The Centrist Political Rebel: Who Really is Emmanuel Macron?

To his fans, Macron is the jolt that France needs. To his critics, he’s an opportunist. 

The front runner for the French presidency who has advanced to the runoff against Marine Le Pen on May 7 is a newcomer to the world of politics. His own political stance is described as centrist and he’s known for strong pro-business and pro-European views as well as an unconventional love story.

The 39-year-old was unknown just three years ago but Emmanuel Macron is now being seen as the probable winner of the presidential race.

He’s been backed by the defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who’s one of the most popular members of the Socialist government and also by the former chief of the police elite unit, Jean-Michel Fauvergue.

Pro-Market & Pro-Europe

Macron has pledged to boost French police, military forces and intelligence services.

To improve Europe's security, he wants the bloc to be able to deploy at least 5,000 border guards on the external borders of the Schengen passport-free travel zone.

Macron also promotes a pro-free-market, entrepreneurial spirit, arguing that France should focus on getting benefits from globalisation rather than the protectionist policies advocated by both the far right and the far left.

"We need Europe, my friends, so we will rebuild it," he told the crowd at his Parisian rally this week. “Because we will be stronger, I will rebuild a strong and balanced alliance with Germany in order to give Europe a new boost.”

The presidential candidate wants more robust counterterrorism efforts in a country marked by terror attacks and has pledged to put pressure on internet giants to better monitor extremism online.

Macron has also promised to renew the political elites by appointing a government mostly composed of new figures, some of them coming from business and civil society.

Olivier Mongin, essayist-philosopher and a friend of Macron’s for 18 yearsHe’s a man who, when needed, can make decisions and who wants to make them.

A Unique Love Story

Macron's wife Brigitte is 24 years his senior. The couple has publicly described the unusual way in which their romance started – when he was a student at the high school where she was a teacher, in the town of Amiens in northern France.

Then called Brigitte Auziere, a married mother of three children, she was supervising the drama club. Macron, a literature lover, was a member.

Macron moved to Paris for his last year of high school.

At that time, "we called each other all the time, we spent hours on the phone, hours and hours on the phone," Brigitte Macron recalled in a televised documentary. "Little by little, he overcame all my resistance in an unbelievable way, with patience".

She eventually moved to the French capital to join him, and got a divorce. They've been together ever since.

The couple finally married in 2007 and Brigitte Macron is now campaigning by his side.

"I don't hide her," Macron told BFM TV this week. "She's here in my life, she has always been."

From Investment Banker to Minister

Macron studied philosophy and attended France's elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration.

After working as a public servant for a few years, he became an investment banker at Rothschild.

Macron has never held elected office. Socialist President Francois Hollande named him economy minister in 2014, after he worked for two years as a top adviser on economic issues at the presidential palace.

As economy minister, he promoted a package of economic measures – known as the Macron law – aiming at loosening some of France’s stringent labour rules in the hope of boosting job hiring.

The law notably allows more stores to open on Sundays and evenings and opens up regulated sectors of the economy.

Macron was accused by many on the left of destroying workers’ protection. The parliamentary debate on the law drove tens of thousands of people into the streets for months of protests across France.

Charlotte Rousselet, 31, said she used to vote for the Socialist party but believes Macron has "more modern, reformist views".

He represents a new way to do politics, he promotes women, youth, people from the civil society and he’s not afraid to say that he is pro-Europe.

To his fans, Macron is the jolt that France needs – a dynamic fighter for reforms who could pull the country out of its economic malaise and crisis of confidence.

To critics, he is an opportunist selling himself as a political rebel despite serving under Hollande for years and attending the same elite schools that have trained generations of French leaders.

A victory for Macron would be a blow to populism in Europe. And it would open the door to an elusive "grand bargain" with Germany – which holds its own election in September – on strengthening the fragile euro zone.

(With inputs from Reuters and AP)