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France, is a country located in western Europe, bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco, Andorra, and Spain. It is a founding member of the European Union.

The borders of modern France closely match those of the ancient territory of Gaul, inhabited by the Gauls, a Celtic people. Gaul was conquered by the Romans in the first century BC, and the Gauls eventually adopted Romance speech and culture. Christianity also took root in the second and third centuries AD. Gaul’s eastern frontiers along the Rhine were overrun by Germanic tribes in the fourth century AD, principally the Franks, from which the ancient name of “Francie” derived, modern name “France” derives from the name of the feudal domain of the Capetian Kings of France, around Paris (see now Île-de-France).

Although the French monarchy is often dated to the 5th century, France’s continuous existence as a separate entity begins with the 9th-century division of Charlemagne’s Frankish empire into an eastern and a western part. The eastern part can be regarded the beginnings of what is now Germany, the western part that of France.

Charlemagne’s descendants ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France and Count of Paris, was crowned King of France. His descendants, starting with the Capetian dynasty, ruled France until 1792, when the French Revolution established a Republic, in a period of increasingly radical change that began in 1789.

Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the republic in 1799, making himself Emperor. His armies engaged in several wars across Europe, conquered many countries and established new kingdoms with Napoleon’s family members at the helm. Following his defeat in 1815, monarchial rule was restored to France, which was then legislatively abolished and followed by a Second Republic. The second republic ended when the late Emperor’s nephew, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected President and proclaimed a Second Empire. Less ambitious than his uncle, the second Napoleon was also ultimately unseated, and republican rule returned for a third time.

Although ultimately a victor in World Wars I and II, France suffered extensive losses in its empire, wealth, manpower, and rank as a dominant nation-state. Since 1958, it has constructed a presidential democracy (known as the Fifth Republic) that has not succumbed to the instabilities experienced in earlier more parliamentary regimes.

In recent decades, France’s reconciliation and cooperation with Germany have proved central to the economic integration of Europe, including the introduction of the Euro in January 1999.

Today, France is at the forefront of European states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary union to advance the creation of a more unified and capable European political, defense and security apparatus.

It is also one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The constitution of the Fifth Republic was approved by public referendum on September 28, 1958. It greatly strengthened the authority of the executive in relation to Parliament. Under the constitution, the president is elected directly for a 5-year (originally 7-year) term. Presidential arbitration assures regular functioning of the public powers and the continuity of the state. The president names the prime minister, presides over the cabinet, commands the armed forces, and concludes treaties.

The National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) is the principal legislative body. Its deputies are directly elected to 5-year terms, and all seats are voted on in each election. Senators are chosen by an electoral college for 9-year terms, and one-third of the Senate is renewed every 3 years. The Senate’s legislative powers are limited; the National Assembly has the last word in the event of a disagreement between the two houses. The government has a strong influence in shaping the agenda of Parliament.

France possesses a large variety of landscapes, ranging from coastal plains in the north and west, where France borders the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, to the mountain ranges in the south (the Pyrenees) and the southeast (the Alps), of which the latter contains the highest point of Europe, the Mont Blanc at 4810 m.

In between are found other elevated regions such as the Massif Central or the Vosges mountains and extensive river basins such as those of the Loire River, the Rhone River, the Garonne and Seine.

France’s economy combines extensive private enterprise with substantial, but declining, government intervention. Large tracts of fertile land, the application of modern technology, and subsidies have combined to make France the leading agricultural producer in Western Europe.

The government retains considerable influence over key segments of infrastructure sectors, with majority ownership of railway, electricity, aircraft, and telecommunication firms. It has been gradually relaxing its control over these sectors since the early 1990s. The government is slowly selling off holdings in France Telecom, in Air France, and in the insurance, banking, and defence industries.

France joined 10 other EU members to launch the euro on January 1, 1999, with euro coins and banknotes completely replacing the French franc in early 2002.