How Sweden is governed

Last updated: 19 8 2021

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This text is about how Sweden is governed. Sweden has been a democracy for around a hundred years. Every four years, the Swedish people vote for which parties they want to represent them and govern in the Riksdag, the regions and the municipalities. 

The text includes a description of how power is divided in Sweden. It also talks about Swedish laws and about how the Riksdag works.

  • The right to influence and participate in the governing of one’s country

    Everyone has the right to participate in the governing of their country, either directly or by electing their representatives in free and fair elections.

    You are also entitled to freedom of opinion and expression. This means that you are free to have the views and think the thoughts you wish. You can also spread your ideas and thoughts to others, such as via social media. But you are not allowed to use your freedom of expression to spread hate and slander about other people and groups. You also have the right to organise and take part in peaceful gatherings, protest marches and associations. But you are also entitled not to participate in gatherings or protest marches, and not to be a member of any association.

Government by the people and the democratic system

Sweden is a democracy. This means that all public power proceeds from the people. We who live in Sweden have an influence on how the country is run. We vote for politicians who govern Sweden for us. This is known as government by the people, or democracy.

A cornerstone of democracy is the principle that all people are of equal worth and must have equal rights. In a democracy, people must be allowed to think whatever they want and have the opinions they want, and they must be able to express their views openly in speech or writing. There are laws to protect our democratic rights.

Sweden's laws

There are many laws in Sweden. The laws tells us what we are allowed and not allowed to do. For instance, you are not allowed to drive a car through a red light. You are not allowed to steal someone else's belongings. The laws also state our rights. For instance, children have the right to go to school, and as a new parent, you have the right to receive a parental allowance. The laws are there to allow people to live together in society in safety and security.

Sometimes new laws are added. Laws can also be changed. For example, in 1979, it became forbidden for Swedish parents to hit their children. This was allowed before 1979. Another example is the ban on smoking inside restaurants, which came in 2005.

Sweden’s statute book, with a judge’s gavel on top.

Sweden's constitution

Some laws are especially important. These are known as fundamental laws, or together as the constitution. The constitution comes before all other laws and is difficult to change. The constitution states that Sweden is a democracy.

Sweden's constitution consists of four fundamental laws: the Instrument of Government, the Act of Succession, the Freedom of the Press Act, and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression.

The Instrument of Government

The Instrument of Government states how Sweden is to be governed. It states that we who live in Sweden participate in decision-making through the politicians we elect in various elections. The Instrument of Government also describes our rights. It states, for example, that capital punishment is forbidden in Sweden and that all people are entitled to the religion or faith they want. The Instrument of Government also includes rules for how the work of the Riksdag and government is to be done.

The Act of Succession

Sweden is a monarchy, and we have a king who is our head of state. The Act of Succession contains rules for who will succeed to the Swedish throne, and become the new king or queen, when the current king dies or steps down. Sweden's current king is Carl XVI Gustaf. His oldest child is named Victoria. She will be the future queen.

The Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression

Everyone who lives in Sweden is entitled to think and say almost whatever they want. You are allowed to state your view on TV and you can write what you think on the internet and in the newspaper. If you have an opinion about policy in Sweden, for instance, you have the right to express it. The same thing applies for newspapers. They decide what to write and publish, not the politicians. These things are stated in the constitution and are known as the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression.

  • The Freedom of the Press Act deals with what can be written in newspapers, magazines and books.
  • The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression deals with what can be said, written and expressed on the radio, TV, on film and on the internet.

These laws are also intended to protect us against slander and defamation. That means there are exceptions to the freedom to write and say whatever we want to. It is a crime, for instance, to publicly spread statements that threaten or disparage a group of people with reference to their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, creed, or sexual orientation. This is known as incitement to racial hatred. Spreading false rumours or defaming another person may also be forbidden.

  • Questions to think about

    Why do you think the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression are so important that they are part of Sweden's constitution?

Sweden is a monarchy and has a king

Sweden is a monarchy and has been one for several centuries. This means that there is a queen or a king who is the country's head of state. Sweden currently has a king as head of state. His name is Carl XVI Gustaf, and he has been Sweden's king for almost 50 years.

In other parts of the world, there are monarchies where the queen or king has the power to decide things in society. Sweden's king has no political power. His tasks are solely symbolic and representative. The king represents and promotes Sweden in many ways. He makes state visits, for example, on which he meets the leaders of other countries. He also visits a variety of organisations and businesses in all parts of Sweden.

In 1979, the Swedish Riksdag decided that the next queen or king will be the current king's or queen's eldest child. Before that, it was primarily the eldest son who became the next king. Today, it no longer matters whether it is a woman or a man. One day, the King's daughter, Crown Princess Victoria, will become Sweden's head of state.

Sweden is governed by the national government, regions and municipalities

Political power in Sweden is divided between many in Sweden. We, the citizens, decide which politicians are going to govern Sweden. We do this by voting for politicians:

  • At the local level – in our municipality
  • At the regional level – in the region
  • At the national level – in the Riksdag
  • In the European Union – in the European Parliament

The politicians in the Riksdag make decisions about matters that concern the entire country. Sweden is also divided into 21 regions and 290 municipalities. The politicians in the regions and municipalities make decisions about local matters. And in the European Parliament, they make decisions about matters that concern the whole of the EU.

The Riksdag decides the laws in Sweden

The government runs the country at the national level. It does so by ensuring that the decisions made in the Riksdag are carried out. The government can also propose new laws or changes to existing laws. The Riksdag then votes yes or no to the government's proposals. The Riksdag makes decisions that affect the entire country.

The Riksdag also makes decisions about the income and expenses of the Swedish state. The state's expenses include universities and university colleges, the police, and child benefits.

The Riksdag and the government are both part of what is referred to as the state.

The regions are responsible for medical care

There are 21 regions in Sweden. The most important task of the regions is to manage care services. They manage medical care, healthcare, and dental care. They are also responsible for public transport, such as buses, trams, and the metro.

Regions are run by politicians that we citizens vote into office in regional elections. Decisions on how regions are to be governed are made in the regional assemblies.

Municipalities manage schools

Sweden is also divided into 290 municipalities. There are large and small municipalities. The biggest is Stockholm municipality, where almost a million people live. The smallest is Bjurholm municipality, where fewer than 3,000 people live.

Municipalities are responsible for many of the services that are provided where you live. It is the municipality that ensures you get water when you open the tap at home and that there are schools for children in your area. The municipality is also responsible for ensuring that elderly and ill people receive help when they are unable to look after themselves.

Municipalities are governed by politicians that we as inhabitants in the municipality have voted into office in municipal elections. Decisions on the governance of the municipality are made by the municipal assembly.

Municipalities and regions are financed via taxes

Municipalities and regions need money in order to provide the services they do. That is why we pay taxes. Taxes make up the biggest share of municipalities' and regions' income. Other sources of income are state subsidies and fees charged for services.

The money is used for schools, hospitals, and roads, among other things. People with an income pay taxes in the municipality where they live.

Municipalities and regions are free to decide how high the taxes their residents pay should be. That is part of what is known as regional and municipal autonomy.

The European Union

The European Union, or the EU, is an organisation with 27 European countries as members. The countries in the EU collaborate on many issues, including trade, the environment, and farming. They also work together to ensure that there is peace in Europe. Many EU countries use the same currency, the euro.

Sweden joined the EU in 1995. The United Kingdom, or the UK, used to be a member of the EU, but left it in 2020. The UK's exit from the EU has become known as Brexit.

The EU makes decisions about laws that apply throughout the EU. Many of the EU's laws have made it easier to do business, travel, and work within the EU.

The European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of Ministers are three important institutions of the EU. Each institution is staffed by representatives from the member states. It is the European Commission that proposes laws that will apply throughout the EU. The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers discuss the proposals and say yes or no to them. If they say yes to a new EU law, all EU countries have to comply with that law.

Sweden has a number of politicians in the European Parliament. They were voted into office by us, the Swedish citizens, and are involved in making decisions about the EU.

  • Questions to think about

    Can you think of various examples of policy issues and decisions?

    See if you know which issues are decided at each of the four levels described above.