Located in Western Europe, France is separated from the British Isles to the north west by the English Channel. To the north east is Belgium and Luxembourg. To the east is Germany, Switzerland and Italy. To the south lies the Mediterranean Sea and to the southwest lies Spain. To France's west is the Bay of Biscay. Other countries bordering France are the micro nation states, Andorra and Monaco.
France is a key player on the world stage and a country at the political heart of Europe. Although ultimately a victor in World Wars I and II, France paid a high price in both economic and human terms during the two world wars. Indeed, France suffered extensive losses in its empire, wealth, human capital, and rank as a dominant nation-state.
The years that followed saw protracted conflicts culminating in independence for Algeria and most other French colonies in Africa as well as decolonization in Southeast Asia.
In 1958, the mixed nature of the coalition government structure collapsed as a result of the tremendous opposing pressures generated by four years of war with Algeria, bringing General de Gaulle to power again, heading the government to prevent civil war. Marking the beginning of the Fifth Republic, General de Gaulle became prime minister in June 1958 and was elected president in December of that year.
Since 1958, France has constructed a hybrid presidential-parliamentary governing system resistant to the instabilities experienced in earlier more purely parliamentary administrations.
France today is one of the most modern countries in the world and a major player on the global stage not only as a charter member of the United Nations and membership in many of its specialized and regional agencies, but also with a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
France is a leader among European nations. The country is a member of the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In recent years, its reconciliation and cooperation with Germany has proved central to the economic integration of Europe, including the introduction of a common exchange currency, the euro, in January 1999. That being said, French voters rejected the proposed European Union constitution in a referendum in May 2005, although passage of the reformist Lisbon Treaty in 2009 brought an end to the bloc's uncertainty.
Today, France is regarded as a highly developed country. It is one of the largest economies in the world, and is the third largest in the European Union. The country's economic strength lies in its substantial agricultural resources, a large industrial base, and a highly skilled workforce.