New French MP is first to be ‘fiché-S’: what does this mean?

The status is often associated with terrorism, and the MP’s critics have said he ‘has no place’ in the Assemblée - but the real picture is more nuanced

Raphaël Arnault is the first MP in the Assemblée Nationale to have ‘fiché-S’ status

A newly-elected MP in France has become the first to be listed as ‘fiché-S’ - a status more associated with suspected terrorists than government officials. So who is the MP, and what does this mean?

Raphaël Arnault, 29, was elected as MP for the first constituency of Vaucluse (prefecture of Avignon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) under the La France Insoumise (LFI) banner, on behalf of the Nouveau Front populaire (NFP).

He beat his Rassemblement National opponent in the second round with 54.98% of the vote.

However, he attracted controversy during his legislative election campaign for his ‘fiché-S’ status and activist background. This status, which means you are under government surveillance (the ‘fiche-S’ watchlist), is usually more associated with Islamic terrorists. 

It typically hits headlines after an attempted terrorist attack, or if someone on the list is arrested.

Why is Raphaël Arnault on the list?

Mr Arnault is on the list because of his extreme left views, and previous activism.

He took up the cause in 2013 when he was a political science student, after the death of anti-fascist activist Clément Méric, who was killed by ‘skinheads’ (a far-right mob). The death sparked his activism. 

He told Les Jours that it had made him realise that "you can die at the hands of the far right".

In 2018, he helped found the anti-fascist group La Jeune Garde, and became its spokesperson. It calls for the “overthrow of capitalist society” as the only way to fight and defeat fascism “in our neighbourhoods, in our universities and in our workplaces”.

The group has faced accusations of violence, after eight of its members were charged with “deliberate violence on the grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion”, after an assault on a minor who is a member of the Jewish Defence League.

In February 2022, Mr Arnault was given a four-month suspended prison sentence for the charge of “violence in a group”, although he is appealing this decision. He is accused of participating in the assault of a man suspected of belonging to a far-right group, although he has said he is innocent.

What does being fiché-S mean?

Having fiché-S status means that you are considered to be a possible threat to ‘State security’ and worthy of being under police surveillance - or at least, you are known to authorities for your views. 

The ‘S’ stands for ‘sûreté de l’Etat’ (safety of the state). It is one of the many categories of list held by the government, under the umbrella of le fichier des personnes recherchées (FPR, ‘the list of wanted people’). 

The file was created in 1969, and currently has more than 620,000 names, of which just over 30,000 are on the S list. 

It contains details such as the civil status of the person, their photograph, details of why they are on the list, and how to behave if they are captured etc.

Read also: What does the term ‘fiché S’ mean in France? 

It is not the same as the fiches ‘J’ or ‘PJ’, which denote people who are being actively sought by the justice system or police (see the list below).

A wide range of people may be included on a list, including runaway minors, prison escapees, members of organised crime units, people barred from leaving the country, as well as political or environmental activists. The details of the list may be shared between European Member states if necessary.

There are around 21 different categories, including:

  • S (state security) 

  • R (opposition to residence in France)

  • TE (opposition to entry into France)

  • AL (mentally unwell people)

  • M (runaway minors)

  • V (escapees)

  • J and PJ (criminal investigations);

  • T (debtors to the Treasury)

There is also another category, the FSPRT (fichier de traitement des signalements pour la prévention de la radicalisation à caractère terroriste), which was created after the terrorist attacks of 2015. This is a highly-secret file, and grants the government authority to track the people listed.

Being on the S list alone is not a crime, nor an accusation, and it does not imply that there are any legal proceedings against you, nor grounds to bring any.

Your status on any of these lists is temporary. If a person listed does not commit an offence in two years, their data will be removed and deleted from the file.

Being on the S list does not disqualify you from running for election.

This was not Mr Arnault’s first attempt at election; he previously ran as a candidate in the second constituency of the Rhône, under the banner of the anti-capitalist, far-left party, the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA).

Political opposition

Mr Arnault has, perhaps unsurprisingly, faced his share of criticism. 

His opponent in the legislative elections, the RN’s Catherine Jaouen, writing in Valeurs Actuelles, said that he has “no place in the Assemblée Nationale” due to his “extreme left militarism”.

The local Parti Socialiste (PS) criticised his candidacy, and questioned why he is representing Vaucluse when he is from Lyon, in a move dubbed ‘parachuting’ in.

"I don't see why we need him here, an anti-fascist activist from Lyon,” said Cécile Helle, the PS mayor of Avignon.

Read also: GRAPH: See seats by party in new French parliament
Read also: Election results around France: how did your area vote in final round?

Yet, Mr Arnault - who was working as an educational assistant when he was elected - has since defended his views and past actions, saying: "I am not the image that has been presented of our movement and of what I may have done during my activism.”

Head of the LFI, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, said that he was “proud to have Raphaël Arnault with us, because he fights against fascists”.

Read also: Left come through to beat far right and win French election

Mr Arnault had trailed behind the RN candidate in the first round (by 10 points), but received the support of the NFP in the second round, and was elected in a surprise win.

“We succeeded by taking a firm stance against the extreme right,” he said.