France is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It is a democratic republic and a founding member of the European Union. It has a strong industrial economy and an international reputation for technological expertise and flair in areas such as the automobile and aircraft industries. France’s landscapes range from green pastures and vast rolling plains to volcanic plateaux and high mountains. Its varied coastline features the rocky outcrops of Brittany and the French Riviera, the wide sandy beaches south of Bordeaux, and the salt marshes of the Camargue. As a result of France’s colonial past, the French language is still spoken by many peoples around the world. France’s rich cultural heritage – its food, fashion, art, cinema and architecture – has also spread far beyond its borders. Despite these strengths, France faces problems: an ageing population, rising unemployment, social tensions and religious differences all present a challenge for the country in the future.