France's Automotive Competitiveness

The Citroën 2cv is a French cultural icon, but for many Americans it has a kind of comical cuteness, which has been turned to ridicule in our French bashing (the nationality equivalent of racism). Since few of us own French cars, we would have a hard time considering France as an automotive leader.

With 19 vehicle manufacturing plants producing over 3.6 million vehicles annually, France does hold a leadership position. It is Europeís second largest automotive manufacturing center,with Paris as the leading automotive purchasing center in Europe. Purchasing decisions made here affect nearly 14 percent of global vehicle production.  France itself is the fifth largest consumer of motor vehicles in the world, with 80 percent of French households owning at least one car and 30 percent two or more. Should this surprise us for a country where Nicolas Joseph Cugnot invented a  steam-driven car in 1769, the same country where the first drivers license was issued in 1893?  The French have built the largest road network in the European Union to accommodate their vehicles and those which might be used by the 75 million people visiting France each year.

For some of the details of France's leadership success in the automotive area, let us consider the following facts.  Renault owns 44.4 percent of Nissan, Japan's third-largest car maker. Renault owns about 80 percent of Dacia Rumania's only car maker, 15 percent of Inokom, a car maker in Malaysia, 20% of Swedish Motors in Thailand, and 70.1 percent of Renault-Samsung, in South Korea. The last is a big turn-around success story. Beginning in 2005, Renault will be manufacturing in Moscow one of its models designed for the Russian public.  PSA Peugeot Citroën is now Europe's number one maker of light commercial vehicles.  It has 11 production facilities in Western Europe, has a big joint venture with Toyota in Eastern Europe and had a 21 percent increase in sales outside of Europe in 2002.  Overall, in the last few years French car makers have also been industry champions of shareholder value.

France's Muslim Population

France came by its Muslim population initially as a consequence of its colonial presence in North Africa.  Home to well over 4.5 million Muslims, France has the highest Muslim population in Western Europe (7.5-8%), with Marseille  (17% Muslim) being the largest Muslim city in Europe. No Western European country since medieval Spain has had this large a Muslim population. Not surprisingly, France has highest number of Arabic speakers outside the Arab world.  Islam is France's second largest religion, with over 27 percent of its Muslim population active practitioners of their religion (70 percent of those going to mosques in France are of Moroccan origin).  While there are over 1500 places of Islamic worship, there are still less than 10 major mosques.

Until recently, there has been no apparent unity of Islam in France, because Muslims are divided by  class,  politics, ethnic origin, socioeconomic status, politics and devotion to practice.  This partial list of

Muslim Associations in France

may give you some idea of the fragmentation.  In 2002 France tried to give Muslims a central representative counsel (Conseil français du culte musulman) for its Muslim federations, one which would be national, beneficial to all Muslims, and not accept outside radicalizing interference.

It is important to understand that France's fundamental belief in its religiously neutral "laïcité" is not automatically threatened by growing numbers of Muslims. Though it is difficult to say how this organizationally decentralized and somewhat disinfrachized population exerts political influence, there will be one. France will probably have continued trouble balancing the interest of a growing Muslim community with citizens whose reactive concerns have driven them into the Front National.

Recognition for French Health Care

France has the highest rate of combined public and private health spending in Europe and the second-highest in the world, but the results alone are important.  In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the French medical system number one in the world, when cost, quality of care and availability were taken into account (the US was 37th). Should we be surprised at this distinction? Have we forgotten that France is the land of Louis Pasteur, an architect of modern laboratory medicine? France is the country which, in the 19th century,  invented the stethoscope and created the modern clinic with patient care in the hospital bed.  The WHO's recognition is no hollow accolade.  France currently has the lowest death rate from heart attack and stroke.  It also has the lowest general rate of cardiovascular disease. It is a world leader in medical research, with eight Nobel prizes in medicine.   French AIDS research is developing protein interaction mapping and several potential vaccines. France is a founder of genomic research, one of the five cooperating  medical super-powers in the Human Genome project, with three world-renouned research centers in Paris and Evry:




The French had the first successful human gene therapy trial correction of an immune deficiency (announced April 2000), and French genomic research has thousands of cooperative international projects in progress.

What is French health care like for the individual?  Roughly 75% of total health spending is publicly funded, 10% is paid for by supplementary insurance (mostly mutual insurers, covering about 80% of the population), and the remaining portion is paid for directly by patients. France introduced universal health insurance in January 2000, and they made the supplementary insurance free to the very poor. French health care reports a high 66 % public satisfaction level.  People outside of France are all aware of the highly successful French-founded organization:

Médecins sans frontières

On the negative side, France's health care workers are not well paid, and its level of public spending could become burdonsome as the French population ages.  You can find out more about French health care at the

French National Health Institute