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Constitution of Sweden

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The Swedish Constitution consists of four basic laws (Swedish: grundlagar):

  • The Instrument of Government (1974)
  • The Act of Succession (1809)
  • The Freedom of the Press Act (1766)
  • The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression (1991)

There is also a law on the working order of the Parliament with a special status but which does not qualify as a "basic law":

  • The Riksdag Act (1974)

To amend or to make a revision of a basic law, the Parliament needs to approve the changes twice in two successive terms, with a general election having been held in between.

Table of contents

Instrument of Government The most important of the "basic laws" is The Instrument of Government or Regeringsformen. It sets out the basic principles for political life in Sweden defining rights and freedoms.

The Parliamentarian Instrument of Government of 1974 grants the power to commission a Prime Minister to the Riksdag (Parliament) at the suggestion of the Speaker of the Riksdag. The Prime Minister appoints members of Cabinet including heads of ministries, totalling to approximately 20 members. The Cabinet decides collectively in governmental matters after report of the Head of Ministry in question. At least five Cabinet members are to be present at the decission. In practice reports are written, and discussions very rare, during the formal Cabinet meetings.

Remaining constitutional functions for The Head of State, i.e. the King, include: heading the Council of State (the King plus the Cabinet), heading the Council on Foreign Affairs, recognizing new Cabinets (in the Council of State), and opening the Parliament's yearly session. The King is to be continuously briefed on governmental issues - in the Council of State or directly by the Prime Minister.


The first constitutional Instrument of Government was enacted in 1719, marking the transition from Autocracy to Parliamentarism. Sweden's unbloody revolution of 1772 was legitimized by the Parliament in new versions of the Instrument of Government (in 1772 and 1789), making the King a "Constitutional Autocrat". When Sweden was split in 1809, and Finland was created as a Russian Grand duchy, this "Constitutional Autocracy" was very well fitted, and remained in force until Finland's independence in 1917.

In Sweden the loss of virtually half the realm led to another unbloody revolution, a new royal dynasty, and a new Instrument of Government of June 6, 1809, under which the King still played a central role in government, however no more independent of the Privy Council. The King was free to choose Councellors, but was bound to decide in governmental matters only in presence of the Privy Council, or a subset thereof, and after report of the Councellor responsible for the matter in question. The Councellor had to countersign a royal decission, unless it was un-constitutional, whereby it gained legal force. The Councellor was legally responsible for his advice, and was obliged to note his dissension in case he didn't agree with the King's decission. De jure this Constitution puts a considerable power on the King; a power increasingly used to follow the Councellors' advice, and from 1917 to adhere to principles of Parliamentarism by chosing Councellors possessing direct or indirect support from a majority of the Parliament.

After over 50 years of de facto Parliamentarism it was written into the Instrument of Government of 1974 which, although technically adherent to Constitutional monarchy, finally abolished the Privy Council.

Act of Succession Sweden's switch from elective to hereditary monarchy in 1544 gave reason to Sweden's first law of constitutional character, in form of a treaty between the royal dynasty and the realm represented by the four Estates to be valid for all times.

Accordingly the current Act of Succession (Swedish: Successionsordningen) is a treaty between the old Riksdag of the Estates and The House of Bernadotte regulating the right to accede to the Swedish throne. In 1980 the old principle of "agnatic primogeniture", which meant that the throne was inherited by the eldest male child of the preceding monarch, was replaced by the principle of full "cognatic primogeniture." This meant that the throne will be inherited by the eldest child without regard to sex. Thereby Princess Victoria of Sweden, the eldest child of King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden, was created heir apparent to the Swedish throne over her younger brother.

Freedom of expression The other two acts defines the freedom of the press and other forms of expression. They are separated into two separate laws mainly to maintain the tradition of the Freedom of the Press Act or Tryckfrihetsförordningen from 1766. The Freedom of the Press Act has actually been changed several times since its first incarnation. In 1772, 1810, 1812, 1949 and 1982.

Public access to governmental documents In the 18th century, after over 40 years of mixed experiences with Parliamentarism, Public access to governmental documents[?] was one of the main issues with the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766. Although the novelity was put out of order 1772-1809, it has since remained central in the Swedish mindset, seen as a forceful means against corruption and governmental agencies' inequal treatment of the citizens, increasing the perceived legitimacy of (local and central) government and politicians.

Lutheran State Church In 1593, after 70 years of Reformation and Counter-Reformation in Sweden, adherence to the Augsburg confession was decided and given constitutional status at the Synode of Uppsala (Uppsala möte). References to Uppsala möte has since then been worked into the "basic laws", notably the Act of Succession.

See also: Government of Sweden, King of Sweden, Cabinet of Sweden, Parliament of Sweden, Politics of Sweden

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