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Sweden - Government (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
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Sweden - Government

 

7.2.3 Government & its spendings

Sweden is a constitutional Monarchy, but the monarch only acts as a ceremonial head of state. A parliament (Riksdag) composed of 349 members is elected every four years; it elects the prime minister, passes laws, decides on taxes and approves the state budget. The cabinet holds office only as long as it retains the support of a majority in the Riksdag. The state authorities are comparably independent of the cabinet: their highest officials being appointed by the cabinet for six years, and usually the term is extended unless serious problems occurred in the contact between the authority and the ministry.

There are laws with constitutional status, for instance: the Instrument of Government, the Parliament Act, the Succession Act, and the Freedom of the Press Act.

The county councils and the 286 municipalities are obliged to provide services to their inhabitants as stipulated by law, but are independent to decide the means without interference from state authorities. Municipalities are mainly responsible for education and social service. The provinces are through the county councils (landsting) responsible mainly for hospitals, medical practioners and other health care.

The representational councils for municipalities and provinces (i.e. counties) are elected by the residents, regardless of citizenship, which in the most extreme cases means that nearly 20% of those eligible to vote are aliens.

After the era of the Kalmar Union between Denmark and Sweden (1387-1521), King Gustaf Vasa created a more modern nation and made Sweden Lutheran. After the losses of territories 1718 and 1809 democratic reforms where made, but it lasted to 1921 until all adult citizens had the right to vote (for men: 1907), and first 1971 the constitution was altered to reflect the long-time practice of parliamentarism.

During the 1990s the state church is in the process of liberating itself from the state, or maybe more accurate: the state is giving up its power over the church, and the church will lose some of the authority connected to its status as state church. A decrease in number of members is expected.

Sweden has not been involved in a war since 1814, mainly due to luck and a strong policy of neutrality. This policy may change as Sweden in January 1995 joined the European Union (but the future isn't very clear yet).

Sweden became a member of the United Nations in 1946, the year after the organization was founded. Since that time, active commitment to the United Nations has been a corner-stone of Sweden's foreign policy. Sweden is the fourth largest contributor to the UN, and is one of the countries that meet the UN's goal of 0.7% of GNP for development assistance. More than 70,000 Swedes have served with the UN forces over the years. Sweden has participated in most peace-keeping operations since the 1960s.

Individual Swedes have successfully served the UN in various capacities. Dag Hammarskjöld was UN Secretary-General from 1953-1961. The first UN mediator was Count Folke Bernadotte (assassinated in Jerusalem 1948). Several other Swedes subsequently carried out mediation assignments: Gunnar Jarring, Olof Rydbeck, Olof Palme and Jan Eliasson. Others who have recently held prominent positions in the UN include Jan Mårtenson, Hans Corell, Rolf Ekéus and Lennart Aspegren. As the EU High Representative, Carl Bildt reported regularly to the Security Council on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  

There are old proto-democratic traditions in Sweden. In the middle ages the kings were elected for life by representatives of the different "landskap" (provinces). Even when the monarchy was made hereditary after the Kalmar Union, the elected estates at the Riksdag retained substantial power (though the king sometimes managed to push this power back). These traditions played an important role as modern Democracy gradually took over in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Two important political concepts emerge from Sweden: the ombudsman, a representative elected by the parliament to watch public administrations and with the power to prosecute, and the constitutional principle of official documents ("offentlighetsprincipen" constituting a part of the Freedom of the Press Act), which says that all governmental documents are a priori public (unless declared secret under special laws).

Political forces

The principal political parties are From the 1930's onwards, the Social Democrats has been the dominant party, their position secured by economic prosperity and a broad program of social initiatives. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, dissatisfaction grew among the voters over high taxes and a lagging economy. An anti-Socialist coalition governed from 1976 to 1982, and another one under Carl Bildt from 1991 to 1994, as the Social Democrats under Carlsson again came to power. When in trouble, as for the moment, the Social Democrats have a tradition to lean against the Center party, with regular negotiations and agreements, but without forming coalition cabinets.

In the last elections the results has been as follows:

          1973   1976   1979   1982   1985   1988   1991   1994
          -----------------------------------------------------
Left       5,3    4,8    5,6    5,6    5,4    5,8    4,5    6,2
Green                          (1,7)  (1,5)   5,5   (3,4)   5,0
Soc.Dem.  43,6   42,7   43,2   45,6   44,7   43,2   37,7   45,3

Soc.Lib.   9,4   11,1   10,6    5,9   14,2   12,2    9,1    7,2
Center    25,1   24,1   18,1   15,5   12,4   11,3    8,5    7,7
Christ.                        (1,9)         (2,9)   7,1    4,1
Right     14,3   15,6   20,3   23,6   21,3   18,3   21,9   22,4
Popul.                                               6,7   (1,2)
          -----------------------------------------------------
Blocks:
  left    48,9   47,5   48,8   51,2   50,1   54,5   42,2   56,5
  right   48,8   50,8   49,0   45,0   47,9   41,8   53,1   41,4

In parentheses: results below the 4,0% limit for representation.

Maybe due to the dominant position of the Social Democrats the political life in Sweden has been characterized by semi-rigid right and left blocks, defined as oppositional to, or supporters of, the Social Democrats. During some periods the Social Democrats have succeeded to cooperate with one of the right block parties, as during 1996 with the Center Party, which the other parties have seen as weakening of the opposition.

Account over municipal responsibilities

Approximately 50% of the municipal services are financed through direct taxes, only 15% by direct fees, and about 20% as state contributions. (Don't ask about the remaining 15% - the municipal tomtar might change their minds.) Totally 350 milliards SEK are used for municipal activities, and 170 milliards SEK for the province councils, of which nearly all goes to the health care sector.

The main municipal expenditures are (in percents of the 350 milliard brutto, regardless of fees and state subsidies):

[ Figures above for year 1993 ]

In recent years cash support to poor people has increased. 8% of the population received such at least once during 1994. In this figure almost no elderly are included. The service for elderly (and also younger disabled persons) includes:

Account over state revenue

Approximately 550 milliards SEK are distributed by the state budget, of which 75 milliards go straight to the municipalities and provinces as subsidizes.

The rest is distributed on:
(memorizeable figures, in the range +/- 10% of exact figures)

[ Figures above for the fiscal year 1993/94 ]



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© Copyright 1994-2001 by Antti Lahelma and Johan Olofsson.
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This page was last updated June the 27th in the year of 1998.

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