xvi | Introduction democratic legitimacy increasingly called into question (e.g., the high hopes that accompanied the stunning electoral triumph of Emmanuel Macron in 2017, quickly followed by an equally dramatic decline in the young president’s popularity as he struggled to live up to expectations, then a mood of tense uncertainty as he started his second term in 2022 after defeating far right populist rival Marine Le Pen for the second straight time) 5. The mounting stress on the European Union (EU)—of which France is a founding member—caused by steady enlargement, increased skepticism about the EU’s abil- ity to ensure economic prosperity and function as a democracy in which the will of the people (and not just that of the financial markets) is taken into account, and disagreements among member states about how to handle certain major crises in the 2010s (e.g., the Greek sovereign debt crisis, the refugee crisis, and the conse- quences of the “Brexit” referendum in the United Kingdom) 6. A string of high-profile incidents of domestic terrorism (e.g., the Charlie Hebdo/ Hypercacher attacks of January 2015, the November 2015 attacks in Paris, and the truck attack in Nice on Bastille Day in 2016) and 7. The effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic that raged throughout 2020 and 2021—forcing three nationwide lockdowns, infecting over 27 million French peo- ple, claiming the lives of over 144,000 by April 2022, and putting unprecedented stress on the already tepid French economy. The combined effects of such challenges have found an echo in a steady stream of pes- simistic and alarmist essays with provocative titles like The Fall of France (Nicolas Baverez, 2003), The Unhappy Identity (Alain Finkielkraut, 2013), and The French Sui- cide (Éric Zemmour, 2014). Important as it is not to minimize the gravity of these and other challenges that France faces, it is also important to bear in mind France’s many strengths, as well as the sometimes overlooked ways in which it is still a prominent and influential nation. There is France’s advantageous geography. It is situated at the western extremity of the continental European landmass—midway between Europe’s northern and southern regions—with thousands of kilometers of coastline (North Sea, English Channel, Atlantic Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea) and other natural borders (the Rhine River, and the Vosges, Jura, Alps, and Pyrenees Mountains) that give it the regular shape that is the basis for its nickname, “L’Hexagone.” Moreover, the remnants of its for- mer colonial empire—now overseas departments and semiautonomous “territorial collectivities”—give France a presence in North America (Saint Pierre and Miquelon), the Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Martinique), South America (French Guiana), the Indian Ocean (Réunion, Mayotte), and the South Pacific (French Polynesia, New Caledonia). By virtue of its area (552,000 km2) and population (65 million), mainland France is the largest and third largest country, respectively, in Western Europe. It has the sev- enth largest economy in the world, and is a leading exporter not only of wine, cheese, and luxury goods, but also of aircraft and aerospace technology, pharmaceuticals, and other agricultural products. Indeed, although agriculture accounts for under 3% of French jobs and a mere 1.5% of its GDP, France is a global agricultural
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