Reformation, as well as the growth of an overseas empire.
In the late 18th Century the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy and the Republic was declared. Between 1804 and 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte came to power and declared the First French Empire. He was defeated at Waterloo in 1815 and then briefly France saw a monarchy, the Second Republic and a Second Empire (Under Napoleon III).
The Third French Republic heralded a period of internal peace which lasted from 1870 to 1940. However, in between was the First World War from 1914 to 1918 when northern France saw most of the fighting between the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia and the Triple Alliance led by Germany.
In World War Two France was occupied by Nazi Germany, although it remained part of the Allied war effort with the French Resistance playing an important role.
When it was liberated in 1944 a provisional government was led by Charles de Gaulle. He advocated a Presidential system of government but the three parties in the alliance (Popular Republican Movement, MRP; French Communist Party, PCF; and the French Section of the Workers’ International, SFIO) disagreed and wanted a parliamentary democracy.
De Gaulle resigned and in 1946 a new constitution was put in place and the Fourth Republic was born. The Fourth Republic proved to be ineffectual and between 1947 and 1958 there were 21 prime ministers.
The Algiers Crisis of 1958 brought matters to a head when a group of Army officers seized power in Algiers and threatened to carry out an assault on Paris unless de Gaulle was placed in charge. De Gaulle agreed to do so provided an executive presidency was formed with a seven year term of office.
From this point the Fifth Republic was born and Charles de Gaulle became its first president in the 1958 presidential election when he took 77% of the vote. Seven years later he won once more but with only 55.51% of the vote.
Georges Pompidou and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing each had single terms in office after de Gaulle.
In 1981 François Mitterrand was France’s first Socialist Party (PS) president, winning with 51.76% of the vote. He won again in 1988 with 54.02%.
Mitterrand was followed by Jacques Chirac of the Rally for the Republic (RPR), winning in 1995 and 2002. In 2007 Chirac was replaced by Nicolas Sarkozy of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) when he took 53.06% of the vote.
Sarkozy became only the second president under the fifth republic not to be re-elected for a second term. He lost the 2012 presidential election to Socialist Party (PS) candidate François Hollande. The PS also won the legislative elections and along with control of the Senate and 21 of the 22 provinces they have an overall mandate to carry through Hollande’s manifesto for growth.
The President is elected by popular vote for a five year term.
Parliament has a bicameral structure with a Senate of 343 seats indirectly elected by an electoral college and the National Assembly. The National Assembly has 577 seats with members elected for five year terms from single constituencies under a simple majority system.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places France at 23rd out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 69 (where 100 is least corrupt).