France Economic Conditions and Organization of the Territory

According to TOPSCHOOLSINTHEUSA, the French economy, while maintaining its overall solidity, crossed, in the nineties, alternating phases of recession and expansion: GDP declined dell ‘ 1, 3 % in 1993, then return to grow by 2, 8 % in 1994 and, on average, around 2 % in 1995 – 97. The value of per capita income (which amounted to nearly US $ 25,000 in 1998) places the country in eleventh place in the world ranking, even if, considering the purchasing power, it loses some positions; referring to the human development indicator elaborated by the UN with the addition of other socio-economic parameters (health, education, urbanization, environment), philosophy is, on the other hand, in the very first places. The contribution of individual sectors to the formation of GDP has further varied in favor of the tertiary sector: agriculture, in fact, has dropped to 2 % and industry, as a whole, to 26 % (of which 21 % is attributed to the sector manufacturing), while services cover the remaining 72 % (1996).

The formidable imbalance between Paris and the rest of the country remains, especially at the higher levels (and with particular reference to the Quaternary sector): the capital still concentrates 90 % of financial power; there is also a clear gap in all basic activities, for which the ‘regional metropolises’ (Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nantes, Lille, Nancy, Strasbourg and Toulouse) rank second. The policy of territorial organization, previously based on the attempt to strengthen these cities as poles of balance, has received a significant change of address since 1995, and now focuses on the diffusion of the highway and high-speed railway communications network, advanced services and innovation. The ‘technopolis’ model has been affirming itself in the southern regions (Sophia Antipolis, near Nice; Toulouse; Grenoble) as well as in the central-northern ones (Rennes; Nancy), also in support of areas in crisis (Lille).

In turn, the localization model of the industry has evolved in the direction not only of the decentralization of productive segments from large agglomerations, but above all of the enhancement of local factors (entrepreneurship, lifestyle, quality of the environment), giving impetus to ‘districts’ specialized in the textile, food, leather and wood, mechanical and electromechanical sectors (especially in the western regions), plastics (Rhône-Alps) and in high-tech processes developed on traditional ones (eg., watchmaking in the Arve valley).

The active population is distributed among the three major sectors, to an extent almost identical to the percentage composition of GDP, with a slight oversizing in the primary (4, 5% in 1996), which has, however, reduced their impact on exports (15, 5 %). The further decline in industrial employment (26 % of assets) is struggling now to find absorption in the service sector, and the unemployment rate, after a slight drop in 1995 (11, 5 %), rose to 12, 4 % in 1997 and then fell back to 11.8 % in 1998.

The difficulties that emerged in 1997 for the adjustment to the parameters of the European Monetary Union certainly did not favor the resolution of this as well as of other social problems (e.g. the reform of the pension system), accentuated, in perspective, by the trend demographic and measures such as the abolition of compulsory military service, which would anticipate the entry of young people into an already apparently saturated labor market. On the contrary, the large investments in the transport sector, especially railways: the high-speed network, from the original NS route (Paris-Lyon), now extends to the economically less developed regions of the West (Paris-Bordeaux) and towards the East, for welding to the European network. This integration, also linked to the articulated development of the waterways (the Mediterranean ports located at the mouth of the Rhone have long been functionally integrated with those of the North, located at the mouth of the Rhine and the Scheldt, along the Lotharingic and Alsatian corridors) and favored by opening (1994) of the tunnel that passes under the English Channel, sets up a scenario of great interest for the recovery of centrality by the declining industrial North and, overall, for the growth of international trade and tourist flows. The balance of trade with foreign countries (60 % within the European Union) became active again in 1992 and the following year reached a ratio of 103 % between exports and imports, repeated and even increased in the following years. The number of foreign visitors has increased considerably, reaching more than 60 million per year.

France Economic Conditions 2