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By the 18th century, France was one of the world's richest nations. Industrialization began promisingly at the end of the 18th century, as it did in England. Unlike England and the rest of Europe, however, France failed to maintain the momentum of its early industrial start and was still primarily an agricultural nation at the end of the 19th century. Industry expanded behind protective trade barriers in the early 20th century, but most growth has occurred since the end of World War II. France now ranks among the world's most economically advanced nations.


The Euro replaced French francs in 2002

A distinctive feature of the postwar French economy has been national economic development plans. The first, the Monnet Plan (named for Jean Monnet, who conceived it), ran from 1947 to 1953. Railways were nationalized in 1937, and many other sectors of the economy, including the coal, natural gas, electricity, banking, and transportation (Renault and Air France), came under state control shortly after World War II. During the 1980s and '90s, France fluctuated between a policy of further nationalization of industry (when the Socialists had a majority) and denationalization or privatization (when the opposition parties gained control).

In the late 1990s France, along with the rest of Europe, was recovering from a period of economic recession, but the unemployment rate remained in the neighborhood of 12%. One of the principal aims of the Jospin government, which took office in 1997, was to create new jobs. It sought to accomplish this by introducing (1998) a 35-hour work week. By 2001, helped by a booming world economy, the jobless rate had fallen to 9.4%, the lowest since 1991.


France has been a member of the European Economic Community (now the European Union, or EU) since its founding in 1958; along with Germany, it has generally favored a policy of greater European integration. France is one of the 11 nations participating in the European Single Currency Union that is being inaugurated in the period between 1999 and 2002 (see euro).


In the 1990s manufacturing employed between 15% and 20% of the labor force. The principal industrial concentrations are around Paris, in the Nord&endash;Pas-de-Calais and Lorraine coalfields, in the Lyon and Saint-Étienne complex of the Rhône valley, and in the new industrial centers that have emerged in the English Channel ports of Dunkerque and Le Havre and the Mediterranean industrial complex at Fos (west of Marseille) because of the use of imported raw materials. Many French business enterprises are small to moderate in size, although the competitive business climate created by membership in the EU has forced many companies to be restructured and combined to form powerful corporations.

The leading manufacturing industries are metallurgy, mechanical and electrical engineering, chemicals, and textiles. France is one of Europe's leading producers of steel and aluminum. These and imported metals are fabricated into a wide range of mechanical and electrical equipment marketed throughout the world. French locomotives, turbines, electronics equipment, nuclear power plants and submarines, and television systems are famous for their innovative design, as are French automobiles, such as Citroën, Peugeot, and Renault, and French aircraft, such as Mirage, Concorde, and Airbus. In the 1990s France ranked fourth in the world (after Japan, the United States, and Germany) in production of passenger cars and third (after Japan and the United States) in output of commercial vehicles. A wide range of chemicals, including perfumes, pharmaceuticals, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, and fertilizers, are also produced. The French textile and garment industry has long been known for its high fashion, although in recent years the industry has lost many former markets to lower-priced imports from countries with lower labor costs.


Less than 1% of the labor force are engaged in mining. France has two principal coalfields — the Lorraine coalfield near Metz, which is an extension into France of the Saar coalfield; and the Nord-Pas de Calais coalfield around Lille, which is an extension into France of Belgium's Sambre-Meuse coalfields and is similarly thin-seamed, faulted, and difficult to work. Since the 1950s many inefficient mines in the north and in the Massif Central have been closed, and coal output has declined by about 75%.

Lorraine has the largest iron ore deposits in Western Europe, but the deposits have a low iron content and are in less demand than higher-grade imported ores. Large bauxite deposits (from which aluminum is produced) are mined in the south; France is one of Europe's leading producers of bauxite. Potash deposits used in the chemical industry are extensive in the vicinity of Mulhouse. Natural-gas deposits have been worked since 1951 near Pau, close to the Spanish border. The natural gas has a high sulfur content, and France is a major European supplier of this mineral, which is extracted at Lacq. Small amounts of petroleum are produced at the Parentis oil field in the southwest, and the search for petroleum deposits continues off the coast of Brittany and in the Bay of Biscay.

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