France Service Sector
The ways of communication are, in every sector, very developed and efficient; even if the centuries-old primacy of Paris has historically disadvantaged a more equitably polycentric development of communications. The capital still retains its character as a central node of the system, which is peripherally connected to the Atlantic and Mediterranean ports and is connected on the eastern side with Italy and with the various countries of central Europe. This structure is valid both for railways and roads, and for inland waterways; the latter, of considerable development, have contributed to determining the urban hierarchy over the centuries and in particular the pre-eminent role of Paris, the natural center of gravity of the North and North-East, joined by a dense network of navigable canals, which offer further significant advantages thanks to their connections with the Rhine basin. The Rhône (which since 1980, thanks to complex canalization works, has directly connected Lyon to Marseille) is well integrated into the network of inland waterways which, with the channel of the South, it goes as far as the Aquitanic Basin.
According to Estatelearning, the railway network in France is extensive (90% controlled by the SNCF = Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français) and well equipped; France has given particular attention to the railway sector and the TGV train (Train à Grande Vitesse), inaugurated in 1981 and initially connecting Paris with Lyon, later developed towards the southern western (Paris-Bordeax) and eastern regions, integrating with the complex development of waterways and facilitating international trade and tourist flows. The railway network is connected to those in Spain, Italy and Central Europe; it has a radial course with central Paris, except for the direct line that connects Strasbourg to the North through Lorraine. A railway tunnel has been in operation since 1994 connecting the French port of Calais with Folkestone on the British side; the tunnel is 50 km long, 38 of which under the Channel, and consists of two passage tunnels and a service tunnel. In 1998 the construction of the high-speed line between Paris and Strasbourg began, the activation of which is scheduled for 2006. The road network is also very extensive. The Paris-Lyon-Marseille axis and connections in the Paris area are particularly developed. Air communications within the country are of no particular importance; the international connections, on the other hand, have one of the largest airports in Europe in Paris, with excellent airports, followed by those, also international, of Marseille, Nice, Lyon and Bordeaux. National company is the with excellent airports, followed by those, also international ones, of Marseille, Nice, Lyon and Bordeaux. National company is the Air France, one of the largest airline companies in the world; Air Inter mainly operates within the country.
The size of the merchant fleet, on the other hand, has been considerably reduced; the most active ports are those of Marseille, the largest in the Mediterranean, of Le Havre and Dunkerque, which carry out trade in the North; Bordeaux is the main outlet of the western hinterland. The service sector is highly developed in the country, also due to the large extension of the public sector which remains very present in the economy despite the great privatization works carried out in recent years. Great importance is also covered by the large-scale distribution sector, with the commercial formula of the hypermarket and the shopping center that the French have conceived and exported throughout Europe: groups such as Carrefour and Leclerc now have multinational dimensions and control large market shares in other European countries as well. The financial sector is highly developed: the Banque de France, founded in 1810, performed the functions of central bank until the establishment of the European Central Bank. The banking system is very complex, with over 1,400 active banks, and some institutions that occupy top positions in world finance, such as Crédit Lyonnais, Société Générale, Credit Agricole. The Paris stock exchange is among the most important in Europe. As far as foreign trade is concerned, the powerful communications network disposes of an impressive commercial traffic: many finished or semi-finished products are exported, including mainly machinery, means of transport, chemical products, foodstuffs (for which France holds the title of first European exporter), aluminum alloys and special steel, numerous manufactured articles (20% of which are high-tech products) etc. Imports mainly concern oil and petroleum products, machinery and means of transport, raw materials of various kinds (minerals, wood, textile fibers, etc.), some food and industrial products, etc. The most important exchanges take place within the European Union, especially with Germany, followed by Belgium-Luxembourg, Italy, Spain and Great Britain; lively trade is also maintained with the United States and with various former colonial countries. France is the first tourist country in the world. Most visitors focus on Paris, attracted by the boulevards and exclusive boutiques, Tour Eiffel. The Mediterranean seaside resorts of the Côte d’Azur and Provence, wild Corsica and the windy Atlantic coasts of Brittany and Normandy are also very popular. Mountain tourism is concentrated above all in the Alpine and Pyrenean resorts, which offer trails and parks for summer stays and hundreds of kilometers of ski facilities for the winter season. Other places of great artistic and naturalistic interest are the natural beauties of Camargue and Burgundy, the medieval villages and abbeys, the royal residences of the Loire, the Gothic cathedrals, the cities of Lyon Strasbourg, Avignon etc.