Paris - France has elected its youngest president since Napoleon by voting in the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Macron, 39, has picked up a massive vote of around 65.5 per cent, beating his final round rival Marine Le Pen, of the National Front, by two to one. The strong result has firmed the Franco-German alliance as the European Union comes under pressure.

Mr Macron spoke of a new chapter and the challenges he faces in a rehearsed address to the nation that was unexpectedly broadcast live.  “Citizens of our country, whatever your choice, there are a number of difficulties,” he began.

“I am aware of those social divisions, democratic impasses and moral weakening … I know the anger, the concerns, the doubts that many of you expressed and it’s my responsibility to hear them by protecting those most fragile, fighting against inequality or discrimination and ensuring your safety and the union of the nation.”

Mr Macron and his wife Brigitte Trogneux, 64, have been the talk of France all year given their romance began when he was just 15 and she was a 39-year-old married mother of three. Now the couple will inhabit the Elysee Palace and Mr Macron has promised that Ms Trogneux will become not only France’s First Lady but will be appointed a political role.

But the large abstention rate of the election, fuelled by a “neither-nor” despondency that has gripped France, illustrates the stark divisions now confronting Mr Macron, a former investment banker and philosopher, when he takes charge from the unpopular current president Francois Hollande on May 14.

Not only did a quarter of the eligible 47 million voters choose not to cast a vote, the country is bitterly divided between pro and anti-Europe factions, high unemployment and increasing spread of deprived areas. Large scale immigration from Northern Africa and refugees from the Middle East has exacerbated the tensions.

Ms Le Pen rang Mr Macron to congratulate him as soon as the exit polls indicated the large result, and in conceding said she wanted to be at the head of the fight, the main opposition, to protect France. She spoke of creating a new party to bring together the National Front with other opposition voices.

“The French have chosen a new president and they have voted for continuity,’’ Ms Le Pen said. “Our patriotic and republican alliance will be the primary force of opposition to the program of the new president,’’ she said.

Mr Macron was elected despite having had no previous election experience and having formed his En Marche! party last August, boosting party membership to 250,000 by door knocking and gaining online support. He only decided to run for the presidency six months ago. Voters had earlier cast aside the traditional parties, the Socialists and the Republicans as well as the far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon. While En Marche! supporters have contributed small membership fees, Mr Macron took out an 8 million euro loan to fund his campaign.

But by any measure the rise of Mr Macron has been spectacular. Three years ago he was unknown before being appointed Hollande’s economy minister.

His “globalist” platform is a mix of some left wing socialism and right wing pragmatism and business ideals: he wants to boost training and education to help fight unemployment levels, and wants to try and change France’s entrenched labour laws to allow employers more flexibility. He is very much pro-EU and has hinted he may rip up a longstanding treaty that establishes the British-French border on the French side of the Channel, which could lead to unprecedented numbers of migrant crossings of the English Channel. Mr Macron is also an advocate of open borders, despite the terror attacks that have been inflicted on France in recent years.

He wants the EU, and in particular Germany, to help France’s financial position.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said of Macron’s win:” it’s a win for a strong, united Europe, for Franco-German friendship.”

However, Mr Macron’s political honeymoon period may be cut short when a blackout on reporting of a hack of En Marche documents is lifted. The torrent of emails and data of information going back nearly a decade that was released by hackers just before the pre-election blackout will be intensely scrutinised. Mr Macron now has to field more than 500 candidates in the June 11 parliamentary elections and must try to get a majority to prevent forming a minority coalition or worse, a hostile National Assembly.

Mr Macron cast his vote in the northern town of Le Touquet, where he and his wife have a holiday home before travelling to Paris and preparing to address a huge crowd on Esplanade du Louvre in Central Paris.