Okay, here we go with our initial look at France (just a topline summary of major facts, drawn from Wikipedia, CIA World Factbook and Nationmaster). France is 5th worldwide in GDP, with almost $3 trillion, and 3rd (why?) in military expenditure with $61.6 billion, and 22nd in population, with 61 million.
France is the best-positioned of all the countries we will look at here to deal with the economic crisis facing the world. Their ingrained habit of dirigisme will bail out their industry, their nuclear power plants will protect them from energy shortages, while giving them all the street cred they need for global action against greenhouse gases. They have a beautiful geographic location, brilliant public transportation, excellent education and one of the few growing populations in Europe, thanks to generous subsidies for mothers.
One of the key questions going forward will be how France tries to take advantage of this perfect positioning. Their tendency has been to try and control the European Commisssion and get over-represented in multi-national organisations. If they could figure out how to work softly and not piss everybody off, they could really work wonders. But they've never managed to do that, and I'm not sure they'll start now that they are in a privileged position.
France has just rejoined NATO, which should help them militarily and may give them cover to reduce defense spending. Their foreign policy is essentially to work behind the scenes maintaining covert control of the DomToms, their former colonies. Suspicions abound that they were heavily involved in the recent coup in Madagascar, as only the latest example. But they are pretty ham-handed about it all, and what would in a more congenial climate be a source of international support from the DomToms ends up being grudging acquiescence.
Domestically, France grumbles and strikes a lot, but has it pretty good. They have essentially 100% literacy, great schools, very productive workers, and although they can't count ethnicity, there is a tacit assumption that most unemployment occurs amongst the immigrant population stranded in the banlieues.
Nicolas Sarkozy is fortunate in his choice of enemies, as the left has formed a circular firing squad. There has been some high level corruption in France, and continued disclosure may prove embarrassing for the government, although not for Sarkozy. Embarrassment for him tends to be purely personal, as the hot rabbit has ex-lovers all over the place and word gets around.