French population tops 60 million

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The Independent Online
THE POPULATION of France is growing less rapidly than expected but it has topped 60 million, if overseas territories are included.

The provisional results of the 1999 census, released yesterday, estimate that 58,416,500 live in France proper - an increase of only 1,800,000 or 0.38 per cent a year since 1990. The figure gave the lie to claims that France is being "swamped" by immigrants.

Although census officials declined to account for the low count until final figures are ready in December, other demographers suggested that the most likely explanation was lower net immigration. In other words, more people were leaving the country and fewer immigrants, including illegal immigrants, were arriving than the government had estimated.

Paul Champsaur, director general of the statistical bureau, Insee, said that he believed the count to be accurate to within 1 per cent (or 500,000 people), despite reports that many illegal immigrants refused to take part in the survey.

The census shows a population shift to the edges of the country. Agricultural departements in the heart of France, especially Creuse and Cher in the foothills of the Massif Central, are still losing population. The Mediterranean coast, the south- west, the industrial north, Alsace in the east and the greater Paris area are growing more rapidly. The city of Paris has again lost people to the suburbs.