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France flagFrance, officially the French Republic, is a country whose metropolitan territory is located in Western Europe and which also comprises various overseas islands and territories located in other continents. Metropolitan France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. French people often refer to Metropolitan France as L'Hexagone (The "Hexagon") because of the geometric shape of its territory.

France is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra, and Spain. France is also linked to the United Kingdom via the Channel Tunnel, which passes underneath the English Channel.


With an estimated population of 61 million people, France is the 23rd most populous country in the world. Population growth is largely accomplished through immigration and, to a lesser extent, natural growth. In 2003, France's natural population growth (excluding immigration) was responsible for almost all natural population growth in the European Union. In 2004, population growth was 0.68% and then in 2005 birth and fertility rates continued to increase. The natural increase of births over deaths rose to 270,100. The lifetime fertility rate rose to 1.94 in 2005, from 1.92 in 2004. Net immigration fell slightly in 2005 to 97,500. Despite this, France is an ethnically diverse nation. According to the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies, it has an estimated 4.9 million foreign-born immigrants, of which 2 million have acquired French citizenship. France is the leading asylum destination in Western Europe with an estimated 50,000 applications in 2005 (a 15% decrease from 2004).

A perennial political issue concerns rural depopulation. Over the period 1960-1999 fifteen rural départements experienced a decline in population. In the most extreme case, the population of Creuse fell by 24%. France's largest cities are Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Nice, Toulouse and Nantes.

According to Article 2 of the Constitution, French is the sole official language of France since 1992. This makes France unique among the Western European nations (excluding microstates) as the only country with just one officially recognized language. However several regional languages are also spoken, especially in the the overseas departments and territories. Up until recently the French government and state school system discouraged the use of any of these languages, however, they are now taught at some schools. Other languages, such as Portuguese, Italian, Maghreb Arabic and several Berber languages are spoken by immigrants and are frequently heard, especially in the large cities.

A wide variety of religions are practiced in France, as freedom of religion is a constitutional right. According to a March 2003 poll, 64% of people polled identified as being Christians; of this, 97% were Catholics; 26% of those polled declared no religious affiliation, and the remaining 10% were affiliated with religions other than Christianity, of which the largest is Islam.


Metropolitan France is situated between 41° and 52° North, on the western edge of Europe and thus lies within the northern temperate zone. The north and northwest have a temperate climate, however, a combination of maritime influences, latitude and altitude produce a varied climate in the rest of Metropolitan France. In the south-east a Mediterranean climate prevails. In the west, the climate is predominantly oceanic with a high level of rainfall, mild winters and cool summers. Inland the climate becomes more continental with hot, stormy summers, colder winters and less rain. The climate of the Alps and other mountainous regions are mainly alpine in nature with the number of days with temperatures below freezing over 150 per year and snow cover lasting for up to six months.
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