Emmanuel Macron: The next surprise president?

Story highlights

  • Emmanuel Macron will face Marine Le Pen in the final round of France's presidential election
  • A political neophyte who has never stood for elected office, he is now the frontrunner

Paris (CNN)He was once the subject of mockery in French political circles -- now it appears that Emmanuel Macron could have the last laugh.

Macron, who has never held elected office, has made it through to the final round of French presidential election where he will face France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
For Macron, an independent candidate once dismissed as "populism lite" by former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, this is just the latest chapter in a remarkable story.
    At the age of 39, and without the benefit of being backed by an established political party, Macron is embarrassing those who poured scorn upon his ability to become a serious presidential candidate.
    Macron's wife Brigitte -- once his high school teacher -- has been highly visible during his campaign.
    Francois Fillon, the Republican candidate, once said he was certain the French public would "not place their fate in the hands of a man with no experience, who had demonstrated nothing."
    But that view appears to have been misplaced, especially given the way Fillon's own campaign combusted, thanks to a scandal over claims he paid his wife and children for work they did not do.
    Fillon denies any wrongdoing, but his place as frontrunner has been usurped by a man many consider to be the future of France.
    Part of Macron's allure is his atypical nature -- a civil servant who became a millionaire investment banker and eventually a government minister.
    A candidate who has never held elected office, Macron can present himself as "anti-system" to those disaffected by the fractious nature of French politics.
    Why these French voters support Macron
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    His private life has attracted attention too.
    As a 17-year-old, he told his high school teacher that, whatever else happened, he would one day marry her.
    He fulfilled that promise in 2007 when Brigitte Trogneux, 24 years his senior, became his wife.
    French journalist Anne Fulda reveals more details about their relationship in her recent book, 'Emmanuel Macron: A Perfect Young Man.'
    According to Reuters, the book tells how the teenage Macron defied his father's orders to end the romance with Trogneux, who was married with three children.
    Since 2015, the previously very private couple have been spending more time with the media, appearing in several French glossy magazines.
    The marriage took center-stage earlier this year when Macron was accused of having an affair with a man. He dismissed the allegations and criticized the rumormongers, saying, "For those who want to spread the rumor that I am deceitful... not only is it unpleasant for Brigitte, but I promise that from morning until night, she shares my whole life with me. She's wondering how I could physically do it."
    Born in the northern French city of Amiens where he went to school and first met Trogneux, Macron studied at Paris's prestigious Lycée Henry IV before entering the Ecole National d'Administration, long a training ground for France's political elite.
    Appointed to a senior role in President Francois Hollande's staff in 2012 after a successful career in the banking sector, he moved into the role of economy minister two years later, replacing the more left-wing Arnaud Montebourg.
    But his time in office was not without controversy. His determination to push through business-friendly, liberal reforms made him unpopular on the government's own benches.

    Plans for reform

    With a backbench rebellion and government defeat looming, the so-called "Macron Law," which aimed to shake up the economy through labor reform, had to be forced through the National Assembly with the help of a controversial parliamentary measure.
    It led to several days of protest, but also to Macron's realization that it was not just the economy that needed to change, but the system itself.
    Announcing his resignation in August, he explained that he had "touched with his own finger, the limits of the system," before catapulting himself into the presidential race by launching his own party, "En Marche!"
    Macron's election manifesto promises to reform France's welfare and pensions systems.
    He has unveiled a series of business-friendly measures designed to boost France's economy, and has been vocal on the fight against terror and law and order, announcing proposals to increase defense spending, hire 10,000 more police officers and create a task force that would work around the clock to fight ISIS.
    Macron's emphasis has been aimed at wooing Fillon voters, but he has also unveiled proposals likely to please the left too, such as his call for better pay for teachers working in poor, socially diverse areas while also urging unity at a time when France is riven with fractures.
    He is staunchly pro-European, promising to put France back at the heart of the EU and defend the bloc's single market.
    On broader foreign policy, he has struck a diplomatic tone, promising to seek constructive dialogue with US President Trump and to work with Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia towards lasting political solutions in Syria and elsewhere.
    So far he appears to have convinced both left- and right-wing voters to join him. In March, Former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced he would be voting for Macron rather than his own party's candidate, and, since the results of the first round were announced, defeated Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon and Republicans Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe have pledged their support and asked their voters to do the same.
    Also, perhaps crucially, he's attracted a number of first time voters of all ages.
    His party, "En Marche!" which was only created in September, now has more than 200,000 members and his meetings have attracted vast crowds.
    With this strong support base and Republicans and Socialists now throwing their weight behind him, the centrist path to Elysee could be Macron's for the taking.