Swedish Government Essay, Research Paper
Swedish GovernmentConstitutional lawThe Swedish Constitution consists of four separate documents: the Instrument of Government (Regeringsformen) passed in 1974, the Act of Succession (Successionsordningen) dating from 1810, the Freedom of the Press Act (Tryckfrihetsf rordningen) of 1949 (originating from 1766), and the Freedom of Expression Act (Yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen) of 1991. In addition, there is a Parliament Act (Riksdagsordningen) of 1974, which occupies a position midway between constitutional and ordinary statute law. The Instrument of Government is the most important constitutional document. It went into effect in 1975, when it replaced the 1809 Instrument of Government. The new Constitution brought about no radical changes in the prevailing system of government. The reform largely involved a formal incorporation of current practices into the written Constitution. Thus, the new Constitution is consistently based on the principles of popular sovereignty, representative democracy, and parliamentarism. A Parliament elected by the people occupies the pre-eminent position among the branches of government; it is the foundation for the democratic exercise of power through the Cabinet. The reforming of the Constitution did not end with the enactment of the new Instrument of Government. In 1976 and 1979, Parliament passed laws amending the Constitution. The aim of both amendments was to strengthen the constitutional protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms. The new Freedom of Expression Act protects freedom of expression on the radio and television, in films, videos and sound recordings, etc., and is based on the same principles as the Freedom of the Press Act. Thus, for example, the ban on censorship and freedom of establishment now applies to the entire field of modern mass media. Only when it comes to the use of radio broadcasting frequencies might the principle of freedom of establishment not apply as it does for the freedom of the press. Further, films and videos for public screening may also be subject to preliminary scrutiny. In 1994 the Instrument of Government was amended in order to make it possible for Sweden to join the European Union. The agreement on Sweden’s entry into the EU was ratified by Parliament in December that year. The KingThe King of Sweden since September 1973 Carl XVI Gustaf exerts no political power and takes no part in politics. He represents the nation. According to the Constitution he is the Head of State. In this capacity he performs only ceremonial duties and functions as the official representative of Sweden. One of these official duties is to open the annual session of Parliament in September. He does not take part in the deliberations of the Cabinet, nor does he have to sign any Government decisions. His earlier role in selecting a new Prime Minister has been taken over by the Speaker of Parliament. In 1979, the Act of Succession was amended in order to give males and females equal rights to the throne. As from 1980, this right belongs to the first-born, regardless of gender. The CabinetPolitical power rests with the Cabinet (regering) and the party or parties it represents. There are 22 ministers (11 men and 11 women) in the Cabinet. The Prime Minister (statsminister) has at his side a Deputy Prime Minister and 13 Heads of Ministry (departementschef). The latter are the ministers of 1. justice, 2. foreign affairs, 3. defense, 4. health and social affairs, 5. transport and communications, 6. finance, 7. education and science, 8. agriculture, 9. labor, 10. culture, 11. industry and trade, 12. the interior, and 13. the environment. The present Cabinet also includes seven ministers without portfolio. At times, independent experts are called upon to serve on the Cabinet. As a rule, however, the ministers are representatives of the political party or parties in power. In many cases they are members of Parliament, retaining their seats in Parliament while serving on the Cabinet. A substitute takes over the parliamentary duties of any MP who has been appointed to the Cabinet, and this continues as long as the MP remains in the Cabinet. In other words, a Cabinet minister has to give up his right to vote in Parliament. All ministers are, however, entitled to take part in parliamentary debates. According to the Constitution, the formal power of governmental decision rests with the Cabinet, not the monarch. If the Cabinet has resigned, the Speaker of Parliament is required to confer with the leaders of the parliamentary parties and with the Deputy Speakers before proposing a new Prime Minister. Parliament then votes on this proposal. If an absolute majority votes against the proposal, it is considered to have failed. Otherwise it is considered approved. The Speaker thereupon appoints the Prime Minister, who in turn appoints all other Cabinet ministers. If the Prime Minister so requests, the Speaker can discharge him. The same applies if Parliament declares that the Prime Minister does not enjoy its confidence. Other Cabinet ministers may be dismissed either by the Prime Minister or by Parliament through a vote of no confidence. Functions of ministriesThe ministries (departement) are small units, each as a rule consisting of no more than about 100 persons (including clerical staff). They are concerned with 1. preparing the Government’s bills to Parliament on budget appropriations and laws, 2. issuing laws and regulations and general rules for the administrative agencies (see below), 3. international relations, 4. appointments of officials in the administration, and 5. certain appeals from individuals, which are addressed to the Government. Except for these appeals, the ministries are generally not concerned with details of administration. Matters concerning the practical implementation of legislation or general rules may, however, in various ways e.g. through the media be brought before the ministries. Working methods of the CabinetThe Cabinet as a whole is responsible for all Government decisions. Although in practice a great number of routine matters are decided upon by individual ministers and only formally confirmed by the Government, the principle of collective responsibility is reflected in all forms of government work. Once a week, the formal decisions of the Government are made at a meeting presided over by the Prime Minister. All important decisions to be made by the Government are subject to previous discussion by the Cabinet as a whole. Plenary meetings under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister are normally held one to three times a week. At these meetings, top officials often introduce the matters at hand and reply to questions raised by ministers, whereupon the Cabinet discussions and (informal) decisions proceed behind closed doors. No minutes are taken. As a rule, Cabinet members lunch together in their private restaurant in the Government Office, where no guests are admitted. In practice, a great number of decisions are made quite informally at these luncheons after a briefing given by the minister concerned. A third informal kind of Cabinet decision-making is when two or three ministers discuss a matter with or without the presence of officials from their ministries in order to reach agreement without taking up the time of the whole Cabinet. The working methods thus described allow for a high degree of coordination between all the branches of Government in matters of policy. The officials of the ministries often meet one another in order to prepare decisions. Before becoming final and public, all decisions of interest to more than one ministry are commented upon by top officials of the ministries concerned. An important feature of the working methods of the Government is that all bills to be presented and important ministerial pronouncements (answers to questions, etc.) to be made in Parliament on behalf of the Government, are circulated beforehand to all ministers for their written comments. This system allows for exchange of information and discussion between Cabinet ministers and top officials before the formal decisions are taken. The ministries at workThe actual functioning of the ministries differs somewhat from one ministry to another although the fundamental set-up is very much the same. The following account is applicable to the present working methods of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. This ministry has six divisions which deal with social insurance, children and families, social services, health care, the disabled and elderly, and administrative law. Four secretariats deal with planning and budgetary questions, international relations, long-term analysis and legal matters, fulfilling an advisory and coordinating function for the specialized units referred to above. The highest-ranking officials of the ministry are the Under- Secretary of State (statssekreterare), the Permanent Under- Secretary (expeditionschef), and the Under-Secretary for Legal Affairs (r ttschef). The Under-Secretary of State is responsible to the minister for leading the work within the ministry. It is thus up to him to plan the ministry’s work, to supervise the execution of this work and to establish the necessary coordination between the activities of the different ministerial units. The Permanent Under-Secretary supervises the legality and consistency of administrative decisions to be made within the ministry and is responsible for the final drafting of Government decisions to be dispatched from the ministry. The Under-Secretary for Legal Affairs is mainly responsible for the drafting of laws and regulations within the ministry’s sphere of authority. The Under-Secretaries of State are among the few political appointees of the ministries. An Under-Secretary’s post as such does not entitle him to speak in Parliament, but there is a listener’s seat for him in the assembly hall. The Under-Secretary represents the ministry and the minister. He is often a delegate to international conferences. All officials of the ministries are appointed by the Cabinet (or by the minister concerned); Parliament has no right to intervene or pass judgment on the appointments. In the case of a change of party or parties in office, limited changes take place in the cadre of officials. Under-Secretaries of State, political advisers and information officers are all recognized as political appointees and have to resign when there is a change of Government. All civil servants in Sweden as well as military and police personnel are free to take part in political life and to hold political office. Commissions of inquiryAs a rule, the preparation of legislative or other reforms is not handled by the ministerial staff alone. In matters of major importance the following procedure is normal: the Government on its own initiative or at the request of Parliament calls upon a group of experts to serve on a commission of inquiry (utredning). The tasks of the commission are specified in a written statement by the minister concerned, approved by the Government. Commissions may include members of Parliament, both from the Government and the Opposition, representatives of labor and management bodies or other organizations interested in the problems at hand, and experts from the scientific world or the administrative bodies concerned normally 5 10 people in all. The secretariat although in most cases organized as an independent office is provided by the appropriate ministry, which also pays the expenses of the commission. The commissions are given a high degree of freedom to pursue their inquiries through travel, hearings, research, etc. The proceedings are, in general, closed to the public but are often closely followed by the press until the day when they publish their printed report (bet nkande). A commission often works for one or two years, sometimes longer. In many cases, the proposals of the commissions are unanimous, at least on matters of principle, but members may have alternative proposals printed in the report. Every commission report is sent by the ministry concerned to various administrative agencies and non-governmental organizations for their official comments (remiss). Any organization, whether approached in this way or not, is free to make known its opinions to the ministry. The material thus assembled is reported though normally not in full as background to Government bills to Parliament. Consequently, a bill is often a heavy document sometimes hundreds of pages in which the Government has to argue its position in the light of a very thorough public discussion reproduced in the bill. MPs can easily discover whether or not the Government has followed the wishes or intentions brought to the fore by party representatives or the organizations they favor. This method is cumbersome and often time-consuming. It is, however, considered to be a very valuable form of democratic government. The parties of the opposition, directly taking part in the preparation of political decisions, are given a chance to influence the Government before it takes its position. Administrative organizationThe enforcement of Government decisions is entrusted to a number of central administrative agencies. For example, under the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs come the National Board of Health and Welfare, the National Social Insurance Board, and certain other smaller agencies. Every such agency is headed by a director general appointed by the Government, as a rule for a period of six years at a time. Sometimes a director general is chosen from political circles. The board of an agency consists of the director general as chairman, a number of the senior officials serving under him and some laymen, representing organizations or sections of the population with special interest in the matters of the agency concerned. To some degree, politicians are also included in this lay element. Ministers or ministerial bodies cannot interfere with the agencies’ handling of particular administrative cases. All board members are appointed by the Government, as are senior officials of the agencies. Less senior personnel are appointed by the board itself. As a consequence of their independent position, the central agencies are expected to submit proposals to the Government regarding the policy to be followed by them. On the basis of their practical experience they often propose, in their respective fields, amendments to laws and regulations decided upon by Parliament and Government. Such recommendations by agencies are customarily circulated for examination and written comment in the same way as commission reports (see above). AppealsIf a person affected by the decision or administrative action of an agency finds it unacceptable, he may appeal to a higher authority. Appeals mainly concerning subjective matters or questions of aptitude, such as those related to civil service appointments, are usually settled in the final instance by the Cabinet. Appeals mainly involving legal questions are as a rule settled by administrative courts, with the last resort being the Supreme Administrative Court (Regeringsr tten).
The principle of public access to official documentsMost official documents are accessible to the press and to private citizens. All files of any administrative office are open to the public if not secret, according to the Freedom of the Press Act and the Secrecy Act, for reasons related to military security, international relations or the privacy of individuals concerned (because they contain criminal or medical records and the like), etc. Nobody is obliged to justify his wish to see a public document or to reveal his identity to get access to the document. ParliamentSince 1971, Sweden has had a unicameral Parliament (riksdag). A constitutional amendment adopted in 1968 69 abolished the bicameral system which had existed since 1866. The whole Parliament is constituted by direct elections based on a suffrage that comprises all Swedes aged 18 or over, who are or have been resident in Sweden. Parliament has 349 members, who serve four-year terms. Eligibility to serve in Parliament is subject to Swedish citizenship and the attainment of voting age. All elections are by proportional representation. The electoral system is designed to ensure a distribution of seats between the parties in proportion to the votes cast for them nationally. Proportional fairness is not to be primarily achieved in each electoral district but in the whole country regarded as a single electoral district. Hence, in addition to 310 fixed electoral district seats, 39 seats are distributed at large so as to obtain a fair, nationally proportional result. However, the at-large seats are also filled by candidates from the parties’ regular electoral rolls. There is one exception to the rule on complete national proportionality: a quota rule intended to prevent very small parties from gaining representation in Parliament. A party must thus gain at least 4% of the national vote to qualify for representation. In any one electoral district, however, a party will be allocated a number of the fixed seats by obtaining 12% of the votes, even if its national popular vote falls short of 4%. A newly-elected Parliament commences its first session and term of office fifteen days after the election. The trades and professions of Swedish society are fairly well represented in Parliament, although public sector employees are overrepresented. Following the 1994 election the proportion of women in Parliament has risen to 41%. To perform the function of control that is so important for a representative assembly, Parliament may, with an absolute majority, pass a vote of no confidence leading either to the resignation of individual ministers or of the whole Government. However, a vote of no confidence is of no effect if the Government calls for new elections within one week. The unicameral Parliament has a presidium consisting of the Speaker (talman) and three Deputy Speakers. Each newly-elected Parliament appoints for its four-year term at least fifteen standing committees (utskott), of which one is on the Constitution, one deals with budgeting and finance, one deals with taxes, and the remainder are specialized bodies, largely corresponding to the division of ministries. Additional committees may be constituted while Parliament is in session. On these committees parties are represented in proportion to their strength. Committees may allow Cabinet ministers to attend their meetings in order to provide information. Ministerial officials are often requested to attend such meetings in order to provide explanations and other relevant information. Posts in the parliamentary presidium as well as the chairmanship of committees are according to free agreement among the parties generally distributed among the parties. During the first fifteen days after the Government has presented its Budget Bill, individual members are entitled to introduce bills (motion) on any subject. After the delivery of each Government bill (proposition), a period of fifteen days is allotted to the MPs to propose amendments. All such bills and MPs’ bills are referred to committees, where they are discussed thoroughly. Committees often invite written comments on MPs’ bills or, occasionally, hold hearings on Government bills. All matters dealt with in committee are reported to Parliament in plenary session. To kill a proposal in committee by sitting on a bill is not possible. Committee reports generally contain a thorough account of historical and other relevant facts connected with the proposal. Cabinet members are expected to defend their bills in the plenary sessions. Ministers normally do not take part in the debates on individual members’ bills. Such bills, when not related to a Government bill before Parliament, as a rule result in a request to the Government to investigate the issue raised or to put forward, for a future session, a proposal of a certain character. Although the right of MPs to speak is practically unlimited, it is not possible by filibustering or otherwise to avoid decision on a matter which is before Parliament. The rules of procedure being very clear and detailed, procedural debates are very rare. Parliament is in session for roughly eight months, the period mid- June September being free. Committees normally meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while plenary sessions are held on Tuesdays through Thursdays. The MPs have official substitutes. The substitute takes over the parliamentary duties of any MP who is a Cabinet minister or Speaker or who is absent for a month or longer. Because the Speaker has a substitute, he or she cannot (among other things) vote in Parliament. As coordinator of the work of Parliament, the Speaker is expected to stand above party politics. Dissolution of ParliamentGeneral elections are held on the third Sunday of September every fourth year (between 1970 and 1994 the mandate period was three years). The Government has the right to call for extra elections between the regular ones. The mandate of an extra election is valid only for the remaining portion of the regular four-year parliamentary term of office. ReferendaReferenda are permitted by the Constitution in two different cases. Parliament may enact a law according to which a consultative referendum is to be held. As yet, only five consultative referenda have taken place. The latest was held in November 1994 on the question of Sweden’s entry into the European Union. In 1979, the Constitution was amended so that decisive referenda may be held on amendments to the Constitution. One third of the MPs can bring about such a referendum, which then shall be held simultaneously with the general elections. As yet, no such referendum has taken place. The political partiesThe seven parties presently in Parliament are the Moderate Party (Moderata Samlingspartiet, M), the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet Liberalerna, FP), the Center Party (Centerpartiet, C), the Christian Democrats (Kristdemokraterna, KD), the Green Party (Milj partiet de Gr na, MP), the Social Democratic Party (Socialdemokratiska Arbetarepartiet, S), and the Left Party (V nsterpartiet, V). The parties are well organized both in Parliament and outside. The Social Democratic Party is closely allied with the predominantly blue-collar Swedish Trade Union Confederation, LO, which has a number of Social Democratic representatives in Parliament. Since 1966, State subsidies have been paid to every political party which has any significant support from the voters, as manifested in the general elections. These funds are paid in the form of party subsidies and secretariat subsidies. A party is eligible for party subsidies if it has received at least one seat in Parliament or 2.6% of the votes throughout the whole country at either of the last two elections. To qualify for secretariat subsidies, a party is required, in principle, either to have won a seat in Parliament in the last election or to have received at least 4% of the votes in the whole country at that election. The size of the subsidies is related to party strength. Secretariat subsidies are larger for opposition parties than for parties in office. A total of approximately SEK 133.4 million will be distributed to the parties with seats in Parliament in fiscal 1997. No conditions are attached to the subsidies, nor is there any public audit of their expenditure. Between 1932 and 1976, the Social Democrats were in office continuously except for an interregnum of 100 days in 1936. Between 1933 and 1936, they had a working agreement with the Center Party. Coalition governments of Social Democrats and the Center Party were in power in 1936 1939 and 1951 1957. During World War II, 1939 1945, all parties except the Communists were represented in a coalition government. During the years 1945 1951 and 1957 1976, the Social Democrats were in office alone. In the 1976 elections, the non-socialist parties together won a majority of parliamentary seats. The Social Democratic Government resigned and was succeeded by a coalition made up of the Center, the Moderates and the Liberal Party. The Center Party chairman became Prime Minister. After two years in office, this coalition Government was succeeded by a Liberal Party minority Government. In the 1979 elections, the non-socialist parties together kept the majority of parliamentary seats with the narrowest margin possible (175 out of 349). A new three-party coalition Government was formed. In the spring of 1981, the Moderate Party left the Government. In the 1982 elections, the non-socialist parties lost their majority of parliamentary seats. The coalition Government was succeeded by a Social Democratic minority Government (166 out of 349 seats). After the 1985 elections, the Social Democrats remained in power (159 seats), as well as after the 1988 elections when they won 156 seats. In the 1991 elections, the Social Democrats received only 138 seats and the Government was succeeded by a non-socialist minority Government made up of the Moderates, Liberals, Center and Christian Democrats (with a total of 170 seats). In the 1994 election three of the four coalition parties lost seats and the Government resigned. The Social Democrats (with 161 seats) formed a new minority Government. All political organizations enjoy full freedom and all democratic rights. The freedom of the press has no limits in Sweden as far as politics is concerned. Almost half the daily press in terms of circulation figures supports the Liberal Party or has a political philosophy mainly reflecting Liberal values, while just under one quarter favors the Moderates and another quarter the Social Democrats. The Center and other parties have relatively few newspapers. The role of organizationsRepresentatives of interest organizations of different kinds sit in Parliament, serve on commissions of inquiry and on the boards of some of the administrative agencies. These organizations are invited to submit comments on all sorts of proposals forwarded within the administration or Parliament. Their views are recorded in the official publications of the political system. The above applies especially to organizations representing blue- collar workers, salaried employees, women, employers, consumers’ and producers’ cooperatives, smallholders, industry, business, the wholesale and retail trades, tenants, landlords, etc. Since 1977, the unions representing civil servants have enjoyed certain rights to negotiate with the State in its role as an employer concerning planned reforms and the like which may affect the employees’ working conditions. However, contracts which infringe on political democracy are not permitted. At the top level, in the Government Office, leading personalities from management and labor, industry and trade, etc., are invited to serve on certain advisory committees. Thus they sit on consultative bodies for matters relating to employment policies, construction issues, etc. It would seem that pressure groups in Sweden should not really be called by that name, since they constitute a regular part of the democratic system itself. Not only are they involved in public discussion, but they also play a responsible part in actual administration at all levels. Local administrationBefore 1971, Sweden was divided into 850 municipalities (kommun), each with an elected assembly. This number has now been reduced to 288. The powers and duties of the municipalities relate to the provision of a wide range of services and facilities: housing, roads, sewerage and water supply, basic education, public assistance, care of the elderly, child welfare, etc. They have the right to levy income taxes and receive the revenue of a modest tax on real estate. They charge fees for various services. Thus they are able, to a degree which appears extensive when compared with other countries, to provide public services at their own discretion. At the same time, they are bound by law and regulations to provide a number of basic services. Between national and municipal government there is a regional level of government, composed of 23 counties (l n). The national administration in each of these counties is represented by a county governor (landsh vding) and a county administrative board (l nsstyrelse). The county governors are appointed by the Government for six-year terms; they are often chosen from among politicians but normally leave the political scene upon their appointment. The most important business of a county administration is transacted by the board, of which the county governor is chairman. The board members are appointed by the county council (landsting). For certain tasks of a fundamentally local character, each county has an elected county council. These assemblies are responsible primarily for health care, including the provision of hospital services, certain types of education and vocational training. The county councils are entitled to impose an income tax to cover their expenses. Since the 1976 elections immigrants resident for three years in Sweden have had the right to vote and run for office in local elections both for municipalities and county councils. The budgetThe Swedish fiscal year runs from January 1 to December 31. Each year, all government boards and similar agencies present their budget requests for the next fiscal year. The ministries concerned scrutinize these requests and forward their own requests to the Ministry of Finance. A special board provides estimates of national revenue for the next year, and a section of the Ministry of Finance outlines an economic survey, the so-called national budget. In September, the Government presents its Budget Bill to Parliament, which makes the final budget decisions in December. SEK 1 (Swedish krona) = USD 0.13 or GBP 0.08 (May 1997) Parties in the Cabinet since 1945Year Party/ies Prime Minister1945 1951 S P.A. Hansson/ T. Erlander1951 1957 S/C T. Erlander1957 1976 S T. Erlander/ O. Palme1976 1978 C/M/FP T. F lldin (C)1978 1979 FP O. Ullsten1979 1981 C/M/FP T. F lldin1981 1982 C/FP T. F lldin1982 1991 S O. Palme/ I. Carlsson1991 1994 M/FP/C/KD C. Bildt (M)1994 1996 S I. Carlsson1996- S G. Persson