Sweden | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Since 1998, Prime Minister Goran Persson, who was reelected in September, has led a left-of-center coalition including his Social Democratic Party (SDP), the formerly Communist Left Party, and the Green Party. Sweden's historical position of neutrality was seriously threatened when the government presented a more pragmatic approach to parliament. A date finally was set for a referendum on whether the country should join the European Monetary Union (EMU).

Sweden is a constitutional monarchy and a multiparty parliamentary democracy. After monarchical alliances with Finland, Denmark, and Norway between the eleventh and nineteenth centuries, Sweden emerged as a modern democracy.

Sweden has remained nonaligned and neutral since World War I. However, the government presented to parliament in February a more pragmatic approach to security than the traditional neutrality policy. Although retaining its commitment to remain outside military alliances, the shift in Sweden's policy reflects its EU membership and awareness that intervention in foreign arenas may serve Swedish interests. Discussion regarding NATO membership increased, but most political parties remained opposed to membership. Nevertheless, Sweden is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program.

With parliamentary support from the Left and Green parties, the minority SDP government continued in power, following the outcome of the general election on September 15, 2002. On November 29, parliamentary leaders agreed to hold a referendum on Swedish membership in the EMU on September 14, 2003. While the SDP leadership favors joining, the Left and Green parties oppose EMU membership.

The European Parliament amended in May the 1997 European Community Directive on privacy in telecommunications, which obliges member states to retain all telecommunications data on private citizens for one to two years and to provide the relevant authorities unrestricted access to this data to assist law enforcement officials in eradicating crime.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Swedes can change their government democratically. The 310-member, unicameral Riksdag (parliament) is elected every four years through universal suffrage. To ensure proportionality for all parties that secure more than 4 percent of the vote, 39 additional representatives are selected from a national pool of candidates.

Citizens abroad are entitled to vote by absentee ballot in national elections, and non-nationals in residence for three years may vote in local elections. The Saami community elects its own local parliament, which has significant powers over education and culture and serves as an advisory body to the government. The role of King Carl XVI Gustaf, who was crowned in 1973, is ceremonial. The prime minister is appointed by the speaker of the house and confirmed by the Riksdag.

The media are independent. Most newspapers and periodicals are privately owned. The government subsidizes daily newspapers regardless of their political affiliation. The ethnic press is entitled to the same subsidies as the Swedish press. The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation and the Swedish Television Company broadcast weekly radio and television programs in several immigrant languages. Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) ranked Sweden (tied with Germany and Portugal) seventh in press freedom in the world in its Worldwide Press Freedom Index for 2002. However, RSF condemned the harassment of journalists investigating neo-Nazi activities by members of extreme-right groups.

In December 2001, the Council of the European Union adopted by "written procedure" antiterrorist legislation requiring member states to prevent "the public" from offering "any form of support, active or passive" to terrorists and to check all refugees and asylum seekers for terrorist connections. Human rights groups criticized the legislation because it does not distinguish between conscious or unconscious assistance, treats would-be immigrants as criminals, and was not debated in parliament before being adopted.

Citizens may freely express their ideas and criticize their government. The government is empowered to prevent publication of national security information. A quasi-governmental body censors extremely graphic violence from films, videos, and television programs.

International human rights groups have criticized Sweden for its immigration policies, which have severely limited the number of refugees admitted annually. Stricter asylum criteria were adopted in the 1990s after decades of relatively relaxed rules. Nordic immigrants may become citizens after two years, while others must wait a minimum of five years. Critics charge that the country does not systematically provide asylum seekers with adequate legal counsel or access to an appeals process.

Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. Eighty-seven percent of the population is Lutheran. On January 1, 2000, Sweden separated the Church of Sweden from the state. The move reduced the church's subsidies and redirected the monies to other religious institutions, including those of Catholics, Muslims, and Jews. The growing numbers of non-Lutherans in Sweden prompted the move. There are approximately 200,000 Muslims, 160,000 Roman Catholics, 100,000 Eastern Orthodox, and 16,000 Jews in Sweden.

Freedom of assembly and association is guaranteed, as are the rights to strike and participate in unions. Strong and well-organized trade union federations represent 90 percent of the labor force.

The country's independent judiciary includes the Supreme Court, 6 courts of appeal, 100 district courts, and a parallel system of administrative courts. On the seventh anniversary of the death of Osmo Vallo, 41, a Finn, in police custody, Amnesty International in May reiterated its concern that no one has been held accountable for his ill-treatment. Transparency International ranked Sweden fifth on its 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index, third among EU member states.

Women constitute approximately 45 percent of the labor force, but their wage levels lag behind those of men. Approximately 45 percent of the members of parliament are women, the highest proportion in the world.