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Section 2: Constitutional Design: Introduction
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Government.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8867-0815
2015 (English)In: The Oxford Handbook of Swedish Politics / [ed] Jon Pierre, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Considering the number of fundamental laws as well as, for example, the length of the Instrument of Government (Regeringsformen) (194 articles), the impression might be that constitutional principles are of great importance in Swedish political life. However, references to such principles are very uncommon in legal rulings or in the public debate. The Swedish political culture is best described as pragmatic and consensual, where the government’s ability to take action—for example, securing various welfare state policies—has been given deliberate precedence over constitutional ideas that focus on limiting government under higher law. The fact that a section on constitutional design in a handbook on Swedish politics is preceded by a section on the politics of the welfare state is a perfect reflection of this reality.


From a constitutional design perspective, Sweden is an interesting case. During the previous IG of 1809, which was based on the principle of separation of powers, comprehensive changes in the practice of government were made without any corresponding amendments of the IG itself. The most noteworthy of these changes were the introduction of universal suffrage for men and women, parliamentarism, and the abolition of the Parliament of the Four Estates, which was replaced by a bicameral system. All these fundamental changes were made in slightly more than 100 years, without any corresponding amendments or changes to the 1809 IG (which was the second oldest constitution in the world). This certainly raises questions on the elasticity of the constitution, that is, the significance of constitutional rules for political practice in the Swedish setting. The foregoing changes were in effect by 1921, but the IG was not completely rewritten to reflect the true form of government until 1974—a fact that has led constitutional experts to talk about the period of 1921–1974 as “the constitution-less half-century” (Sterzel 2009: 18f). Despite this radical and needed revision of the IG in the 1970s, the contributions in this section will reveal that a weak constitutional culture still prevails in Sweden. For example, when Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, the constitutional adjustments were kept as small and as technical as possible.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
National Category
Political Science Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
Research subject
Political Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-241509ISBN: 978–0–19–966567–9OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-241509DiVA: diva2:779719

Shirin Ahlbäck Öberg was section editor for this particular section in the handbook, a section which consists of the following four chapters:

Petersson, Olof, "Constitutional History"Hermansson, Jörgen, "The Election System"Möller, Tommy, "The Parliamentary System"Ahlbäck Öberg, Shirin & Wockelberg, Helena, "The Public Sector and the Courts" [se separatr post in DiVa]

Available from: 2015-01-13 Created: 2015-01-13 Last updated: 2015-11-12

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