Freedom in the World
The leader of the Social Democratic Party was forced to resign in January 2012 after he became the subject of a corruption investigation. In March, Sweden adopted a controversial data retention law over concerns by privacy advocates.
After centuries of wars and monarchical unions with its neighbors, Sweden emerged as a liberal constitutional monarchy in the 19th century. Norway ended its union with the country in 1905, leaving Sweden with its current borders. Its tradition of neutrality, beginning with World War I, was altered somewhat by its admission to the European Union (EU) in 1995, and was further eroded by a more pragmatic approach to security in 2002. However, Sweden has continued to avoid military alliances, including NATO.
Voters rejected adoption of the euro currency in a 2003 referendum, despite support from government and business leaders. The rejection was attributed to skepticism about the EU and fears regarding the possible deterioration of welfare benefits and damage to the economy. Just days before the referendum, Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was killed in a knife attack in Stockholm. Her killer, a Swedish national of Serbian descent who had no clear political agenda, was sentenced to life in prison.
In the 2006 parliamentary elections, a four-party, center-right alliance headed by Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderate Party defeated the Social Democratic Party (SAP), which had been in power for 12 years.
Parliament passed the Signals Intelligence Act in 2008, giving Sweden’s National Defense Radio Establishment the authority to monitor communications without a court order. Following widespread public protest, the law was changed to allow such wiretapping only in cases where external military threats were suspected. Only military and government can request surveillance, and those who have been monitored must be notified.
In the September 2010 parliamentary elections, Reinfeldt won a second term as prime minister. However, his coalition failed to win an outright majority and would instead rule as a minority government, with the Moderate Party, Center Party, and Liberal People’s Party, as well as the Christian Democrats. The controversial far-right Swedish Democrats (SD) entered Parliament for the first time with 20 seats, though the other seven parties represented in Parliament vowed not to rely on the SD for significant votes, which left it politically isolated.
In October 2011, opposition and SAP leader Håkan Juholt became the subject of a fraud investigation over housing reimbursements he received beginning in 2007. He resigned in January 2012 and was replaced by Stefan Löfven.
Sweden is an electoral democracy. The unicameral Parliament, the Riksdag, has 349 members elected every four years by proportional representation. A party must receive at least 4 percent of the vote nationwide or 12 percent in one of the 29 electoral districts to win representation. The prime minister is appointed by the speaker of the Riksdag and confirmed by the body as a whole. King Carl XVI Gustaf, crowned in 1973, is the ceremonial head of state.
Eight political parties are currently represented in the Riksdag. The largest single party is the opposition SAP, also known as the Workers’ Party, which ruled for most of the last century with the aid of the Left Party and, in later decades, the Green Party. The SD moved toward broader public acceptance in 2012, becoming the third most popular party in Sweden, according to a series of polls at year’s end.
The country’s principal religious, ethnic, and immigrant groups are represented in Parliament. Since 1993, the indigenous Sami community has elected its own parliament, which has significant powers over community education and culture and serves as an advisory body to the government. In April 2011, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in the so-called Nordmaling case, granting Sami reindeer herders common-law rights to disputed lands; the case had been ongoing for 14 years.
Corruption rates are generally low in Sweden, which was ranked 4 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a critical report in June 2012, admonishing Sweden for insufficient enforcement of its foreign bribery laws. TeliaSonora, a telecommunications company partly owned by the Swedish government, was criticized in 2012 for giving access to its users’ data to the governments of Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Azerbaijan— facilitating illegal surveillance of their citizens—in exchange for obtaining lucrative contracts. The head of TeliaSonora, Lars Nyberg, resigned in October 2012 as a consequence.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed by law, and the country has one of the most robust freedom of information statutes in the world. However, hate-speech laws prohibit threats or expressions of contempt based on race, color, national or ethnic origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation.
Sweden’s media are independent. Most newspapers and periodicals are privately owned, and the government subsidizes daily newspapers regardless of their political affiliation. Public broadcasters air weekly radio and television programs in several immigrant languages. The ethnic press is entitled to the same subsidies as the Swedish-language press. Under the 2009 Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED), internet-service providers must reveal information about users who are found to be engaged in illegal file-sharing. However, the first case was referred to the European Court of Justice to determine whether the law was in accordance with European legislation on privacy and data protection. A ruling in April 2012 determined that IPRED followed European law. In March, Sweden adopted a data retention law after a six-year delay due to privacy concerns. The law, which puts Sweden in compliance with EU directives, requires Swedish telecommunications carriers to store data, including phone call records and internet traffic, for three years.
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. Although the population is 87 percent Lutheran, all churches, as well as synagogues and mosques, receive some state financial support. The number of reported hate crimes against the Jewish community has slowly declined in recent years, but the figures for those targeting the Muslim community have remained steady. Academic freedom is ensured for all.
Freedoms of assembly and association are respected in law and in practice. Peaceful protests were mounted against the SD and racism in the period surrounding the 2010 elections. The rights to strike and organize in labor unions are guaranteed. Trade union federations, which represent about 80 percent of the workforce, are strong and well organized. The Swedish labor code was amended in 2010 after the European Court of Justice ruled that employees at the Swedish branches of foreign companies are subject to their home country’s collective agreements, and not those of Swedish unions.
The judiciary is independent. Swedish courts are allowed to try suspects for genocide committed abroad. In 2011, Sweden sought the extradition of controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the United Kingdom so that he could be questioned regarding rape and sexual assault allegations stemming from two incidents in Stockholm in 2010. In June 2012, Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he was granted diplomatic asylum; he remained there at year’s end.
An Equality Ombudsman position was created in 2008 to oversee efforts to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation, and a permanent national hate-crime police unit was established in 2009. In recent years, the government has faced resistance from local communities in its efforts to establish temporary housing for asylum seekers. In 2007, Sweden changed its immigration policy, disallowing family reunification for “quota refugees;” family members must now apply separately for visas. In March 2011, the government reached an agreement on a framework for immigration reform that would increase immigrants’ access to public services, though it had not been implemented by the end of 2012. In July 2012, Peter Mangs was found guilty of killing three people and wounding at least ten in a series of shootings targeting primarily foreign-born individuals in the city of Malmo. In November, he was sentenced to life in prison and ordered to pay damages of over 1.1 million kronor ($165,000) after a psychiatric evaluation failed to find him legally insane.
Same-sex couples were legally allowed to adopt for the first time in 2003. The country granted lesbian couples the same rights to artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization as heterosexual couples in 2005.
Sweden is a global leader in gender equality. Approximately 45 percent of Riksdag members are women. Of the 24 government ministers, 11 are women. Although 80 percent of women work outside of the home, they still earn only 70 percent of men’s wages in the public sector and 76 percent in the private sector. The country is a destination and transit point for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The 2004 Aliens Act helped to provide more assistance to trafficking victims, and a special ambassador has been appointed to aid in combating human trafficking.