Emmanuel Macron: France's ambitious man 'on the move'

File pic of Emmanuel Macron Image copyright AFP
Image caption Emmanuel Macron is seen as pro-business and in favour of deregulation

Emmanuel Macron is young and ambitious and, as the name of his movement, En Marche, suggests, he is very much a man "on the move".

At 39, he has upset many on the Socialist left he represented as economy minister as well as the conservative right, and now has a genuine chance of winning the presidential race.

"My aim isn't to bring together the right or the left but to bring together the French people," said Mr Macron as he announced his presidential bid.

Read more here: Fired-up liberal pushes for top job

After four years as an investment banker with Rothschild & Cie, where he became an associate partner, Emmanuel Macron had his first taste of government under President François Hollande.

Initially he worked as a presidential economic adviser before taking up the post of economy minister in 2014.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Macron said France's political system was paralysed and failed to protect those it needed to

Although little known initially, he soon forged a reputation with the controversial "Macron Law": a series of reforms that allowed shops to open more often on Sundays and deregulated some sectors of industry.

The law was forced through by Prime Minister Manuel Valls despite large protests and opposition from left-wing party rebels. In an interview with the BBC's HARDtalk, the economy minister insisted his Socialist opponents were tiny in number.

For much of France's business community he became a breath of fresh air, with a list of pro-business policies aimed at boosting economic growth. He championed digital start-ups and prompted a long-distance bus market.

Macron's meteoric rise

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Image caption Mr Macron with his wife Brigitte Trogneux during a visit to the Puy-du-Fou theme park

Born in Amiens, Mr Macron was educated at the prestigious Henri-IV public secondary school in Paris, an institution widely regarded as one of the most demanding sixth-form colleges in France.

He graduated from the elite ENA college, then studied philosophy before moving into finance at Rothschild & Cie bank in 2008.

He first met François Hollande in 2006 and although he was courted by the centre-right, he felt more at home with the Socialists. He has never been elected an MP.

He raised eyebrows in 2007 when he married his former French teacher Brigitte Trogneux, 20 years his senior.

She was quoted by Paris Match magazine as saying: "At the age of 17, Emmanuel said to me, 'Whatever you do, I will marry you!'"

Soon this protégé of President Hollande developed political ambitions of his own, and his position in government became increasingly awkward in April 2016 when he set up En Marche.

His loyalty to the prime minister was then questioned following the first rally of his political movement and he was threatened with the sack by Mr Hollande. "If you don't respect the rules, you're out," the president said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Hollande has for years acted as mentor to Mr Macron

At a protest in June held by the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union, Mr Macron was told to "get lost" and pelted with eggs after telling a union member "the best way to afford a suit is to work".

By August he had resigned to focus on "a new step in my battle and to build a project... that isn't compatible with being in government". There was little secret he was focusing on a presidential bid.

What does he stand for?

His En Marche movement now counts more than 200,000 followers and he has developed a platform that mixes public investment with business-friendly policies.

At the heart of his ideas are plans to end France's 35-hour week for younger workers. "When you're young, 35 hours isn't enough. You want to work more and learn your job," he told Le Nouvel Observateur.

As for workers in their 50s, he argues they should have the choice of a shorter working week.

There are radical plans for a cut in some primary school class sizes and a "culture-pass" for every 18 year old.

He is also staunchly pro-EU.

"Europe is what protects us today against new risks,'' he argues, insisting that the European agenda has to be part of the domestic debate.

His ideas have been derided by the French left, who see him as a "copy-and-paste Tony Blair". Nevertheless he does identify himself as a man of the left, but "of a left that deals with reality and wants to reform the country".

Could he win the presidency?

Before François Fillon's dramatic decline in the opinion polls amid the "fake jobs" affair, Emmanuel Macron's chances of victory were slim. But he is now neck and neck with Marine Le Pen of the National Front and if he reached the second round would be favourite to win.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Macron ends his rallies with his arms outstretched and a cry of "Long live France!"

He is a polished performer on stage and has attracted a loyal following.

When he raised his arms to the heavens and cried "Vive la France!" at a rally in December, his fervent style was widely ridiculed. But it only served to get his message across.

This is a candidate who has never been tested at the ballot box and until now has seen little of the cut and thrust of French politics. He is loathed by the left as a right-winger and mistrusted by the right as a Socialist.

He has had the occasion wobble. A claim that France's colonisation of Algeria had been a "crime against humanity" led to an outcry and a brief setback in the polls.

And yet, he has had successes too. Perhaps his biggest vote of confidence came from centrist François Bayrou, whose backing gave his campaign a significant boost.

He has hit back at his detractors, accusing Marine Le Pen's National Front of talking of "a France that never existed".

He has also shown a deft touch in handling slurs on his private life. Rejecting lurid claims of a gay affair, he told supporters that his wife Brigitte "shares my whole life from morning till night and she wonders how I could physically do it!".

Mr Macron is also beginning to attract interest abroad. When he visited Berlin in January, there was no invitation from the chancellery. By March, that had all changed.

Not only did he spend more than an hour with Angela Merkel, but he won the support of her main rival, the centre-left SPD.

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