France is the largest country in the European Union by area and the second largest in Europe behind Ukraine (first if one includes its extra-European territories like French Guiana). France has been a major power for many centuries with strong economic, cultural, military and political influence. During the 17th and 18th centuries, France colonised great parts of North America; during the 19th and early 20th centuries, France built the second largest empire of the time, including large portions of North, West and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and many Pacific islands.