City skyline with the oval Swedish parliament building in the foreground.
The Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Photo: Ulf Grünbaum/Imagebank.sweden.se

Swedish government

Power from the people! This is how Sweden is governed.

All public power proceeds from the people. This is the foundation of the Swedish system of government. Everyone has the same rights and is free to scrutinise how politicians and public agencies exercise their power.

In Sweden, general elections are held every four years – the upcoming one is in September 2022. Around 7 million people are entitled to vote and thereby influence which political party will represent them in the Swedish parliament, county councils and municipalities.

People can also influence Swedish politics in other ways – by taking part in referendums, joining a political party or commenting on reports presented by the government.

The Swedish Constitution

The Swedish Constitution defines how Sweden is governed. It regulates the relationships between decision-making and executive power, and the basic rights and freedoms of citizens. Four fundamental laws make up the Constitution: the Instrument of Government, the Act of Succession, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. The fundamental laws take precedence over all other statutes.

Head of state without formal power

Sweden is a constitutional monarchy and King Carl XVI Gustaf is Sweden's non-political head of state. The monarch has primarily ceremonial and representative duties.

The Instrument of Government

Among other things, the Instrument of Government guarantees citizens the right to obtain information freely, hold demonstrations, form political parties and practice their religion.

The Act of Succession

The Act of Succession regulates the right of members of the House of Bernadotte, the royal family, to accede to the Swedish throne.

The Freedom of the Press Act

The Freedom of the Press Act sets out the principle of public access to official documents relating to the work of the parliament, the government and public agencies. This law allows people to study official documents whenever they wish.

The Law on Freedom of Expression

The Law on Freedom of Expression, which came into force in 1992, largely mirrors the Freedom of the Press Act, in regards to the prohibition of censorship, the freedom to communicate information and the right to anonymity.

The chamber of the Swedish parliament, with desks and seats seen from the side.
The 349 members of the Swedish parliament have been chosen by the people. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

The parliament – representing the people

The parliament makes the decisions and the government implements them. The government also submits proposals for new laws or law amendments to the parliament.

The parliament with its 349 members is Sweden’s primary representative forum. The entire parliament is chosen by direct elections based on suffrage for all Swedish citizens aged 18 or over who are, or previously have been, residents of Sweden.

General elections to the parliament are held on the second Sunday of September every four years. To serve in the parliament, a person has to be a Swedish citizen and aged 18 or more. Seats are distributed among the political parties in proportion to the votes cast for them across the country as a whole.

Four per cent required

There is one exception to the rule of full national proportionality: a party must receive at least 4 per cent of all votes in the election to gain representation in the parliament, a rule designed to prevent very small parties from getting in.

Appointing a prime minister

The speaker of the parliament proposes a prime minister, who the parliament then votes on. The prime minister is tasked with forming a government. The prime minister personally chooses the ministers to make up the cabinet and also decides which ministers will be in charge of the various ministries. Together, the prime minister and the cabinet ministers form the government. The government governs the country but is accountable to the parliament.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, commonly known as the Ombudsman for Justice (JO), handles complaints from anyone who feels that he/she or somebody else has been wrongly treated by a public authority or a civil servant.

The government at work

The government rules Sweden by implementing the decisions of the parliament and by formulating new laws or law amendments, on which the parliament decides.

The government is assisted in this task by the Government Offices and the Swedish government agencies (341 in total, as of December 2020). The cabinet as a whole is responsible for all government decisions. Although many routine matters are in practice decided by individual ministers and only formally approved by the government, the principle of collective responsibility is reflected in all governmental work. As part of its official functions, the government:

  • presents bills to the parliament
  • implements parliament decisions
  • allocates the funds appropriated by the parliament for expenditure on items in the budget
  • represents Sweden in the EU
  • enters into agreements with other states
  • takes decisions in certain administrative areas not covered by other authorities
  • directs the activities and operations of the executive branch.

National referendums

Sweden sometimes holds national referendums. They are consultative, which means that the parliament may reach decisions that run counter to the outcome of the referendum. In Sweden’s last two referendums, the parliament decided in line with the results, as follows:

  • 1994: Membership of the EU. Result: Yes.
  • 2003: Introduction of the euro. Result: No.
A girl is holding two small paper flags: the Swedish flag and the flag for the European Union, both blue and yellow.
Sweden has been a member of the EU since 1995. Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/imagebank.sweden.se

Local, regional and EU government

Sweden has three levels of domestic government: national, regional and local. In addition, the European level has become increasingly important since Sweden joined the European Union (EU) in 1995.

The regional level

At the regional level, Sweden is divided into 21 counties. The county councils are responsible for overseeing tasks such as health care and are entitled to levy income taxes to cover their costs.

The local level

At the local level, Sweden is divided into 290 municipalities, each with an elected assembly or council. Municipalities are responsible for a broad range of facilities and services including housing, roads, water supply and waste water processing, schools, public welfare, elderly care and childcare. They are legally obliged to provide certain basic services. The municipalities are entitled to levy income taxes on individuals, and they also charge for various services.

All of Sweden's municipalities and regions are members of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, an employer organisation that represents and advocates local government.

The European level

On entering the European Union (EU) in 1995, Sweden also got a European level of government. Sweden takes part in the decision-making process when new common rules are drafted and approved, and the Swedish government represents Sweden in the Council of the European Union, the EU’s principal decision-making body. There are also 20 Swedish Members of the European Parliament. Sweden's EU Commissioner 2019–2024 is Ylva Johansson.

Foreign policy

In 2014 the Swedish government declared itself a feminist government, devoted to a feminist foreign policy. The goal is to ensure that a systematic gender equality perspective is applied throughout the whole foreign policy agenda.

Swedish foreign policy is based on the principle that security is built in solidarity with others, and threats against peace and security are averted in cooperation with other countries or organisations. Sweden is not a member of any military alliance.

Sweden is one of the largest contributors to the United Nations. Altogether, the country allocates 1 per cent of its gross national income (GNI) to development aid.

As a consequence of a new global security situation, Sweden now plays a more active role in European security cooperation. In 2021 Sweden is chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). For the period of 2017–2018, Sweden was a member of the UN Security Council.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven giving a speech, his right hand slightly raised.
Social Democrat Stefan Löfven was appointed prime minister of Sweden after the 2014 general elections – and again after the 2018 elections. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

History of Swedish elections

2018: After a lengthy process, the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party form a government.

2014: A minority left-of-centre coalition takes over after the Alliance.

2010: The ruling centre–right Alliance beats the left-of-centre coalition, but fails to gain an outright majority.

2006: The non-socialist parties form a four-party coalition government called the Alliance.

2002 and 1998: The Social Democrats remain in office after both elections, but in order to implement their policies are forced to form a parliamentary alliance with the Left Party and the Green Party.

1994: The Social Democrats form a new minority government. Starting from this year, general elections are held every four years instead of three.

1991: A non-socialist minority government of the Moderates, Liberals, the Centre Party and Christian Democrats is formed.

1988 and 1985: The Social Democrats remain in power after both elections.

1982: The non-socialist parties lose their majority and a Social Democratic minority government is formed.

1979: The non-socialist parties retain their parliamentary majority, and a new three-party government is formed. In the spring of 1981, the Moderate Party leaves the government.

1976: The Social Democrats are defeated by a coalition consisting of the Centre Party, the Moderates and the Liberal Party.

1932–1976: The Social Democrats rule without interruption, except for a period of 109 days in 1936 when Sweden has an interim government.