Sweden

   

Policy Performance

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Economic Policies

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Having fared well in both the crisis and post-crisis periods, Sweden shares the SGI 2017’s top position (rank 1) with respect to economic policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Despite longtime stability, signs of economic tension are emerging. Interest rates have been lowered to sub-zero levels to fend off deflation, and housing-bubble fears are emerging. Political commitment to budgetary surpluses has diminished somewhat. Nevertheless, economic regulation is considered efficient and sound overall.

The unemployment rate is moderate by EU standards. The government has pledged to halve this by 2020, a task the recent influx of refugees will make more difficult. A policy of work incentives has been replaced by more government-sponsored employment as a means of providing labor-market access.

The government has set modestly higher tax-rate and spending goals. As business taxes are today relatively low, competitiveness is not a pressing issue. Parliament set a revised budget-surplus goal of 0.33% in 2016, with a long-term commitment to public-debt reduction. The country invests strongly in R&D, though commercialization is a weak spot.

Social Policies

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With its highly developed welfare state, Sweden falls into the top ranks worldwide (rank 3) with regard to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points since 2014.

Students’ comparative international rankings have shown precipitous decline. Debate over causes and solutions has been intense, and a new round of reforms has been proposed. Levels of gender equality is high. Poverty and income inequality rates are low but increasing, and young people are having increasing difficulties in finding jobs.

Recent health-care privatization has produced long wait times and reports of substandard treatments, though care quality is generally good. Family policies are generous, with extensive maternal and paternal leave and ample child-care provision.

Pension-system sustainability has improved. Retirement ages are flexible, but the upper limit has been increased. Immigration policies are generous, but integration has proved problematic despite considerable policy commitment to the issue.

Environmental Policies

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With a longstanding focus on ecological issues, Sweden takes the SGI 2017’s top position (rank 1) in the area of environmental policy. Its score in this area has improved by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

The country remains a significant energy consumer, but CO2 emissions are declining, biodiversity is improving and the ecological footprint is decreasing. The government is moving toward “green taxes.” The country’s use of nuclear energy remains controversial question even within the governing coalition, but several reactors are slated to close in any case due to low profitability.

Sweden has historically given strong support to global environmental regimes, even going beyond the requirements of international accords such as the Kyoto Protocol.

Democracy

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Quality of Democracy

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With its unmatched set of strengths, Sweden is the SGI 2017’s top overall scorer (rank 1) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure represents a 0.1 point decline relative to its 2014 level.

Electoral processes are very well regulated. Political parties receive public and private funding, but monitoring and disclosure policies are weak. Media independence is well protected, and the sector is competitive, with online media gaining increasing importance.

Access to government information is broad, though delays have prompted criticism. Civil rights are firmly respected, and discrimination is not tolerated, though the influx of refugees is stressing the migration system. A debate has arisen over whether returning young Afghans denied asylum to their country of origin is humane. Ethnic segmentation in metropolitan suburbs is increasing.

The rule of law is quite strong, and corruption is very rare, through reports of abuse at the local level have increased. Pressures to process asylum applications quickly may have undermined the legal certainty of migration case work. Judicial review is active, and court appointments are strictly meritocratic.

Governance

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Executive Capacity

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With multiple layers of coordination, Sweden falls into the top ranks worldwide (rank 3) in terms of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Strategic capacity has been enhanced in recent years, with planning efforts focused in the Finance Ministry. Considerable energy has been spent improving interdepartmental coordination, in part by centralizing authority in the government office and Finance Ministry. Policy details are developed at the nonpartisan bureaucratic level. Informal coordination plays an important role.

While RIAs are not used systematically, environmental-sustainability reviews are mandatory. Though institutionalized societal consultation has diminished in past years, the current government closely consults unions in particular.

Closely monitored agencies, rather than ministries, implement policies, and even have a say in policy development. Central state control over local governments has increased in recent years. While the central government has funded costs associated with the refugee influx, local governments have increasingly expressed frustration over unfunded mandates more generally.

Executive Accountability

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With mature oversight mechanisms, Sweden falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 2) with respect to executive accountability. Its score this year is unchanged relative to 2014.

The population has a strong interest in politics, and election turnout rates are high. Media reporting of policy issues is generally good by international standards.

Parliamentarians have adequate resources, and well-developed executive-oversight powers. The audit office fell into crisis in 2016, with several high-profile resignations, but no changes in its function have been made. Sweden effectively invented the ombudsman institution, and it remains influential.

Political-party decision-making has gradually become more open. Economic-interest organizations are sophisticated, and have long been integrated into policymaking processes. The capacities of other interest organizations vary, but many are quite developed.
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