For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Kingdom of Sweden
Area: 449,964 sq. km. (173,731 sq. mi.)--slightly larger than California.
Cities: Capital--Stockholm (city population: 809,072). Other cities--Göteborg (city population: 499,747), Malmö (city population: 285,801).
Terrain: Generally flat or rolling. Three of the principal rivers, the Ume, the Torne and the Ångerman, flow into the Gulf of Bothnia. The highest areas are found in the Kjolen mountain range along the border with Norway, where peaks rise to over 1,500 m; the highest point is at the northern tip of this range, at Kebnekaise, which reaches 2,111 m (6,926 ft.). South of the mountains is the lakeland area, where the Vänern, the largest lake in Western Europe--over twice the size of Luxembourg--is situated. South of the lakes is the infertile Småland plateau, surrounded by the lowland plains that border the sea. The mountainous regions and some northern parts of Sweden are covered in snow for much of the year, and only 8% of the country is given over to agriculture.
Climate: Temperate in south with cold, cloudy winters and cool, partly cloudy summers; sub-arctic in the north. The north of Sweden lies within the Arctic Circle, and continental influences also contribute to the cold climate. In northern areas, winters are usually long and cold. The south of Sweden benefits from maritime influences and the climate is milder. In the capital city of Stockholm, which lies on the south-east coast, daily average temperatures only fall to −3.1°C (27°F) in February, the coldest month, and are 17.8°C (64°F) in July. The mean annual rainfall in Stockholm is 22 in., with the largest amount of rain falling between July and September.
Nationality: Noun--Swedes; adjective--Swedish.
Population (December 2008): 9,256,347.
Annual population growth rate (November 2008): 0.81%.
Ethnic groups: Indigenous Swedes, ethnic Finns, and ethnic Sami.
Immigrants (2007): 1.2 million of Sweden's residents are foreign-born; 17.3% of all Swedes are either born abroad or have two parents born abroad. In 2007 99,485 people immigrated to Sweden. The immigrant groups are Finns, Iraqis, ex-Yugoslavia nationals, Somalis, Iranians, Norwegians, Danes, and Poles.
Religions: Lutheran (official Church of Sweden) (75%), other Protestant groups (5%), Muslim (5%), Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Orthodox, Baptist, Jewish, Buddhist.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy--99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2008 est.)--2.75/1,000. Life expectancy (2008 est.)--men 78.94 years, women 83.13 years.
Work force (2008 est.): 4.9 million. Agriculture--1.1%; industry--28.2%; services--70.7%. Unemployment (January 2009)--7.3%.
Public holidays (2009): January 1 (New Year's Day); January 6 (Epiphany); April 10 (Good Friday); April 11 (Easter); April 12 (Easter Sunday); April 13 (Easter Monday); May 1 (Labor Day); May 21 (Ascension Day); May 31 (Whit Sunday); June 6 (National Day); June 19 (Midsummer’s Eve); November 1 (All Saints' Day); December 25 (Christmas); December 26 (Boxing Day). The eve of a holiday is as important--or more so--than the holiday itself. Most Swedes have the day off, including those working in the civil service, banks, public transport, hospitals, shops, and the media. Others have at least a half-day. This applies especially to Midsummer's Eve, All Saints' Day Eve, and Christmas Eve. The eve of May Day is called Valborg Eve or St Walpurgis. When a holiday falls on a Thursday many Swedes have the following Friday off in addition. When a holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday it is not taken on the following Monday.
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: The Swedish Constitution is based on four fundamental laws: the Instrument of Government (originally dating from June 6, 1809), the Act of Succession (1810), the Freedom of the Press Act (1949), and the Riksdag Act. Following partial reforms in 1968 and 1969, a new Instrument of Government and a new Riksdag Act were adopted in 1973 and 1974, and the revised Constitution came into force on January 1, 1975, replacing the Acts of 1809, 1866 and 1949.
Branches: Executive--monarch (head of state); prime minister (head of government); Cabinet, responsible to Parliament. Legislative--unicameral Parliament (Riksdag--349 members). Judicial--84 district courts, 10 appeal courts and two superior courts.
Subdivisions: 21 counties, 18 county councils, 290 municipalities, and two regions.
Political parties represented in Parliament: the Moderate Party (conservative), the Liberal Party, the Center Party, the Christian Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Left Party, and the Green Party.
Suffrage: Universal, 18 years of age. After three years of legal residence, immigrants may vote in county council and municipal elections, but not in national elections.
GDP (2008 est., purchasing power parity): $358.4 billion.
GDP (2008 est., official exchange rate): $512.9 billion.
Annual growth rate (2008 est.): 0.9%.
Exchange rate (2008 avg.): Swedish kronor (SEK) per U.S. dollar = 6.808.
Per capita income (2008 est., purchasing power parity): $39,600.
Inflation rate (November 2008 est.): 1.6%.
Natural resources: Forests, hydroelectric power, iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, gold, silver, tungsten, uranium, arsenic, feldspar, timber.
Agriculture (2008 est.): 1.5% of GDP. Products--dairy products, meat, grains (barley, wheat), sugar beets, potatoes, wood. Arable land--6 million acres.
Industry (2008 est.): 28.9% of GDP. Types--machinery/metal products (iron and steel), electrical equipment, aircraft, paper products, precision equipment (bearings, radio and telephone parts, armaments), wood pulp and paper products, processed foods.
Services (2008 est.): 69.6% of GDP. Types--telecommunications, computer equipment, biotech.
Trade: Exports (2007)--$170.1 billion. Types--machinery, transport equipment, motor vehicles, wood products, paper, pulp, chemicals, iron and steel products and manufactured goods. Major trading partners, exports (2008)--Germany 10.4%, Norway 9.4%, U.S. 7.6%, Denmark 7.4%, U.K. 7.1%, Finland 6.4%, Netherlands 5.1%, France 5%, Belgium 4.6%. Imports (2007)--$151.4 billion. Types--machinery, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, motor vehicles, iron and steel, foodstuffs, clothing. Major trading partners, imports (2008)--Germany 18.4%, Denmark 9.2%, Norway 8.3%, U.K. 6.8%, Finland 6.1%, Netherlands 5.8%, France 5%, China 4.3%, Belgium 4.1%.
Sweden has one of the world's longest life expectancies and lowest birth rates. The country counts at least 20,000 indigenous Sami among its population. About one in every five Swedes is an immigrant or has at least one foreign-born parent. The largest immigrant groups are from Finland, Iraq, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia, Iran, Norway, Denmark, and Poland. This reflects Nordic immigration, earlier periods of labor immigration, and more recent refugee and family immigration.
Swedish is a Germanic language related to Danish and Norwegian but different in pronunciation and orthography. English is widely spoken, particularly by Swedes under the age of 50.
Sweden has an extensive child-care system that guarantees a place for all young children ages two through six in a public day-care facility. From ages seven to 16, children participate in compulsory education. After completing the ninth grade, 90% attend upper secondary school for either academic or technical education.
Swedes benefit from an extensive social welfare system, which provides childcare and maternity and paternity leave, a ceiling on health care costs, old-age pensions, and sick leave, among other benefits. Parents are entitled to a total of 480 days' paid leave at 80% of a government-determined salary cap between birth and the child's eighth birthday. The parents may split those days however they wish, but 60 of the days are reserved specifically for the father. The parents may also take an additional five months of unpaid leave.
During the seventh and eighth centuries, the Swedes were merchant seamen well known for their far-reaching trade. In the ninth century, Nordic Vikings raided and ravaged the European continent as far as the Black and Caspian Seas. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Sweden gradually became a unified Christian kingdom that later included Finland. Queen Margaret of Denmark united all the Nordic lands in the "Kalmar Union" in 1397. Continual tension within the countries and within the union gradually led to open conflict between the Swedes and the Danes in the 15th century. The union's final disintegration in the early 16th century brought on a long-lived rivalry between Norway and Denmark on one side and Sweden and Finland on the other.
In the 16th century, Gustav Vasa fought for an independent Sweden, crushing an attempt to restore the Kalmar Union and laying the foundation for modern Sweden. At the same time, he broke with the Catholic Church and established the Reformation. During the 17th century, after winning wars against Denmark, Russia, and Poland, Sweden-Finland (with scarcely more than 1 million inhabitants) emerged as a great power. Its contributions during the Thirty Years War under Gustav II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus) determined the political as well as the religious balance of power in Europe. By 1658, Sweden ruled several provinces of Denmark as well as what is now Finland, Ingermanland (in which St. Petersburg is located), Estonia, Latvia, and important coastal towns and other areas of northern Germany.
Russia, Saxony-Poland and Denmark-Norway pooled their power in 1700 and attacked the Swedish-Finnish Empire. Although the young Swedish King Karl XII (also known as Charles XII) won spectacular victories in the early years of the Great Northern War, his plan to attack Moscow and force Russia into peace proved too ambitious; he fell in battle in 1718. In the subsequent peace treaties, the allied powers, joined by Prussia and England-Hanover, ended Sweden's reign as a great power.
Sweden suffered further territorial losses during the Napoleonic wars and was forced to cede Finland to Russia in 1809. The following year, the Swedish King's adopted heir, French Marshal Bernadotte, was elected Crown Prince as Karl Johan by the Riksdag (Parliament). In 1813, his forces joined the allies against Napoleon. The Congress of Vienna compensated Sweden for its lost German territory through a merger of the Swedish and Norwegian crowns in a dual monarchy. Sweden's last war was fought in 1814. A brief confrontation with Norway to restrain its demands for independence resulted in Norway entering into a union with Sweden, but with its own constitution and Parliament. The Sweden-Norway union was peacefully dissolved at Norway's request in 1905.
Sweden's predominantly agricultural economy shifted gradually from village to private, farm-based agriculture during the Industrial Revolution. This change failed to bring economic and social improvements commensurate with the rate of population growth; as a result about 1 million Swedes immigrated to the United States between 1850 and 1890.
In the 19th century liberal economic influences emerged, which ultimately led to the abolition of guild monopolies in favor of free enterprise. Other modernizing reforms included new taxation laws, voting reforms, and a national military service. This period of time also marked the birth of Sweden's three major political parties: the Social Democratic, Liberal and Conservative parties.
During and after World War I, in which Sweden remained neutral, the country benefited from the worldwide demand for Swedish steel, ball bearings, wood pulp, and matches. Postwar prosperity provided the foundations for the social welfare policies characteristic of modern Sweden. Foreign policy concerns in the 1930s centered on Soviet and German expansionism, which stimulated abortive efforts at Nordic defense cooperation. Sweden followed a policy of armed neutrality during World War II and currently remains nonaligned.
Sweden became a member of the European Union (EU) in 1995. In September 2003 Sweden held a referendum on entering the European Monetary Union. The Swedish people rejected participation, with 56% voting against and 42% for. All parliamentary parties pledged to respect the outcome of the referendum. No new referendum is currently planned.
Sweden's government is a limited constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. Popular government in Sweden rests upon ancient tradition. The Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) stems from tribal courts (Ting) and the election of kings during the Viking era. It became a permanent institution in the 15th century.
King Carl XVI Gustaf (Bernadotte) ascended to the throne on September 15, 1973. His authority is symbolic and representational. Executive authority is vested in the Cabinet, which consists of a prime minister and 22 ministers who run the governmental departments. The current "Alliance" government, led by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, came to power in September 2006.
Sweden has three levels of government: national, regional, and local. In addition, there is a European level, which has acquired increasing importance following Sweden's entry into the EU. Parliamentary, municipal, and county council elections are held every four years. The 349-member unicameral Riksdag has legislative powers, and is in session generally from September through mid-June. Proposals for new laws are presented by the government, which also implements decisions made by the Riksdag. The government is assisted in its work by the Government Offices, comprising a number of ministries, and some 300 central government agencies and public administrations.
Sweden is divided into 21 counties (län), 18 county councils (landsting), 290 municipalities (kommuner), and two semi-independent regions. Each county is headed by a governor, who is appointed by the central government. The counties coordinate administration with national political goals for the county. The county council (landsting) is a regional government that is popularly elected with particular responsibility for health and medical care. The municipalities are local governments that deal with issues such as education, public transportation and social welfare. Elected municipal councils are headed by executive committees roughly analogous to the boards of commissioners found in some U.S. cities.
Swedish law draws upon Germanic and Roman traditions. It is neither as codified as French law nor as dependent on judicial precedent as U.S. law. Legislative and judicial institutions include, in addition to the Riksdag, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, the Labor Court, the Law Council, District Courts and Courts of Appeal, and the Public Prosecutor's Office. The parliamentary ombudsmen and the Chancellor of Justice oversee the application of laws with particular attention to abuses of authority.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--King Carl XVI Gustaf
Prime Minister (Head of Government)--Fredrik Reinfeldt
Minister for Finance--Anders Borg
Minister for the Environment--Andreas Carlgren
Minister for Justice--Beatrice Ask
Minister for Foreign Affairs--Carl Bildt
Minister for EU Affairs--Cecilia Malmström
Minister for Social Security--Cristina Husmark Pehrsson
Minister for Agriculture--Eskil Erlandsson
Minister for International Development Co-operation--Gunilla Carlsson
Minister for Health and Social Affairs--Göran Hägglund
Minister for Higher Education and Research--Lars Leijonborg
Minister for Education--Jan Björklund
Minister for Culture--Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth
Minister for Elderly Care and Public Health--Maria Larsson
Minister for Local Government and Financial Markets--Mats Odell
Minister for Enterprise and Energy--Maud Olofsson
Minister for Defense--Sten Tolgfors
Minister for Integration and Gender Equality--Nyamko Sabuni
Minister for Trade--Ewa Björling
Minister for Employment--Sven Otto Littorin
Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy--Tobias Billström
Minister for Infrastructure--Åsa Torstensson
Ambassador to the United States--Jonas Hafström
Ambassador to the United Nations--Anders Lidén
Sweden maintains an Embassy in the United States at 2900 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20007. Telephone: 202-467-2600, Internet: http://www.swedenabroad.com/washington
Consulates General are in New York and Los Angeles. There also are consulates in 31 other U.S. cities. Contact the Swedish Embassy for locations and telephone numbers.
Ordinary general elections to the Swedish Parliament are held every fourth year on the third Sunday in September. County council and municipal council elections take place at the same time. A barrier rule exists to prevent very small parties from gaining representation in the Parliament. A party must thus receive at least 4% of the votes in the entire country or 12% in a single electoral district to qualify for any seats.
The most recent elections were held on September 17, 2006. The Alliance for Sweden (a coalition of four center-right parties--the Moderate Party, the Liberal Party, the Christian Democrat, and the Center Party) won 178 of the 349 seats, securing Moderate Fredrik Reinfeldt the position of Prime Minister. The 2006 election results for Sweden's major parties were as follows: the Social Democratic Party (34.99%; 130 seats), the Moderate Party (26.23%; 97 seats), the Center Party (7.88%; 29 seats), the Liberal Party (7.54%; 28 seats), the Christian Democrats (6.59%; 24 seats), the Left Party (5.85%; 22 seats), and the Green Party (5.24%; 19 seats).
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) has a base of blue-collar workers and public sector employees. It derives much of its power from strong links with the National Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), which represents blue-collar workers. The party program combines a commitment to social welfare programs and government direction of the economy. The Social Democratic Party has led the government for 65 of the 76 years since 1932; the 2006 election ended its most recent term of 12 consecutive years in office.
The Moderate Party emphasizes personal freedom, free enterprise, and reduction of the public-sector growth rate, while still supporting most of the social benefits introduced since the 1930s. The party also supports a strong military and Sweden's membership in the EU. Its voter base is urban business people and professionals, but the party also attracts young voters, main-street shop owners, and, to some extent, blue-collar workers. Moderate Party Leader Reinfeldt followed an election strategy that remodeled his party as "New Moderates," moving away from the party's right-wing, upper-class roots to appeal to a large middle ground of voters and successfully winning over many who had until then supported the SDP, as well as others who had previously voted for the smaller, non-socialist parties. Reinfeldt was instrumental in uniting into one party the previously separate four center-right parties. The Alliance offered alternative policies on job creation that persuaded voters.
The Center Party maintains close ties to rural Sweden. The main priorities of the party include providing a sound economic climate for business and job creation, rural development, climate change and environmental concerns, and health and welfare issues.
The Left Party, formerly the Communist Party, focuses on feminist issues, employment in the public sector, and the environment. It opposes privatization, cuts in public expenditure, Swedish participation in NATO activities, and EU membership. Its voter base consists mainly of young people, public sector employees, feminists, journalists, and former social democrats.
The Christian Democrat Party is conservative and value-oriented. Its voter base is primarily among members of conservative churches and rural populations. Christian Democrats seek government support for families and better ethical practices to improve care for the elderly.
The Liberal Party's platform is "social responsibility without socialism," which includes a commitment to a free-market economy combined with comprehensive Swedish social welfare programs. Foreign aid, education and women's equality also are popular issues. The Liberal Party base is mainly centered in educated middle-class voters.
The Green Party is a leftist environmentalist party that attracts young people. The Greens support a phasing-out of nuclear energy in Sweden and hope to replace it with alternative, environmentally friendly energy sources.
The next election for Sweden’s Parliament is scheduled to be held in September 2010. In 2009 Sweden will vote for its representatives to the European Parliament.
Sweden will hold the EU Presidency from July-December 2009. While the government’s specific priorities will not be finalized officially until late spring, the government has stated it will focus on three main areas: climate change, the EU’s economic welfare, and the EU as a global actor.
Sweden is a highly industrialized country. Agriculture, once accounting for nearly all of Sweden's economy, now employs less than 2% of the labor force. Extensive forests, rich iron ore deposits, and hydroelectric power are the natural resources which, through the application of technology and efficient organization, have enabled Sweden to become a leading producing and exporting nation. Sweden is the largest market in the Baltic Sea region, and is ranked among the most competitive and corruption-free economies in the world.