Sweden

   

Executive Accountability

#2
Key Findings
With mature oversight mechanisms, Sweden falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 2) with respect to executive accountability. Its score this year has declined by 0.3 points relative to its 2014 level.

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 this did not result in a change to its mandate. 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.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#2

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
9
The Swedish population has a strong interest in politics. Election turnout is still very high by most international comparisons. The turnout in the 2014 general elections was 85.8%, which was an increase of 1.2 percentage points from the previous election. Swedish voters tend to decide very late for which party to vote, which may be interpreted as the voters’ desire to gather as much information on political parties as possible before they make their final decision.

The definition of high or low levels of political knowledge is obviously a relative measure. Official data on the knowledge level of Swedish voters is not available. It can, however, be assumed that voters here are not significantly more – or less – knowledgeable than their colleagues in comparable countries.

Recent studies suggest that if voters had been more knowledgeable on political issues this would have changed their party allegiance. Increasing levels of knowledge should reduce the support for the two major parties – the Moderates and the Social Democrats – while most of the other, smaller parties would have benefited. This is a purely hypothetical study, as the perfectly informed voter does not exist.

Citations:
Olsson, J., H. Ekengren Oscarsson and M. Solevid (eds.) (2016), Eqvilibrium (Gothenburg: The SOM Institute).

Oscarsson, H. and S. Holmberg (2014), Svenska väljare (Stockholm: Wolters Kluwer).

Oscarsson, H. (2007), ”A Matter of Fact? Knowledge Effects on the Vote in Swedish General Elections, 1985-2002,” Scandinavian Political Studies 30:301-322.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#2

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
9
MPs can collectively monitor all aspects of government activities. They can find some support for these and other activities from the parliament’s (riksdagen) administrative support (riksdagens utredningstjänst, RUT). RUT conducts inquiries requested by groups of MPs. Individual MPs in Sweden receive rather little administrative support; instead, support is given to the political party organizations within parliament.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
10
Parliamentary committees (or indeed any persons) have the right to review all public documents in Sweden unless they are classified or part of an ongoing decision-making process.

In this respect, the Swedish system leaves very little to be desired. The problem, instead, has been the execution of these rights. In the annual reviews conducted by the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Affairs (KU) during the past several years, the committee has severely criticized the government’s central office (regeringskansliet) for not providing documents, or for being exceedingly slow in doing so. The media, too, has been critical of the government in this respect.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
9
Parliamentary committees summon ministers who appear and respond to questions. This is most frequently the case with the annual review conducted by the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Matters, but has been used by other committees, too. Except for very few cases, summoned ministers will appear in parliamentary committees. A few years ago, there was extensive media attention on a couple of instances when former cabinet ministers declined to appear before a parliamentary committee.

The hearings occur regularly and are often broadcasted by public service television. The results of the hearings are published and accessible to everyone.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
Parliamentary committees may certainly summon experts. They do not usually do so as part of the regular deliberation of the committees, but rather in the form of a public hearing on some specific issue.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
There is a high degree of congruence between government departments and parliamentary committees, but no perfect overlap. This is of course no coincidence. The configuration of government departments is more flexible than that of parliamentary committees, which has undergone very few changes over the last several decades. Ensuring that the committee system matches the GO’s organization in departments is essential to the efficiency of both institutions. Furthermore, the GO and the parliament (Riksdag) staff have regular meetings to ensure that the parliament and individual committees are not overloaded with government bills, but that there is a steady flow of bills across the year.

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
9
For a long time, Sweden was one of the few countries where the audit office reported to the government and not to the parliament. In order to conform to international standards, such as the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI), this institutional arrangement was changed in 2003. For all intents and purposes, the audit office now reports to the parliament. The mandate and mission of the audit office is such that this represents the only chain of accountability. In this respect, the constitutional role and mandate of the audit office is now in harmony with INTOSAI standard.

The audit office underwent a major crisis during 2016, culminating with the resignation of the three national auditors. The crisis did not trigger a revision of the constitutional mandate of the audit office, although the parliament did point out that they wanted a “closer relationship” with the audit office.

Citations:
www.riksrevisionen.se

Bringselius, L. (2013), Organisera oberoende granskning: Riksrevisionens första tio år (Lund: Studentlitteratur).

Bringselius, L. (ed.) (2017), Den statliga revisionen i Norden: forskning, praktik och politik (Lund: Studentlitteratur).

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
10
It is fair to say that Sweden invented the ombudsman institution. Sweden currently has seven ombudsmen who focus on the following: legal matters, gender equality, consumer matters, discrimination, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, matters related to disability and matters related to children.

The ombudsman for legal matters (JO), which has been around the longest, is appointed by the parliament, while the government appoints the other ombudsmen. Some of them are their own agencies.

Assessing the effectiveness of the ombudsmen is a difficult task. Their mission is not only to follow up on complaints but also to form opinion in their area of jurisdiction. Their position in the political system and in society appeared to be quite strong during the review period.

Media

#4

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
9
Together with Norway, Japan and Finland, Sweden ranks very high regarding news consumption. The overall quality of the political coverage provided by Swedish media is good, if not extremely good.

Public service radio and TV in Sweden is still central to the media system. There have been discussions and Commissions concerning the future of public service but so far no major changes have been put on the agenda.

Compared to many other countries, the coverage is presented by journalists who are experts on Swedish politics. The level of analysis is good and, for the most part, balanced. There is obviously sometimes less professional coverage, too, but taken together, the quality of Swedish newspapers is very good.

Citations:
Olsson, J., H. Ekengren Oscarsson and M. Solevid (eds.) (2016), Eqvilibrium (Gothenburg: The SOM Institute).

Parties and Interest Associations

#1

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
8
Politics in Sweden is party politics. The political parties shape public discourse on political issues and control public decision-making at all levels of the political system. All the major parties have developed extensive party organizations, in part supported by state subsidies. Party membership has historically been high but has declined over the last couple of decades. Elected delegates from all constituencies make decisions on party policy and programs at national conferences. These meetings are increasingly public events, used not only as forums to make decisions, but also to market the party politically. Beyond that, however, rank and file members are very rarely consulted or invited to voice their opinions on daily policy issues.

Candidate selection, too, is an internal party matter. Voters do have the opportunity to indicate support for specific candidates, however.

Over the past years, the internet has played a role in making the decision-making process within the major parties more open. The Social Democratic Party, for instance, discussed some issues of the party’s platform in blogs and on its homepage. In such instances, even those who are not members of the party can join in the formulation of the party’s platform.

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
9
Sweden has a long corporatist tradition. Although corporatism as a mode of governance has declined, economic interest associations are still important players in the policy process.

The major business interest organizations and unions are certainly very capable of analyzing the economic situation and presenting policy proposals. As organized interests, they obviously pursue their respective agendas, but overall, the expertise and policy capacity of the major interest organizations is impressive. During the global economic crisis, for example, the interest associations showed a high degree of responsibility by not counteracting the crisis management of the government.

Citations:
Garsten, C., B. Rothstein and S. Svallfors (2015), Makt utan mandat: de policyprofessionella i svensk politik (Stockholm: Dialogos).

Pierre, J. (ed) (2015), Oxford Handbook of Swedish Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press), esp. Section 10.

Svensson, T. and P-O.Öberg (2010),“Does Power Drive out Trust? Relations between Labor Market Actors in Sweden,” Political Studies 58:143-166.

Öberg, P-O, S. Oskarsson and T. Svensson (2011),“Similarity versus Homogeniety: Contextual Effects in Explaining Trust,” European Political Science Review 3:345-369.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
9
For non-economic interest associations, their capacity to conduct analysis and produce relevant policy proposals varies significantly depending on their size.

For instance, in the environmental policy field, the major interest organizations have large staff that conduct high-quality studies and present highly relevant policy proposals. In other policy fields, small interest associations do not have the staff to produce high-quality policy proposals. Yet, if we assess the quality of non-economic interest associations over the very broad range of all Swedish interest associations, most of them produce high-quality policy proposals.

Citations:
Svensson, T. and P-O.Öberg (2010),“Does Power Drive out Trust? Relations between Labor Market Actors in Sweden,” Political Studies 58:143-166.

Öberg, P-O, S. Oskarsson and T. Svensson (2011),“Similarity versus Homogeniety: Contextual Effects in Explaining Trust,” European Political Science Review 3:345-369.
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