Constitution of Sweden

Kingdom of Sweden

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The Swedish Constitution consists of four fundamental laws (Swedish: grundlagar):

  • The 1810 Act of Succession (Swedish: Successionsordningen)
  • The 1949 Freedom of the Press Act (Swedish: Tryckfrihetsförordningen)
  • The 1974 Instrument of Government (Swedish: Regeringsformen)
  • The 1991 Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression (Swedish: Yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen)

There is also a law on the working order of the Parliament with a special status but which does not qualify as a fundamental law, although certain parts of it are harder to change than ordinary laws:

  • The 1974 Riksdag Act (Swedish: Riksdagsordningen)

To amend or to make a revision of a fundamental law, the Parliament needs to approve the changes twice in two successive terms, with a general election having been held in between. The change can be dismissed but not formally approved by a popular vote coinciding with such a general election, although this option has never been used. If the people do not dismiss a change, it still has to be ratified by the newly elected Parliament.


Instrument of Government

The most important of the fundamental laws is the Instrument of Government (Swedish: Regeringsformen, RF). It sets out the basic principles for political life in Sweden defining rights and freedoms.

The parliamentarian Instrument of Government of 1974 grants the power to commission a prime minister to the Parliament (Swedish: Riksdag) at the suggestion of the Speaker of the Riksdag. The prime minister appoints members of Cabinet including heads of ministries, totalling to approximately 22 members. The Cabinet collectively decides governmental matters after hearing the report of the head of the relevant ministry. At least five Cabinet members are to be present at the decision. In practice, reports are written and discussions very rare during formal Cabinet meetings.

Constitutional functions for the head of state, i.e. the king, include heading the Council of State (the king plus the Cabinet), heading the Council on Foreign Affairs, recognizing new Cabinets (in the Council of State), and opening the Parliament's yearly session. The king is to be continuously briefed on governmental issues—in the Council of State or directly by the prime minister.

The first constitutional Instrument of Government was enacted in 1719, marking the transition from autocracy to parliamentarism. Sweden's bloodless revolution of 1772 was legitimized by the Parliament in new versions of the Instrument of Government (in 1772 and 1789), making the king a "constitutional autocrat". When Sweden was split in 1809, and the Grand Duchy of Finland was created as an autonomous part of the Russian Empire, this constitutional autocracy was very well fitted and remained in force until Finland's independence in 1917.

In Sweden, the loss of virtually half the realm led to another bloodless revolution, a new royal dynasty, and the Instrument of Government of 6 June 1809 (as well as a new Freedom of Press Act and Act of Succession). The new Instrument of Government established a separation of powers between the executive branch (the king) and the legislative branch (the Riksdag of the Estates) and gave the king and Parliament joint power over legislation, with the king still playing a central role in government but no longer independently of the Privy Council. The King was free to choose councillors, but was bound to decide on governmental matters only in presence of the Privy Council, or a subset thereof, and after report of the councillor responsible for the matter in question. The councillor had to countersign a royal decision, unless it was unconstitutional, whereby it gained legal force. The councillor was legally responsible for his advice and was obliged to note his dissension in case he did not agree with the king's decision. This constitution put a considerable de jure power in the king, but which was increasingly followed the councillors' advice. From 1917, the king adhered to principles of parliamentarism by choosing councillors possessing direct or indirect support from a majority of the Parliament.

After over 50 years of de facto parliamentarism, it was written into the Instrument of Government of 1974, which, although technically adherent to Constitutional monarchy, finally abolished the Privy Council.

A commemorative coin of the 150th anniversary of the Instrument of Government of 1809

Act of Succession

Sweden's switch from elective to hereditary monarchy in 1544 gave reason to Sweden's first law of constitutional character, in form of a treaty between the royal dynasty and the realm represented by the four Estates to be valid for all times.

Accordingly the current 1810 Act of Succession (Swedish: Successionsordningen, SO) is a treaty between the old Riksdag of the Estates and the House of Bernadotte regulating the right to accede to the Swedish throne. In 1980, the old principle of agnatic primogeniture, which meant that the throne was inherited by the eldest male child of the preceding monarch, was replaced by the principle of equal primogeniture. This meant that the throne will be inherited by the eldest child without regard to sex. Thereby Princess Victoria, the eldest child of King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden, was created heiress apparent to the Swedish throne over her younger brother, until then Crown Prince Carl Philip.

Freedom of the press and freedom of expression

The other two acts define the freedom of the press and other forms of expression. They are separated into two separate laws mainly to maintain the tradition of the Freedom of the Press Act from 1766, largely the work of proto-Liberal Cap Party politician Anders Chydenius, which abolished censorship and restricted limitations to retroactive legal measures for criticism of the Lutheran state church and the royal house exclusively.

The Freedom of the Press Act (Swedish: Tryckfrihetsförordningen, TF) was changed several times since its first incarnation; following Gustav III's coup d'etat in 1772, the Act was amended in order to curtail freedom of the press, but restored in 1810 following the overthrow of his son, and later amended to ensure this fact in 1812, 1949 and 1982. The option to revoke publishing licenses was retained until the late rule of Charles XIV John and used widely against Liberal papers such as Aftonbladet, which saw its license revoked ten times in 1838 alone. Publisher Lars Johan Hierta solved this by adding a different numeral to the name Aftonbladet, thus publishing a formally different newspaper. The right to revoke was finally abolished in 1844.[1] The 1766 Act held for example that freedom of expression was to be uninhibited, except for "violations", which included blasphemy and criticism of the state.

The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression (Swedish: Yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen, YGL) of 1991 is a lengthier document defining freedom of expression in all media except for written books and magazines (such as radio, television, the Internet, etc.)

Public access to governmental documents

In the 18th century, after over 40 years of mixed experiences with parliamentarism, public access to government documents was one of the main issues with the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766. Although the novelty was put out of order 1772–1809, it has since remained central in the Swedish mindset, seen as a forceful means against corruption and government agencies' unequal treatment of the citizens, increasing the perceived legitimacy of (local and central) government and politicians. The Principle of Publicity (Swedish: Offentlighetsprincipen), as the collection of rules are commonly referred to, provides that all information and documents created or received by a public institution (local or central government, and all publicly operated establishments) must be available to all members of the public. It also states that all public institutions must do everything in their power to give anyone access to any information that he or she might want as soon as possible. The only exceptions to this rule are regulated in the Publicity and Secrecy Act (Offentlighets- och sekretesslagen 2009:400)[2] which succeeded the Secrecy Act (Sekretesslag 1980:100)[3] in 2009, detailing what government agencies can keep secret, what type of document, under what circumstances, and towards whom. According to the Second Chapter, Article 2, in the Freedom of the Press Act (part of the Swedish constitution): "The right of access to official documents may be restricted only if restriction is necessary having regard to

  • the security of the Realm or its relations with a foreign state or an international organization;
  • the central finance policy, monetary policy, or foreign exchange policy of the Realm;
  • the inspection, control or other supervisory activities of a public authority;
  • the interest of preventing or prosecuting crime;
  • the public economic interest;
  • the protection of the personal integrity or economic conditions of private subjects;
  • the preservation of animal or plant species."

This list is exhaustive and the Parliament may not legislate about restrictions outside the scope of this list, and any restrictions have to be legislated into the Publicity and Secrecy Act previously mentioned. Secrecy is limited to a maximum time of 70 years (when relating to individuals that is 70 years after the person's death).

Lutheran State Church

In 1593, after 70 years of Reformation and Counter-Reformation in Sweden, adherence to the Augsburg confession was decided and given constitutional status at the Synod of Uppsala (Swedish: Uppsala möte). References to Uppsala Synod have since then been worked into the fundamental laws, notably the Act of Succession.

In 1999, the Church was separated from the state and became an independent organization, but the ruling body of the church is still decided by public voting (among members of the church), and mostly consists of the political parties. As a result of this separation, people born in Sweden where the parents are members of the Church of Sweden since 1999 no longer become members of the church automatically at birth.

See also


  1. ^ Jacobson (2002), s. 83-84
  2. ^ Publicity and Secrecy Act at the Swedish Parliament (in Swedish)
  3. ^ Secrecy Act (repealed) at the Swedish Parliament (in Swedish)

External links

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