Answer valid for France only. PhD programs in France require to already have a master's degree (or equivalent); filling the position is controlled by the PhD advisor(s); funding is usually secured by the advisor before advertising the position (*). This means you have more time to apply because your clock starts after funding was obtained.
There is no official PhD season, but in practice most PhD start between September and ~February, based on the previous year graduation of master's students. In my case I applied to the position in early October and started the PhD work and getting paid in December. However, I was officially enrolled in the "doctoral school" only in late February. You should probably assume a 4-month delay in case your advisor is less versed at playing the bureaucracy than mine were.
Hence, February is not late for France gor a start in autumn. I would even guess most open positions are not published yet.
(*) funding sources that I know of officially grant PhD positions based on the strength of the research project that the advisor submits (alternatively, more general project funds allow for PhDs/postdocs). However, I do know unofficially of one case where funding went to a project based on the CV of the candidate that would fill the position. I do not know is that is common or not.