Since the Hipparcos mission and recent large scale surveys in the optical and the near-infrared, new constraints have been obtained on the structure and evolution history of the Milky Way. The population synthesis approach is a useful tool to interpret such data sets and to test scenarios of evolution of the Galaxy. We present here new constraints on evolution parameters obtained from the Besançon model of population synthesis and analysis of optical and near-infrared star counts. The Galactic potential is computed self-consistently, in agreement with Hipparcos results and the observed rotation curve. Constraints are posed on the outer bulge structure, the warped and flared disc, the thick disc and the spheroid populations. The model is tuned to produce reliable predictions in the visible and the near-infrared in wide photometric bands from U to K. Finally, we describe applications such as photometric and astrometric simulations and a new classification tool based on a Bayesian probability estimator, which could be used in the framework of Virtual Observatories. As examples, samples of simulated star counts at different wavelengths and directions are also given.