Sweden (08/98)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Kingdom of Sweden

Area: 449,964 sq. km. (173,731 sq. mi.)--about the size of California.
Cities: Capital--Stockholm (711,119). Other cities--Goteborg (449,189), Malmo (245,699).
Terrain: Generally flat or rolling.
Climate: Northern temperate.

Nationality: Noun--Swedes. Adjective--Swedish.
Population: 8.8 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.6%.
Ethnic groups: Indigenous Swedes, ethnic Finns, ethnic Lapps. Aliens--Danes, Finns, Norwegians, Bosnians, Greeks, Turks, Iranians, Syrians.
Religions: Lutheran (87%), Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist. Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy--99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1995)--4.8/1,000. Life expectancy--men 76 years, women 81 years.
Work force (4.3 million in 1995): Agriculture and forestry--2.5%; mining and manufacturing--0.24%; building and construction--6.3%; commerce, restaurants and hotels--13.5%; communications--7.18%; banking and insurance--9.2%; public service--39.9%; other--22.3%.
Unemployment: 7%-8%.

Type: Constitutional monarchy
Constitution: A new constitution was adopted in 1975, replacing the Acts of 1809, 1866, and 1949.
Branches: Executive--Cabinet: responsible to parliament. Legislative--Unicameral Parliament (Riksdag). Judicial--Supreme Court (6 superior courts; 108 lower courts).
Subdivisions: 22 counties, 288 municipalities (townships).
Political parties: Moderate, Liberal, Center, Christian Democratic, Social Democratic, Left, and Green.
Suffrage: Universal over 18. After 3 years of legal residence, immigrants may vote in county and municipal elections, (but not in national elections).
Flag: Yellow cross laid horizontally on a medium blue field.

GDP (1996): $267.3 billion.
Annual growth rate (1996): 1.1%.
Per capita income: $30,375.
Inflation rate (1996): 1.2%.
Natural resources: Forests, iron ore, hydroelectric power.
Agriculture (3.1% of GNP): Products--dairy products, grains, sugar beets, potatoes, wood.
Arable land: 3 million hectares.
Industry (19.5%): Types--machinery/metal products, motor vehicles, electrical equipment, aircraft, paper products.
Trade: Exports ($106.0 billion)--machinery transport equipment, wood products, paper, pulp, chemicals, and manufactured goods. Imports--($87.9 billion). Major trading partners--Germany, Denmark, U.K., Norway, and U.S.

Sweden has one of the world's highest life expectancies and one of the lowest birth rates. The country's largest ethnic and linguistic minorities include 15,000 Lapps and 50,000 indigenous Finnish speakers in the north as well as 960,000 immigrants mainly from the Nordic countries, but also from Asia, Africa, South America, and the rest of Europe. More than 1 million people, one-eighth of the population, are either foreign born or the children of immigrants.

Swedish is a Germanic language related to Danish and Norwegian but different in pronunciation and orthography. English is by far the leading foreign language, particularly among students and those under age 50.

Sweden has an extensive child-care system that guarantees a place for all young children from 2-6 years old in a public day-care facility. From ages 7-16, children attend compulsory comprehensive school. After completing the ninth grade, 90% attend upper secondary school for either academic or technical education.

Swedes benefit from an extensive social welfare system that provides for childcare and maternity and paternity leave, a ceiling on health care costs, old-age pensions, and sick leave among other benefits. Parents are entitled to a total of 12 months' paid leave between birth and the child's eighth birthday, with one of those months reserved specifically for the father. A ceiling on health care costs makes it easier for Swedish workers to take time off for medical reasons.

During the seventh and eighth centuries, the Swedes were merchant seamen well known for their far-reaching trade. In the ninth century, Nordic Vikings raided and ravaged the European continent as far as the Black and Caspian Seas. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Sweden gradually became a unified Christian kingdom that later included Finland. Queen Margaret of Denmark united all the Nordic lands in the "Kalmar Union" in 1397. Continual tension within the countries and within the union gradually led to open conflict between the Swedes and the Danes in the 15th century. The union's final disintegration in the early 16th century brought on a long-lived rivalry between Norway and Denmark on one side and Sweden and Finland on the other

In the 16th century, Gustav Vasa fought for an independent Sweden and crushed an attempt to restore the Kalmar Union and laid the foundation for modern Sweden. At the same time, he broke with the Catholic Church and established the Reformation. During the 17th century, after winning wars against Denmark, Russia, and Poland, Sweden-Finland (with scarcely more than 1 million inhabitants) emerged as a great power. Its contributions during the Thirty Years War under Gustav II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus) determined the political as well as the religious balance of power in Europe. By 1658, Sweden ruled several provinces of Denmark as well as what is now Finland, Ingermanland (in which St. Petersburg is located), Estonia, Latvia, and important coastal towns and other areas of northern Germany.

Russia, Saxony-Poland, and Denmark-Norway pooled their power in 1700 and attacked the Swedish-Finnish empire. Although the young Swedish King Karl XII (also known as Charles XII) won spectacular victories in the early years of the Great Northern War, his plan to attack Moscow and force Russia into peace proved too ambitious; he fell in battle in 1718. In the subsequent peace treaties, the allied powers, joined by Prussia and England-Hanover, ended Sweden's reign as a great power.

Sweden suffered further territorial losses during the Napoleonic wars and was forced to cede Finland to Russia in 1809. The next year, the Swedish King's adopted heir, French Marshal Bernadotte, was elected Crown Prince as Karl Johan by the Riksdag. In 1813, his forces joined the allies against Napoleon. The Congress of Vienna compensated Sweden for its lost German territory through a merger of the Swedish and Norwegian crowns in a dual monarchy, which lasted until 1905, when it was peacefully dissolved at Norway's request.

Sweden's predominantly agricultural economy shifted gradually from village to private farm-based agriculture during the Industrial Revolution, but this change failed to bring economic and social improvements commensurate with the rate of population growth. About 1 million Swedes emigrated to the United States between 1850 and 1890.

The 19th century was marked by the emergence of a liberal opposition press, abolition of guild monopolies in trade and manufacturing in favor of free enterprise, taxation and voting reforms, the installation of a national military service, and the rise in the electorate of three major party groups--Social Democratic, Liberal, and Conservative.

During and after World War I, in which Sweden remained neutral, the country benefited from the worldwide demand for Swedish steel, ball bearings, wood pulp, and matches. Postwar prosperity provided the foundations for the social welfare policies characteristic of modern Sweden. Foreign policy concerns in the 1930s centered on Soviet and German expansionism which stimulated abortive efforts at Nordic defense cooperation. Sweden followed a policy of armed neutrality during World War II and currently remains non-aligned.

Popular government in Sweden rests upon ancient tradition. The Swedish parliament (Riksdag) stems from the ting (tribal courts) and the election of kings in the Viking age. It became a permanent institution in the 15th century. Sweden's government is a limited constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. Executive authority is vested in the cabinet which consists of a prime minister and 19 ministers who run the government departments. The present Social Democratic government, led by Prime Minister Goran Persson, came to power in 1994 after losing power briefly in 1991. King Carl XVI Gustaf (Bernadotte) ascended to the throne on September 15, 1973. His authority is formal, symbolic, and representational.

The unicameral Riksdag has 349 members, popularly elected every 4 years and is in session generally from September through mid-June.

Sweden is divided into 22 counties and 288 municipalities. Each county (lan) is headed by a governor appointed by the central government. Each has a popularly elected council with the power of taxation, and each council has particular responsibility for education, public transportation, health, and medical care. Elected municipal councils are headed by executive committees roughly analogous to the boards of commissioners found in some U.S. cities.

Swedish law, drawing on Germanic, Roman, and Anglo-American law, is neither as codified as in France and other countries influenced by the Napoleonic Code, nor as dependent on judicial practice and precedents as in the United States. Legislative and judicial institutions include, in addition to the Riksdag, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, the Labor Court, Commissions of Inquiry, the Law Council, District Courts and Courts of Appeal, the Chief Public Prosecutor, the Bar Association, and ombudsmen who oversee the application of laws with particular attention to abuses of authority.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--King Carl XVI Gustaf
Head of Government--Prime Minister Goran Persson
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Lena Hjelm-Wallen
Minister of Defense--Bjorn von Sydow
Minister of Finance--Erik Asbrink
Ambassador to the United States--Rolf Ekeus
Ambassador to the United Nations--Hans Dahlgren

Sweden maintains an embassy in the U.S. at 1501 M St., NW Washington, DC 20005 Telephone: 202-467-2600

Consulates General are in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. There are also consulates in 31 other U.S. cities. Call the embassy for locations and telephone numbers.

After the 1991 parliamentary elections, the Moderates, Liberals, Center, and Christian Democrats made up a non-socialist minority government, with 170 seats. In the 1994 elections, three of the four parties in the ruling minority coalition government lost seats, and the government resigned. The Social Democrats regained power in 1994, with a minority government of 161 seats.

The Social Democratic party, which took 45.3% of the vote in the 1994 election, has been in power more often than any other political party but has lost some of its public support during 1996-1997 in response to reductions in social benefits and the size of the public sector. The base of the party is blue-collar workers, intellectuals, and public sector employees. It derives much of its power from strong links with the National Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) which represents around 90% of Sweden's blue-collar workers. The party program combines commitment to social welfare programs and government direction of the economy. The party's key challenge today is reducing high unemployment. The Government cooperates closely with the Center Party in the Parliament.

In addition to the Social Democrats, there are six other parties in the Parliament. These are the Moderate Party (22.4%), the Liberal Party (7.2%), the Center Party (7.7%), the Christian Democratic Party (4.1%), the Green Party (5.0%), and the Left Party (6.2%).

The Moderate Party emphasizes personal freedom, free enterprise, and reduction of the public-sector growth rate, while still supporting most of the social benefits introduced since the 1930s. The party also supports a strong defense and Sweden's membership in the European Union. Its voter base is urban business people and professionals, but the party also attracts young voters, main-street shop owners, and, to a modest extent, blue-collar workers.

The Liberal Party's platform is "social responsibility without socialism," which includes a commitment to a free-market economy combined with comprehensive Swedish social welfare programs. Foreign aid and women's equality are also popular issues. The Liberal Party base is mainly centered in educated middle-class voters.

The Center Party maintains close ties to rural Sweden. The main concerns of the Center Party are the elimination of nuclear power and increased centralization of government authority.

The Left Party, formerly the Communist Party, is today a party which expresses some of the traditional values of the social democrats but which is also focused on the environment and opposes Swedish membership in the EU. Their voter base consists mainly of public sector employees, journalists, and former social democrats.

The Green Party is an environmentalist party that attracts young people. The party takes a strong stand against EU membership and wants a new referendum on the issue. The Greens support a phasing-out of nuclear energy in Sweden and hope to replace it with alternative, environmentally friendly energy sources.

The Christian Democrats have their voter base among those who belong to free churches -- Methodists, Baptists, etc. They seek better ethical practices in government and the teaching of traditional values in the schools. They also want to improve care for the elderly and have an extensive family policy program. They strongly support Swedish membership in the EU and the EMU.

On January 1, l995, Sweden became a member of the European Union (EU). While some argued that it went against Sweden's historic policy of neutrality (Sweden had not joined the EU during the Cold War because it was incompatible with neutrality), others viewed the move as a natural extension of the economic cooperation that had been going on since 1972. Sweden addressed this controversy by reserving the right not to participate in any future EU defense alliance. In membership negotiations in 1993-94, Sweden had also reserved the right to make the final decision on whether to join the third stage of the EMU (a common currency and central bank) "in light of continued developments." In a nationwide referendum in November 1994, 52.3% of participants voted for EU membership. Voter turnout was high -- 83.3% of eligible voters voted. In a poll taken in May 1997, however, many Swedes indicated that they were unhappy with Sweden's membership in the EU, and, if given the choice, would not join the EU again. Nevertheless, Sweden actively prepared to participate in the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) that would decide the future of the EU into the 21st century. Main Swedish concerns included winning popular support for EU cooperation, EU enlargement, and strengthening the EU in areas such as economic growth, job promotion, and environmental issues.

The government, with the support of the Center Party, decided in spring 1997 to remain outside of the EMU, at least until 2002.

Sweden is a member of the UN and some of its specialized and related agencies including the World Bank, GATT, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (USESCO), World Health Organization (WHO) and others; EU, European Free Trade Association (EFTA), Council of Europe, and others.

Sweden is an industrial country. Agriculture, once accounting for nearly all of Sweden's economy, now employs less than 3% of the labor force. Farmers maintain small but well-mechanized farms. Variable levies are used for social and national security to protect Swedish agriculture at 80% of self-sufficiency. Extensive forests, rich iron ore deposits, and hydroelectric power are the natural resources which, through the application of technology and efficient organization, have enabled Sweden to become a leading producing and exporting nation.

Development in Sweden since the 1970s has been less favorable than in most comparable countries. The country suffered severely from rising oil prices, and its export industries lost market shares. This led to a series of devaluations of the krona -- three times in 1977 for a total of 16%; once in 1981 (10%); and once again in 1982 (16%). In 1982, the Social Democrats returned to power and began a period of economic austerity and industrial recovery.

Industrial recovery in the early 1980s restored the competitiveness of Swedish exports, particularly the booming auto manufacturing sector. Sweden continues to be one of the world's wealthiest countries. Exporting one-third of its GDP, this small country is a strong supporter of free trade. In the latter half of the 1980s, Sweden dismantled a battery of foreign exchange controls, and no capital or exchange controls remain.

In 1990, Sweden entered a recession from which it is gradually recovering. Capacity restrictions on industrial output, a moderate growth rate, and eroding cost competitiveness were largely responsible for the economic downturn. GDP declined by 6% from 1991 to 1993, and unemployment has averaged from 12% to 14%. Since then, major structural reform and depreciation of the Swedish currency ensued, and l996 figures show Swedish businesses are once again competitive. The Swedish economy is largely service oriented, although manufacturing still accounts for 80% of exports. Sweden has had to make economic reforms to bring its economy in line with EU requirements after becoming a member in 1995.

Eighty-seven percent of the Swedish labor force is unionized. For most unions there is a counterpart employers organization for businesses. The unions and employer organizations are independent of both the government and political parties, although the largest federation of unions always has been linked to the largest political party, the Social Democrats. There is no minimum wage, and the wages are set by collective bargaining contracts; non-unionized businesses usually follow these standards. Blue-collar workers are affiliated with the LO, the single national confederation. Two other organizations represent 80% of white-collar salaried employees (TCO) and about 50% of the professionals (SACO/SR). These three unions traditionally engaged in parallel national negotiations with the Swedish Employers Confederation, representing some 37,000 companies in 36 business categories on two central wage agreements, which cover 35% of the labor force and subsequently set the pattern for all wages in Sweden. A National Labor Market Board facilitates worker retraining and mobility.

Swedish foreign policy is based on the premise that national security is best served by staying free of alliances in peacetime in order to remain neutral in the event of war. The government also seeks to maintain Sweden's high standard of living. These two objectives require heavy expenditures for social welfare, defense spending at rates considered high by West European standards (currently around 2.5% of GNP), and close attention to foreign trade opportunities and world economic cooperation.

Sweden participates actively in the United Nations -- including as a member of the Security Council in 1997 and 1998 -- and other multilateral organizations. The strong interest of the Swedish Government and people in international cooperation and peacemaking has been supplemented in the early 1980s by renewed attention to Nordic and European security questions. In January 1995, Sweden became a full member of the European Union after a referendum in late 1994 indicated that 52.3% of participants wanted to join. Sweden became a member, in part due to its increasing isolation outside the economic framework of the Maastricht treaty. It sits as an observer in the Western European Union and is an active member of NATO's Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.

Swedish foreign policy has been the result of a wide consensus. Sweden cooperates closely with its Nordic neighbors, formally in economic and social matters through the Nordic Council of Ministers and informally in political matters through direct consultation.

Swedish governments have not defined nonalignment as precluding outspoken positions in international affairs. Government leaders have favored national liberation movements that enjoy broad support among third world countries, with notable attention to Africa. During the Cold War, Sweden was suspicious of the superpowers, which it saw as making decisions affecting small countries without always consulting those countries. With the end of the Cold War, that suspicion has lessened somewhat, although Sweden still chooses to remain nonaligned. Sweden has devoted particular attention to issues of disarmament, arms control, and nuclear nonproliferation and has contributed importantly to UN and IFOR/SFOR peacekeeping activities.

Friendship and cooperation between the United States and Sweden is strong and close. The United States welcomes Sweden's continued independence, secured through self-reliance or in cooperation with other democracies. Swedish-American friendship is buttressed by the presence of nearly 14 million Americans of Swedish heritage. Both countries in 1988 celebrated the 350th anniversary of the first Swedish settlement in the United States.

U.S. direct investment in Sweden in 1994 totaled $2.7 billion The largest investments were in manufacturing, followed by finance and insurance, and wholesale trade.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Lyndon L. Olson
Deputy Chief of Mission--Reno L. Harnish III
Political Counselor--Walter E. Andrusyszyn
Public Affairs Counselor--Viktor Sidabras
Administrative Counselor--William J. Haugh
Commercial Counselor--Peter Frederick
Defense and Air Attache--Col. Scott Sonnenberg
Consul--Lucy Uncu

The U.S. embassy in Stockholm is at Strandvagen 101, S115 89 Stockholm, Sweden, telephone: 46-8-783-5300, Fax: 46-8-661-1964