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The French Empire, also known as the Empire of the French, or the Greater French Empire, was the empire established by Napoleon I in France, and is still the dominant power of continental Europe to this day.
The Empire was founded after the coup d'état of 1799, when Napoleon Bonaparte, a successful and popular general who fought against the First and Second Coalitions in the First Great European War, took over the French Republic, and installed himself as First Consul, but was named Emperor of the French in 1804, wherein he turned the Republic into the Empire. While France became more democratic and open in the mid to late 19th century, the trauma of the Second Global War lead to a right-wing Sorelist dictatorship by Philipe Petain to come to power in the 1930s, and to this day a police-state and partially state-controlled economic dictatorship still holds power. France was a founding member of the Organization of Sovereign Nations (French Trafalgar, British Waterloo), and leader of the European Defensive Alliance, a group of Sorelist nations that are ideologically opposed to the democracies and capitalist nations of the Juneau Pact
Metropolitan France extends from the English Channel in the north to the Mediterranean in the south; from the border with Spain in the west to the Rhine River, the Netherlands, West Germany,Switzerland and North Italy in the East. This makes France, with the exception of the Russia, the largest country in Europe, and the most populous.
France is one of the most dominant economic nation's in the world, rivalled only by the United States of America in economic terms. France has a high standard of living and the second largest GDP in the world, and is one of the most globalized nations in the world, with an excellent education and healthcare system. The majority of the economy is focused in the service and manufacturing industries, and is one of the largest exporters in the world. The Empire also has the largest standing army and second largest navy in the world.
History (From POD)
After the destruction of the British Fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Emperor Napoleon I was given the chance to invade England, and bring under the domination of the French Empire. Although the Grande Army would have been able to sweep through the British Army, Napoleon instead decided to force a settlement, which the war-weary England agreed to. The Peace of Copenhagen was signed on January 16, 1806, and was to allow Napoleon the opportunity to smash the Austrian and Russian armies at the Battle of Austerlitz, which forced the Emperor of Austria to sign for peace, and renounce all claims on Italy. Russia signed the Treaty of Cracow in 1807, where they recognized the Kingdom of Poland . Prussia, after a disastrous Rhineland Conflict, was also forced to sue for peace.
First and Second Imperial Plans
With the wars over, Napoleon I set to work on expanding the economic and diplomatic power of the French Empire, and, with the Imperial Plans, were able to expand industry, roads and harbors throughout the Empire. Soon, towns such as Cherbourg, Marseilles and Bordeaux were in the midst of an economic boom. Napoleon began to build a African Empire in 1818, making Algeria the first colony established since the selling of Louisiana to the United States of America and the loss of Haiti in a slave rebellion in 1802. The new French Colonial Empire soon included many other African territories and reached as far as Indo-china. At the same time, France was working to create an alliance to safeguard France's interests, resulting in the Marseilles Pact.
Testing the New Emperor
Tensions close to home, including the North Sea Incident didn't allow the Empire building to continue unmolested for long, and the Prussian Aggression War forced the new Emperor, Napoleon II, crowned after his father's death in 1831, to defeat the Prussian forces on land and the British Royal Navy at sea.
The victory in the war, as well as the massive industrialization and railroad construction brought enormous wealth to France, as did the expansion of colonies in Africa and the Pacific. However the Great Panic of 1839 brought the economy to a screeching halt, and forced Napoleon II to try to restart the economy which he was moderately successful in reducing the worse pain of the Panic, and managed to reduce unemployment. But the death of Michel Ney, one of the best generals and politicians in the empire, was a great shock to many and it was assumed that no one could take his place.
The attempts by Napoleon II to patch up the relationship with their long time enemy Britain resulted in a successful joint operation in the Ambassadors War against the backward Chinese Empire. While the war, and the acquisition of Formosa was seen as a great boost, soon after the Race for India and the increasing nationalistic overtones in propaganda by every nation in Europe resulted in increasingly difficult tensions. The death of Napoleon II in 1848 and the accession of his young and sick son, Louis Philip to power and the appointment of a Regent Council mostly made up of generals and admirals to rule France until his majority did little to decrease military and political tensions.
But the dispute over Romania and Palestine, in name controlled by the Ottoman Empire, but increasingly falling under the sway of Russia and the Western Powers respectfully, resulted in the spark that started the war. After Italian pilgrims were massacred by Turkish nationalists, and France landed marines to restore order, the Turks declared war, and wiped out the defending French soldiers. The First Global War had begun. Long time enemy Prussia and convinced Britain to join with them in the United Coalition to launch a joint invasion of the Netherlands, considered the "weak spot of the French", and then drive through Flanders and Wallonia to invade France proper.
Failures by the French had allowed the British gain a foot hold in Holland, but breakdown in communications between the Prussians and British did not allow them to break out, and France managed to hold the two forces away from each other, and slowly push back the Prussian invasion of the Confederation of the Rhine. By 1860, it appeared that France might yet again win, but a hasty, unprepared offensive in the spring and fall of that year due to political pressure in the National Assembly lead to the destruction of French strength in Prussia, which allowed the wounded Prussian armies to mount a counteroffensive. British attempts to break out of Holland where held back, but each subsequent bloody attack forced the French back again and again. After two more years of attrition warfare, France at last agreed to sign an Armistice and negotiate peace.
Napoleon III and the "Revanche Era"
The defeat of the French Empire, as well as the death of Louis Phillip in 1862, shocked France, and an economic crisis after the war resulted in massive unemployment and a contraction of the economy began what many commentators were calling the "End of Empire." The nephew of Napoleon I, Prince Charles Bonaparte, a politician who lead the Regent Council of his cousin and was the Prime Minister of the Ministerial Cabinet and the head of the National Assembly, was named the new Emperor and taking the title of Napoleon III. The new emperor sought to re-establish the power of France and her allies. When the Italian Civil War broke out in 1863, Napoleon was quick to send aid to the Savoy family and Umberto, the son of the recently fled Victory Emmanuel I, against the British supported Republicans, and the Bourbon candidate, which Germany supported. After five years of bloody civil war, the German allied Bourbon's won, and Francis I was named King of Italy, which was a minor blow to French foreign policy.
However, Napoleon III decided that the attempts to reconcile French and British positions was possible, especially after the British and German's had a major falling out in the 1860s over Italy and Poland. The alliance with Russia, while damaged by the collapse of the Marseilles Pact in 1863, continued strong, as both Napoleon III and Czar Alexander II reaffirmed their alliance in 1866, and realized that neither could work without the other.
Napoleon III, giving support to politicians, writers and artists was instrumental in creating the so called "revanchist" ideas to reclaim France's place in Europe, and leading to major economic, political and military reforms: cashiering old and incompetent military officers out of service, establishing a General Staff in the model of Prussia to coordinate the French military and promoting new investments in industry, infrastructure and industry. The most controversial part of his "New Empire" program was the gradual weakening of the National Assembly and more powers given to the Ministerial Cabinet and the Emperor himself. As the power in France was more centralized with the emperor, voting in elections was generally made more free and open, leading a belief that democracy would soon sweep the Empire.
The Reign of Louis I
Emperor Napoleon III died January 9, 1873, and left a strong, united nation to his son who would look over the French Empire for the next 50 years, in what has been called the "Second Golden Age of France", and Louis himself being called the "Second Great Louis." However, the first years of the young emperor's reign were not seen in such favourable light, especially with Louis I posturing and at times overly aggressive foreign and political moves lead to fears of war and even the end of the empire. Crisis over North Sea in 1886, the Tyrrhenian Sea in 1889 and Tripoli in 1891 each time nearly lead to war, but in the end an international settlement helped to defuse tensions and restore peace. Despite these crisis, Louis I saw a burgeoning relationship with Great Britain, which was no longer the close allies to Germany that defeat France before. Although colonial issues would raise problems, for the most part the period between 1870 and the outbreak of the Second Global War was the best time for French-British relations in history. However, within a few years the relationship with Britain, always on shaky ground especially over the "Almost War" in Burma in 1897.
With each crisis breaking out in Europe, a heightened tension amongst the powers of Europe led to increasing military spending and eventually the production of new weapons: Dreadnought battleships, machine guns, airplanes, heavier artillery and many other weapons would ensure the next war would be both bloody and costly, but propaganda amongst all the nations exalted their own strength and decried their enemies. One French writer decried this period as a "war of words... if everyone believes they are superior to everyone else, whats to stop the whole world from killing itself to prove it?"
On the home front, the National Assembly lead by Léon Gambetta, a popular and charismatic voice for democracy in the Empire, tried to strip some of the powers lost to Napoleon III and reform the way the Empire was run both at home at abroad, but this merely lead to political deadlock that didn't end with Gambetta's death in 1889, but was continued by his successors until the Second Global War. Despite this, Louis I, working with the mayor of Paris, helped to beautify and expand the capital, which was started by his father. The "Nouveau Paris" was an engineering and architectural triumph, and fostered great pride in the empire as the economy grew and the standing of France was increased from the dark days of the 1860s.
Second Global War
The crisis of 1911 sparked by the assassination of the Turkish Prime Minister in Belgrade quickly devolved into war around the world, as alliances were called into action in support of those nations under threat or who believed they needed to take advantage of their neighbours, or attack before they in turn were attacked. As Germany and the United Kingdom, long time enemies of France, began to mobilize and threaten France, Emperor Louis, seeing the war as a way to solidify his power, established an "Emergency Unity Government" that would make the Prime Minister an equal to the Emperor for the duration of the war. This way, the Prime Minister could take the blame for any failures and the Emperor would get the credit for any successes achieved.
However, the "quick, short, victorious" war that he promised devolved to a stalemate over the whole of Europe very quickly: German and British troops pushed from Flanders and Wallonia deep into the Empire. While France managed to hold defensive positions in Northern France, the long, bloody and brutal struggle to push the British and Germans out cost France upwards of four million casualties, hundreds of billions of francs and the loss of confidence in French power as news of massive battles in muddy and unsanitary trenches, poison gas, larger and larger cannons, the sinking of ships that should have been protected by international treaty, and atrocities that were trumped up if committed by the enemy, members of the United Coalition, or downplayed or ignored if done so by the French and her allies, the Grand Alliance. In the end, French tenacity, protection of it's trade routes with the US, Brazil and the French Colonies, and German political collapse won the war for France.
The Peace and the Depression
When the war finally came to a close in 1916, the world had changed. France and her allies Russia, the United States, Persia and Brazil, just to name a few, were triumphant, but at a deadly cost. The Treaties of Paris imposed harsh terms including reparations, military restrictions, and transfer of territory, which embittered the defeated nations, and would later lead to the rise of National Socialist ideologies around the world.
By 1920, France began to reap the benefits of it's victory. While it took years to rebuild and retool, eventually industry began to return to normal. The expanded French Empire allowed new markets to be developed, and while France had long been a mercantilist and protectionist nation, the first experiments with Free Trade took place with the passing of the Tariff Act of 1924, which reduced many tariffs and fees to a penance. While it cut into the revenues of the state, as well as the reduction in taxes despite the massive debts from the war and the pensions to pay to the soldiers that fought, the money coming in from reparations was used to pay for new infrastructure projects and the rebuilding of much of Paris once again. The death of Emperor Louis in 1923, followed in 1926 by his cousin Victor in 1926, threw the crown of the French Empire on twelve year old Louis II. A regent council, mostly composed of senior civil servants, generals, but no members of the National Assembly, was appointed to rule on behalf of Louis II until his coming of age. Louis II early on developed a love for the arts, sports, and the military, and held a close and personal attachment and concern to the people, but had little to no interest in politics beyond the mostly ceremonial duties, despite the vast power the position of Emperor still held in France. "Let the National Assembly shout and scream and do what they want," Emperor Louis was reported to have said during his regency. "There will always be a person who can lead them in a crisis."
Very soon after that detachment nearly led to the fall of the Empire. For years stocks and prices rose higher and higher beyond their actual value, fueled by cheep credit and the belief that everything will keep rising forever. Interest rates were low, allowing nations like Germany and the Confederacy to keep afloat and pay reparations to France, the US and other nations with loans, which in turn was invested in stocks and bonds and further loans. But this cycle began to crack in late 1930, and by mid 1931, as interest rates were suddenly hiked up, it became impossible to pay for new loans, or the interest on loans already acquired, and soon the bubble burst, the stock markets crashed, and the economy crumbled. Employment went from 4% in 1928 to 25% in 1932 in France. Factories shut down, stores closed, millionaires became paupers overnight.
Rise of the Fédération Impérialiste Française
French politicians scrambled to find a way to halt the slide, but solutions weren't easy to find, especially in an increasingly fractured and heated political situation. The assasination of Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré on June 3, 1932, threw the political situation into chaos, afraid that a communist revolt was going to overthrow the Empire. In desperation more than anything else, the National Assembly elected retired General Philippe Pétain, founder and leader of the recently foundedSorelist Fédération Impérialiste Française, as a compromise candidate. Emperor Louis II, with the regency just ended, accepted the choice of the National Assembly with barely a complaint. At the time, few knew exactly what Sorelism was, and assumed that due to the lack of a political manifesto, an unwritten tradition of parties in the National Assembly, that it was just an overarching term. The few who had read George Sorel's works had a better understanding of what was going to happen, but their voices of protest and reason were ignored, if not suppressed. Everyone was going to quickly be proven wrong.
At first, Pétain was assumed to be a simple placeholder, a war hero that could serve as temporary leader. At the time, the FIF was barely a party, with only a few seats in the National Assembly. But Pétain sidelined most of the National Assembly and the parties that put him into power by appointing relying on the deputy ministers of many of the departments in the "deputy cabinet" to oversee policy, and not the politically appointed ministers. Most of them technocrats that had never run for government but had worked their way up through the Imperial bureaucracy, so had no political parties, elections or public opinion to worry about. They had many ideas, sometimes conflicting, of how to rescue the French economy, but though debate was often heated, they would be able to work out a compromise to present to Pétain, who would then propose the laws to the National Assembly. This was often how Pétain ran his military commands, getting his officers to propose ideas and plans, and letting them be debated until the best plan could be agreed upon, and then all officers would have to follow the proposed course of action.
The failure of a massive bill that would have been almost double the size of the vaunted Imperial Plans was defeated due to backlash against his personal style of management, the huge debt it would cause, and other more political reasons. But Pétain moved quickly, asking Emperor Louis II for emergency powers to handle the economic crisis, which the young emperor quickly granted. Pétain quickly had his major project, the Forth Imperial Plan. On top of this, Pétain issued decrees to nationalize industries, cut spending, raise tariffs, and institute huge make work projects, along with arresting communists and "troublesome people" that threatened the state. Over 15,000 would be arrested, with many being sent to hastily erected Prison camps in the interior of the country. The National Assembly protested at the usurpation of it's powers, but Pétain sidelined them in late 1932 by having the Emperor dissolve the National Assembly and holding elections. The FIF was built up during this time, with the defection of members from other parties, technocrats, military officers and others, though with a strong right wing bend. In the election, the FIF gained a huge majority, with Pétain making masterful use of the radio
Unlike other right wing parties, however, Pétain personally disavowed anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination and racism, making him rather unique and enlightened for the age, but he was not so lenient on political opponents, especially Communists and later National Socialists. Censorship, abandoned in the late 19th century, was brought back into force, as well as full state control of the media. But this political repression was backed by economic growth. Unemployment began to fall, wages rose, debt was either payed back or simply decreed canceled, much to the displeasure of many creditors.