Sweden

   

Policy Performance

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Economic Policies

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Showing exceptional results in a number of areas, Sweden shares the SGI 2020’s top position (rank 1) with respect to economic policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

The country has been on a positive, stable economic-development track for years. Growth has been consistently robust at above 2%. The trade-dependent economy is highly competitive, with the institutional and regulatory framework providing basic stability and predictability. However, inflation rates remain below targets, and household debt is a mounting concern.

The unemployment rate has fallen to about 6%. While large numbers of migrants were continuing to look for employment, the country has been successful in integrating a significant share of refugees into the labor market. However, the unemployment rate among migrants remained more than twice as high as among native Swedes.

Tax levels are comparable with those of the country’s main economic competitors, with corporate taxes low from an international perspective. The economic boom of the last several years has led to a number of years of budgetary surplus. Government debt levels are quite low. The country invests strongly in R&D, and is emerging as a global center of digital innovation.

Social Policies

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With its highly developed welfare state, Sweden falls into the top ranks worldwide (rank 4) with regard to social policies. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points since 2014.

A decline in students’ internationally comparative test rankings has been reversed, but the absolute level remains worryingly low. Debate over causes and solutions has been intense, and numerous reforms have been implemented. Levels of gender equality are high. Poverty and income inequality rates are low but increasing, and young people are having difficulty in finding jobs.

Healthcare is of high quality, but waiting times are long. The last year has seen some improvement in general practitioner waiting times. Family policies are generous, with extensive maternal and paternal leave and ample child-care provision.

Retirement ages are being gradually increased to improve pension-system sustainability. The country has accepted a very large number of refugees, but integration has proved challenging. Organized crime is becoming an increasing concern.

Environmental Policies

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With a longstanding focus on ecological issues, Sweden takes the SGI 2020’s top position (rank 1) in the area of environmental policy. Its score in this area has improved by 0.5 points relative to 2014.

The country remains a significant energy consumer, but greenhouse-gas emissions are declining, and the use of renewable energy resources is improving. It is not a leader in the areas of recycling or water usage.

The country’s use of nuclear energy remains a controversial question, 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 and Paris accord, and is a very active player with regard to the EU’s environmental agenda.

Democracy

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Quality of Democracy

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With its unmatched set of strengths, Sweden is the SGI 2020’s top overall scorer (rank 1) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to its 2014 level.

Electoral processes are very well regulated. Political parties receive public and private funding, with new legislation substantially increasing the transparency of this financing. Media independence is well protected, and the sector is competitive, with online media gaining increasing importance.

Access to government information is broad. Civil rights are firmly respected, and discrimination is not tolerated, though the influx of refugees is stressing the migration system. Organized crime is becoming an increasing problem in metropolitan regions, leading to infringement of individual freedoms by private actors. The national police have created a new program focusing on this issue.

The rule of law is quite strong, and corruption is very rare, through reports of abuse at the local level have increased. The trend toward market-based administrative reforms appears to have peaked. Judicial review is active, and court appointments are strictly meritocratic. New protections for whistleblowers have been implemented.

Governance

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Executive Capacity

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With multiple layers of effective coordination, Sweden is the SGI 2020’s top scorer (rank 1) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to its 2014 level.

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.

Ex ante assessments of regulatory impact have been required since 2007. Ex post performance measurement is common. Though institutionalized societal consultation has diminished in past years, the government has closely consulted with unions in particular. Efforts to increase communication coherency have led to complaints of declining access to members of the government.

The current government has agreed to implement several neoliberal reforms in order to win parliamentary backing, expanding its policy focus. Refugee responsibilities have led to budget shortfalls at the local level. Regulatory agencies often use incentives rather than formal rules to elicit behavior, but there is no evidence of systemic bias.

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 has improved by 0.1 point relative to its 2014 level.

The population has a strong interest in politics, and election turnout rates are very high. Media reporting of policy issues is generally good by international standards. The public service radio and television system is now funded through the tax system rather than through annual fees.

Parliamentarians have adequate resources, and well-developed executive-oversight powers. The audit office has recovered from crisis, and now delivers high-quality audits. Sweden effectively invented the ombudsman institution, and it remains influential. The data-protection agency handles complaints and conducts its own inquiries and inspections.

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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