By May, Macron’s office could be a lot more ornate: The upper floor of the sumptuous Elysée Palace, with its priceless chandeliers and tapestries. If so, the former Rothschild banker would be the most surprising French president in generations. He has never held elective office, and would be the youngest leader in modern French history. Yet polls show him neck-and-neck with far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the first-round vote on April 23, far ahead of three other major candidates, and then trouncing her in the decisive round on May 7, as the country is expected to unite against Le Pen.
There are still deep questions over what a President Macron might be, not least how he will govern with no conventional political party to call his own. But i n an interview with TIME on Wednesday, Macron insisted he was not simply there to shut out the National Front candidate. “I want to win a positive vote, ” he says. His policies would bring back growth and jobs to France, he says, after years of stagnation in the world’s sixth-biggest economy. These include drastically loosening France’s rigid labor laws, and luring back hundreds of thousands of French expats, many of them well-off professionals, by scaling back special wealth taxes and encouraging entrepreneurship. “My point is to convince the French people that a positive project and a progressive view is more adapted to our challenges,” he said.