A similar amount of variation and contrast can be found inland; for example, between the rocky hills of Provence and the Rhône valley, where the grapes used in the famous wines of Provence and Burgundy are grown, and the vast plains of the Becauce, south-west of Paris, which stretch for miles in all directions and produce a bumper crop of grain during the summer months. There are reminders of the long and varied history of this region of the world all over the place. The Loire Valley is home to many castles and châteaux, many of which were possessed by English monarchs in the twelfth century. Aqueducts, theatres, and arenas from Roman times can still be found near the south of the Rhône; prehistoric paintings have been discovered in a cave at Lascaux, and a 'dolmen' - a structure consisting of two upright stones supporting a large flat stone similar to that used to build the prehistoric circle at Stone There are ancient churches all over the place, some of which are more than 700 years old. By the end of World War II, France had fallen into a state of extreme poverty. Most of the towns and cities in the north had been largely destroyed by bombing, and the country was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy.
The difficulties associated with reconstruction were enormous. In addition, 95 percent of the great port of Le Havre was in ruins, and neither the port of Bordeaux nor the port of Marseilles had a single crane that was in good operating condition. It was eventually possible to resolve these issues. The towns and ports were rebuilt, and industry was able to resume operations. France, on the other hand, has accomplished much more than this. She has been able to transform herself into a modern country in a short period of time, establishing new industries and modernising her agriculture. Numerous people believe that this quick recovery is nothing short of a miracle. Many new methods of generating electricity have been developed, just as they have in the United Kingdom. During the 1950s, coal was the primary source of electricity, and the French coalfields were exploited to the greatest extent possible in order to meet the demand. As a result of the discovery of alternative sources of energy, coal production is being phased out gradually. Natural gas has been discovered at Lacq, at the foot of the Pyrenees, and at Saint-Narcet; the total amount of natural gas produced in 1973 was more than 7,500 million cubic metres, according to the International Energy Agency.
A number of nuclear power plants have already been constructed, and more are in the works. Not only rivers in the mountainous areas of the Massif Central and the Alps, but also rivers in other parts of the world, are used to generate hydroelectric power. The Rhône has been used for one of the largest schemes in France, undertaken by the Compagnie Nationale du Rhône, which is located approximately 130 kilometres (80 miles) from its mouth. For centuries, the River Rhône served as a vital transportation route, particularly between Arles, near its mouth, and Lyons, the principal city of southern France. However, it was extremely dangerous to navigate the stretch of river between the towns of Donzère and Mondragon, where the river meandered over a flat plain and was divided into small subsidiary streams and obstructed by islands and shingle banks, making navigation extremely difficult. This entire neighbourhood has now been transformed. Some of the river's waters have been diverted into a specially constructed canal that is approximately 29 kilometres (18 kilometres) long and deep enough to allow ships bound for Lyons to pass through it. There is only one lock on this canal, and it must pass through it in order to avoid the barrage, which was constructed in order to convert the flow of water in the canal into hydroelectric power. It is possible to maintain an even flow in the canal, as well as a consistent depth of water in the canal, by controlling the amount of water allowed to flow into the old bed of the river.
A large portion of this water is used to irrigate farmland in the surrounding area. Part of this industrial complex includes the construction of an atomic-energy centre in the immediate vicinity. It is being tested on the Rance estuary near St Malo in Brittany, which is an interesting method of generating electricity as well. Despite the fact that this sea estuary extends for several miles inland, the high tides cause a large body of water to flow in and out of the estuary with each rise and fall of the water level. By constructing a barrage near the mouth of the river, it is possible to convert the energy of the flowing water into electrical power. This power station was the world's first of its kind to be completed, and it was the first of its kind in the world. French agriculture provides additional examples of the French people's ability to adapt to new situations after working in a similar manner for hundreds of years, demonstrating their adaptability. There are significant differences in temperature and rainfall across a country that stretches from the English Channel to the Mediterranean, in addition to the differences in landscape that have already been mentioned.
This results in regional specialisation - for example, olive trees and citrus fruits are grown primarily in the southern hemisphere, while grain is grown primarily in the central and northern plains. These are the areas where these crops can be grown to their best advantage, though corn, for example, can and is grown in almost every region of France, including the countryside. Most of the country, one hectare (2 acres) of land will produce between 2 and 5 tonnes of wheat, but the plains north of the Loire, as well as Flanders and Picardy, will produce as much as 4 tonnes from a single hectare (2 acres). Rice is a completely new crop in France, having been introduced only a few years after the end of World War II. There are ample supplies of water available on the flat plains of the Rhône delta, where rice grows exceptionally well, and there is now enough rice produced to meet the needs of the entire country of France. Fruit and vegetables are consumed in large quantities in France, and the public expects a high level of quality.
This has also resulted in specialisation, with scientific methods being used to farm intensively a specific crop. Market gardening is practised along the coast of Brittany, for example, and is highly specialised. Within a single region, such as the Nord region, the Paris region, the east, the Val de Loire, the Rhône valley near Lyon, the Mediterranean coast, the Garonne valley, and the Roussillon, there may be specialisation in both fruits and vegetables. Everywhere in France, livestock, particularly cattle, are becoming increasingly important to farmers, outweighing the importance of growing vegetables in the field. France is the most important cattle-producing country in the European Union. Beef herds can be found in the Limousin and Charolais regions, while dairy herds can be found in the Hollandais region, and dual breeds are becoming increasingly popular. Another by-product of dairy herds is the many varieties of cheese that come from the provinces, such as Camembert, Brie and Roquefort, which are among the most well-known. M. Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, was the one who, in 1950, initiated the pooling of the coal and steel industries of France and Germany, which later resulted in the establishment of the European Economic Community in 1957, with six member countries: France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium.
Three new countries, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Ireland, joined the organisation in 1975. The European Union, also known as the Common Market, was established in order to bring these countries - as well as others who may join them in the future - under a common policy covering industry, agriculture, and, eventually, the monetary system. The European Coal and Steel Commission (ECSC) and the European Atomic Energy Agency (Euratom), which deal with international atomic energy issues, are now part of the European Union. Trade agreements have been concluded between the European Union and a large number of non-member countries in the continent. In 1963, an agreement was signed in Yaoundé (Cameroun) between 18 former colonial African states and the European Community (EC), which covered all aspects of trade and economic cooperation. In 1975, a second treaty, this one covering 42 developing countries, was signed in Lomé, Nigeria, and became effective. The countries that are affected are listed under the headings CAMEROUN and NIGERIA. Negotiations are currently underway with Latin American countries with the goal of reaching an agreement in the near future.