France had colonial possessions, in various forms, since the beginning of the 17th century until the 1960s. In the 19th and 20th centuries, its global colonial empire was the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. At its peak, between 1919 and 1939, the second French colonial empire extended over 12,347,000 square kilometres (4,767,000 sq. mi) of land. Including metropolitan France, the total area of land under French sovereignty reached 12,898,000 square kilometres (4,980,000 sq. mi) in the 1920s and 1930s, which is 8.6% of the world's land area.
France's ultimate victory in World War I and World War II after initially being invaded and partly occupied by German forces did not prevent the loss of the colonial empire, the comparative economic status, population and status as a dominant nation state. The Fourth Republic was established after World War II, to be replaced in 1958 by the current semi-presidential Fifth Republic established under General Charles de Gaulle.
In 1946, France's attempt at regaining control of its Indochina colony resulted in the First Indochina War, which finally ended with French defeat and withdrawal in 1954. Only months later, France faced a new, and even harsher conflict in its oldest major colony, Algeria. The debate over whether or not to keep control of Algeria, then home to over 1 million European settlers, wracked the country and nearly led to civil war. In 1958, the Fifth French Republic was established, with a greatly strengthened presidency; in this role, Charles de Gaulle managed to keep the country together while taking steps to end the war. The Algerian War of Independence was concluded with peace negotiations in 1962, which led to Algerian independence.
In recent decades, France's reconciliation and cooperation with Germany have proved central to the political and economic integration of the evolving European Union, including the introduction of the euro in January 1999. France has been at the forefront of European Union member states seeking to exploit the momentum of monetary union to create a more unified and capable European Union based political, defence and security apparatus. However the French electorate voted against ratification of the European Constitutional Treaty in May 2005.