The French economy is among the most developed in the world: in 1991 Business International estimates attributed to the country a per capita income of 21,000 US dollars (Italy 19,400; United States 20,860, while Switzerland is at the top of the world ranking. with 34,000); in 1990 the per capita consumption of energy was 3845 kg of oil equivalent (at the same date, Italy 2754 and the United States 7822); two thirds of the active population were employed in the service sector, and only 4% in agriculture; life expectancy at birth was 77 years. Between 1965 and 1985, in real terms, the average annual increase in GDP was 2.8%, which is one of the highest in Western Europe.
Agriculture always maintains a leading role in the country’s economy, despite the continuing decline in employment. Still today almost a fifth of the total exports is represented by agricultural products, mostly directed towards the Community markets. The sector is among the most advanced in the world, but the efforts of those responsible for economic policy are still intense to complete the work of further modernizing production structures. After thirty years of almost uninterrupted expansion (despite the fall of 1975, industrial production increased by 33% in the decade 1970-80), during the 1980s the growth rates of French industry became less intense and, within a little less than a decade, the incidence of France compared to the world one, it fell from 5.4% to 4.9%. It was started, during the second half of the 1980s, by the government led by J.-R. Chirac, a privatization action of part of the industries (but also of tertiary activities such as insurance companies and banks) owned by the state; at the same time, the policy of rationalizing and recovering the efficiency of obsolete production branches is always intense. In particular, industrial policy has affected extractive activities (closure of less profitable coal mines, reduction of labor) and the steel industry (reduction of production as well as of labor).
Agriculture. – The agricultural area has not undergone significant changes in a decade; the arable land (19,547,000 ha) has gained about 290,000 ha from arborescent crops (1,280,000 ha); the forest area is unchanged (14,700,000 ha) and the meadows and pastures are slightly reduced (11,740,000 ha), with a consequent increase in the unproductive surface. The increase in yields, on the other hand, was formidable, in particular for wheat, which reached over 330 million q at the beginning of the nineties, confirming the already solid record for Western Europe. Other firsts are those for barley (100 million q) and for two products connected with livestock: corn (90 million q, mainly used as fodder for livestock) and beets (about 299 million q, from which 4.4 million tonnes of sugar are obtained, while the waste integrates the fodder). In second place (behind Germany) are the production of rye and potatoes. These crops are fairly regularly distributed throughout the territory, although the crops are better organized in the arc between the mouths of the Seine and the Rhone. More abundant in the South, on the other hand, are horticultural crops, which also see a strong concentration in the Parisian region, evidently for reasons of market rather than climate. Climatically linked to the South are oil crops such as sunflower and rapeseed, and to the North industrial crops such as flax (another European record); among the innovations that have seen a rapid increase, it is worth mentioning soy.
Fruit production is always relevant, but the most celebrated woody crop is unquestionably the vine. Quantitatively (between 65 and 70 million hl) the world primacy is disputed with Italy, qualitatively the commercial primacy of French wines on the international market remains firm. Rather, it should be noted that southern wine production, of lower quality, is affected by competition from Algerian and, above all, Italian blended wines; the so-called ” wine war ”, which began in the 1970s with the destruction of tankers of Italian origin, continued with the same systems in the 1980s. The average size of French farms exceeds 23 ha, but many are underutilized by part-time ownersthe activity of direct farmers; most of the farms of over 50 ha (in which there is the best economic management and the greatest integration with livestock) are located in the Ile-de-France and neighboring regions. In fact, the intensive breeding aimed at the production of both milk (decreasing) and meat (increasing) is located here: overall the cattle herd has slightly increased, reaching 26 million head. For the most part, dairy cows remained in stables, limited to a few heads, in the Atlantic regions, run by small owners apparently unaware of the overproduction of milk and butter in the Community.
Mining and energy production. – The recovery of some Alsatian fields (Staffelfelden) has led to a doubling of oil production (3.3 million t), however scarce for needs, as no increases have occurred in the Southwest and in the Paris basin; even decreased is the production of methane (4.4 billion m 3: Lacq, Saint Marcet). Hydrocarbons must therefore be imported from the Arabian Gulf area, and energy fuels make up 22% of the total import value. Coal production (13.8 million tonnes, mainly in the northern regions: Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Lorraine) has decreased by three quarters in 30 years, and the whole shows the strong boost given by governments to the nuclear sector. The production of uranium oxide from the fields in the Center and the South is approximately 3890 tonnes, integrated with imports from the former African colonies, feeding a series of power plants which, with 52 million kW installed, give France the primacy in Europe. western. With regard to energy, it must be emphasized that France is in first place for the production of electricity of nuclear origin. Nuclear power plants make up 40% of the total, but their production reaches 60%. With 23,000 employees, the nuclear sector has several centers for research, fuel enrichment, plutonium production and radioisotopes. In the Rhone valley, a center for a non-slowed neutron reactor (” fast reactor ”) is being developed in Tricastin, in which other countries also participate. The only other mining productions to mention, more than bauxite, rock salt or potash, are those, small but still significant, of tungsten and vanadium.
Industrial activities. – Industrial activity has not undergone major changes in the decade, and this keeps France, moreover, in fourth place among the most developed nations of the Western world: it employs 32% of the active population and provides 36% of GDP and even the 80% of exports.
Relevant is the refining of metals, always based largely on imported raw material, with the modernization of electrometallurgy in the Alpine region (aluminum, lead, copper, zinc, etc.); in addition to the nuclear power plants of the middle Rhône, this has a large complex of hydroelectric power plants. The petrochemicals (terminal areas of the Rhone and the Seine) remain very noteworthy, while the steel industry is declining, as in all of Europe, and this also in the integrated construction sites on the Atlantic coast.
According to COMPUTERMINUS, the Paris area maintains the central function, and all industrial activities are represented at a high level. The numerous government interventions aimed at decongesting it have led to the decrease of industries with great need for space (Renault, for example, has transferred various plants to Rennes); on the other hand, they could not prevent the ever-increasing concentration of those with very strong added value, first of all electronics (in the southern area of Greater Paris a ” technopolis ” is developing between Orsay, Courtaboeuf and Evry et Massy). In the south, the aviation industry continued to develop, with its main base in Toulouse and developments towards the southwest (Bordeaux). The automotive sector is also a thriving sector, in which imports and exports are balanced; there are over 27 million vehicles in circulation (the cars of many of the 43.8 million tourists must be added), and the motorway network exceeds 6900 km. The railway network remained unchanged (34,300 km, 12,430 of which electrified), while the use of civil aviation had a strong increase.