Constitution of Sweden

From Academic Kids

This article is part of the series
Politics of Sweden

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

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":

  • The Riksdag Act (1974)

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.


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 6 June 1974 grants the power to commission a Prime Minister to the Riksdag (Parliament) at the suggestion of the Speaker of the Riksdag. The Prime Minister appoints members of Cabinet including heads of ministries, totalling to approximately 20 members. The Cabinet decides collectively in governmental matters after report of the Head of Ministry in question. At least five Cabinet members are to be present at the decision. In practice reports are written, and discussions very rare, during the formal Cabinet meetings.

Remaining 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 Finland was created as a Russian Grand duchy, 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 a new Instrument of Government of June 6, 1809 (as well as a new Freedom of Press Act and Act of Succession), under which the King still played a central role in government, however no longer independent of the Privy Council. The King was free to choose Councillors, but was bound to decide in 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 un-constitutional, whereby it gained legal force. The Councillor was legally responsible for his advice, and was obliged to note his dissension in case he didn't agree with the King's decision. De jure this Constitution puts a considerable power on the King; a power increasingly used to follow the Councillors' advice, and from 1917 to adhere 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.

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

Act of Succession

Main article: 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, Prince Carl Philip.

Freedom of the Press & Freedom of expression

The other two acts defines 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.

The Freedom of the Press Act (Swedish: Tryckfrihetsförordningen, TF) has actually been changed several times since its first incarnation. In 1772, 1810, 1812, 1949 and 1982. It was not, however, until the 1810 Act that what we today generally call Freedom of Expression was secured. 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 television, the Internet, radio, 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' inequal treatment of the citizens, increasing the perceived legitimacy of (local and central) government and politicians.

Lutheran State Church

See also: Church of Sweden

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 Synode of Uppsala (Uppsala möte). References to Uppsala möte has since then been worked into the fundamental laws, notably the Act of Succession.

See also

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