France is a sovereign nation situated in Western Europe which shares borders with Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Monaco, Andorra, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. 20% of French territory lies overseas in the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans.
France has a population of 67.15 million and is one of the oldest countries in the world. Coming from an alliance of duchies and principalities under a single ruler, present day sees the state as central authority allowing its territories some autonomy. The location gives it much importance as regards agriculture and manufacturing and France acts as an economic, geographic, and linguistic bridge between eight Northern and Southern European countries.
France is both a founding member of the European Union and a Schengen state. It is a leading industrialised country with the sixth largest economy globally and second largest in Europe after Germany. The country is the fifth largest exporter worldwide, with the EU bloc being its most important trading partner. Tourism and the service sector per se is key to the French economy. Economic challenges include a recent dip in growth, high unemployment, a budget deficit of 3.4% of GDP and public debt soaring around 96% of GDP.
France’s welfare system is known as la Sécurité sociale and had been in place since the end of World War II. Social security is a right of citizenship and fundamentally protects four sectors of society: the sick or incapacitated, the elderly, the unemployed, and families. A minimal standard of living and health care is constitutionally guaranteed to all French citizens and costs France 25% of its annual GDP. Mandatory social insurance provides income to retirees and their survivors, those unfit to work, the unemployed, the sick, and families with dependent children.
Health care costs are largely covered, and the system subsidises higher education and housing. France’s minimum wage is adjusted according to the cost of living.
Australians have a war commemoration interest in France and enjoy joint commemorative activities, such as the annual Anzac Day ceremonies at Villers-Bretonneux and Bullecourt. The Australian Remembrance Trail includes seven key sites which honour the 295,000 Australians who served on the Western Front.
France offers the alps for hikers in summers and winter sports enthusiasts in the winter, although nature lovers can enjoy the scenery all year. Apart from the wine element and the region of Champagne which is self-explanatory, France has medieval sites and festivals, beaches and villages. Paris alone offers the Eiffel tower, pavement culture, arts, museums and people watching.
France has experienced recent terrorism issues and problems with irregular immigration. It is such problems which resulted in the EU Commission proposing the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) to safeguard European nationals and external borders. ETIAS will be rolled out around 2021 and will identify potential threats to French security when applicants apply online for the automated pre-authorisation before reaching the border posts. The ETIAS resembles Australia’s own Electronic Travel Authority (ETA).
Australians enjoy the visa liberation policy with permits short-stay entry into France with only a valid passport. Once ETIAS is implemented, existing Schengen Area regulations will remain as is, but visa-exempt nationals will need ETIAS pre-authorisation. ETIAS authorisation will be valid for three years or until the entitled passport expires.
France’s First Fleet arrived in Australia in 1788, whereafter the first French settlers began to arrive. These included refugees, officials and convicts and refugees. Many of these became landowners, merchants and wine-makers. Many more arrived during the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s, but the 1890s depression resulted in the French population decreasing rapidly.
The assisted passage scheme for French migrants followed World War II, resulting in an 83% increase in French Australians between 1947 and 1954. French and Australia trade developed in the 1970s. Australia has seen much French influence with the establishment in the mid-80s of French media, schools, exchange programs and restaurants.
Australia and France’s bilateral relationship is underpinned by consular and diplomatic engagement since 1842 and cooperation during both World Wars. The countries continue to cooperate as seen in their Joint Statement of Enhanced Strategic Partnership which encourages strengthened engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
The statement promotes two-way visits and cooperation in defence, security and intelligence, economic, energy and resources, transport and infrastructure, education, science, technology and culture, innovation, shared memory of the First World War, environmental and climate issues, international development, and consular and crisis management. The countries also have the Working Holiday Maker Agreement.
The countries enjoy a dynamic relationship in the fields of arts. France is an important academic, research and exchange agreements partner, seeing 440 agreements between Australian and French universities. Two-way trade in goods and services totals over 8 billion Australian dollars annually with merchandise trade accounting for almost three-quarters of that. Merchandise imports from France are three times more than Australian exports. The services sector and tourism account for almost three billion Australian dollars.
Australian involvement on French soil during both World Wars saw the loss of some 46,000 Australians on WWI’s Western Front which further impacts bilateral relations.
Australia has 110,399 people of French ancestry and 24,675 France-born residents.