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Here's Everything You Need To Know About The 39-Year-Old Who Could Be France's Next President

He's a centrist narrowly leading the polls over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen — and he's a lot more establishment than he'd like you to think.

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Macron is running for president in France, where voters will go to the polls on April 23 for the first round of the election. He's best known for:

— being neither left or right politically (but also not in the center, at the top, or at the bottom).

— being married to his former French teacher (she's 63, he's 39).

— being the youngest of the 11 presidential candidates.

— his particularly impassioned speech at a December campaign rally, when he became a meme for urging supporters to carry on his PROJEEEECCTT.

And oh, also...this photo of Macron and his wife on a clothing-optional beach (they're on the left, wearing blue). 👀

#Macron paparazzé en train de mater sur une plage nudiste...

Macron is pretty happy right now because he's doing well in the polls.

giphy.com / Via France 2

Given Republican candidate François Fillon is mired in about 35,600 scandals at the moment and Socialist Benoît Hamon is struggling to bring the left together, Macron's chances of winning are on the rise. But it remains to be seen whether he can beat the far-right Marine Le Pen, who currently trails him by just one percentage point in the first-round polls.

A year ago, absolutely no one would have bet on Macron to become president of France. He didn't really become well-known in national politics until 2014, when he became minister for economic affairs under President François Hollande.

He spent just two years in the Hollande government. Here are some highlights of his service:

— the Macron law, aimed at reducing bureaucracy, which made it easier for people to change banks, updated bus routes and gave stores more flexibility to open on Sundays (yes, in France, there are actually laws against this!).

— his much-memed comment to a trade unionist that the "best way to pay for a suit is to work."

— the creation of his movement "En Marche!" or "On the Move!"

— his statement that he "is not a socialist," and that he likes the Puy du Fou, a theme park founded by a right-wing politician that you could describe as France's answer to Colonial Williamsburg plus a healthy dose of pyrotechnics.

Before announcing his run for the presidency, Macron positioned himself as a change candidate who "upsets history" and "worries the system."

giphy.com

Spoiler: That's not actually true. Macron is a former investment banker who's come up through many of the same elite institutions he's promising to disrupt.

It was preeeeeeettttty clear that he'd stepped down so he could run for the presidency. But he surprised France's political class by waiting three months to announce his candidacy in November 2016.

Lionel Bonaventure / AFP / Getty Images

French journalists were tired AF of the will-he-or-won't-he thing, TBH. Though Macron's opponents in the Socialist Party and the far-right National Front quickly accused the media of making him their pet candidate.

It was then and there, during this ~intense~ speech, that the viral meme about Macron's "project" was born. It's a bit like a French version of the 2004 Howard Dean scream, except it doesn't seem to have hurt him.

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

In the video, Macron shouts about his supporters' responsibility to carry on "our project" and help him win the presidency. Even if you don't speak French, you can tell he needed some soothing lozenges and a cup of tea after that one.

(BTW, is it just me — 👋 🇺🇸 the American half of this joint byline here — or are all impassioned political speeches in a language you don't understand kind of terrifying?)

As Macron continued to garner supporters amongst France's political class, one changed everything: François Bayrou, the granddaddy of French centrists.

Jacques Demarthon / AFP / Getty Images

Bayrou (shown here with Macron) is a centrist candidate who appears on the scene every five years during the presidential election. Basically, he's been around as long as we can remember, but we never really know if he leans more left or more right.

Bayrou's endorsement shocked France, and proved invaluable to Macron in gathering votes from supporters of the Republican Fillon and the Socialist Hamon.

But it's hardly been a bed of roses for Macron. He's run into trouble talking about issues like marriage equality and France's colonial past.

On marriage equality, which France legalized in 2013, Macron said: "One of the fundamental mistakes of this five-year presidential term was to ignore a part of the country which had good reasons to live in resentment ... That is what happened with marriage equality, where we humiliated that [part of] France. One must never humiliate, one must talk, one must 'share' disagreements."

Christiane Taubira, a black politician, responded: "Who was humiliated? The one who was called a monkey every morning?"

On a visit to Algeria, a former French colony, Macron said: "Colonization is a part of French history ... It is a crime against humanity, it is truly barbarian and it is a part of that past which we must look at."

The speech was unprecedented for a French electoral candidate. But then, in response to controversy about his comments, he extended a hand to the "pieds-noirs" — literally, "black feet," a term for the white French citizens who fled Algeria after the end of colonial rule — and former combatants in the Algerian war.

Macron developed a reputation as a flip-flopper, which was especially troubling as he took four months to release his policy platform — underscoring his image as a candidate with no real ideas or values.

Eric Feferberg / AFP / Getty Images

Some of his policy proposals include:

— a ban on parliamentarians employing their relatives while in office (see: FILLON, FRANÇOIS, and yes, it's currently not illegal to do this in France, as long as the MP's family members are actually doing real jobs).

— creating a 500-euro "cultural pass" to help young people buy books and go to museums, movies, and art galleries.

— creating 4,000–5,000 teaching positions.

— creating a "daily" police force that would deal with security and lower-level crimes in communities, especially in working-class areas on the outskirts of Paris.

Macron also has some dirty laundry of his own: Le Canard Enchaîné revealed that he allegedly undervalued his declaration of financial interests in 2014.

Bertrand Guay / AFP / Getty Images

He allegedly received 3.3 million euros in revenues between 2009 and 2012, but only declared 200,000 euros when he joined the government. An anti-corruption association brought a case on this in March to France's High Authority for Transparency in Public Life.

The Paris Public Prosecutor also opened a preliminary investigation in March over "suspicion of favoritism" in the contracting for the publicly funded French Tech Night in Las Vegas. Macron promoted and spoke at the January 2016 event when he was Hollande's economy minister, but isn't named in the investigation.

Though some have again criticized him for being a weather vane: "Emmanuel Macron is quietly taking notes during the other candidates' speeches to develop his own policy platform."

Emmanuel Macron prend discrètement des notes pendant les interventions des autres candidats pour élaborer son programme #LeGrandDebat

This post was translated from French.

Assma Maad est journaliste chez BuzzFeed News France et travaille depuis Paris.

Contact Assma Maad at assma.maad@buzzfeed.com.

Susie Armitage is the Global Managing Editor and is based in New York.

Contact Susie Armitage at susie.armitage@buzzfeed.com.

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