Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 1
Life Expectancy: 80
Religious Groups: Lutheran (87 percent), other [including Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist] (13 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Swedish (majority), Finnish, Sami
The political landscape in 2003 was marked by Sweden's rejection of the euro, the European common currency, in a September 14 referendum and by the murder of Foreign Minister Anna Lindh just days earlier. The referendum ensured Swedish sovereignty at the potential expense of influence in the European Union (EU), while Lindh's murder led Swedes to revisit the tradeoff between the safety and approachability of their public figures.
After a series of monarchical alliances with Finland, Denmark, and Norway in the eleventh through nineteenth centuries, Sweden emerged as a modern democracy. Its tradition of neutrality, beginning with World War I, was altered somewhat by its admission to the EU in 1995, and further eroded by a more pragmatic approach to security first presented in 2002. However, Sweden has retained its commitment to stay outside of military alliances, including NATO.
The Social Democrats, led by Prime Minister Goran Persson, have dominated politics since the 1920s. With their partners, the Left (formerly Communist) Party and the Greens, the Social Democrats won 191 out of 349 seats in the 2002 parliamentary elections, promising not to cut back the generous welfare system. An impressive 79 percent of eligible Swedes voted in the poll.
The population overwhelmingly rejected the adoption of the euro in a referendum on September 14, 2003. The country's mainstream political parties generally supported the euro, as did the business community. However, despite strong support from Prime Minister Persson, his Social Democratic Party was split internally on the issue, and Persson criticized members of his party who openly opposed the euro. The general public feared that adopting the euro would lead to a deterioration in Sweden's generous welfare state benefits, for which Swedes are willing to pay high taxes, and that it might hurt Sweden's strong economy, which outperforms most economies in the euro area. The no vote may also have been a reflection of skepticism about the EU as a whole. The rejection of the euro is not expected to have a strong impact on Sweden's economy, although some predict that it will mean a loss of political influence for Sweden in the EU.
On September 10, just days before the referendum, Foreign Minister Lindh was mortally wounded in a knife attack in a Stockholm department store. Although Lindh was one of the most vocal supporters of the euro, it is not thought that the murder was politically motivated. However, the killing did spark considerable debate about security in Sweden, where violence is very rare and politicians regularly travel without bodyguards in order to maintain direct contact with citizens.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Swedes can change their government democratically. The unicameral parliament, the Riksdag, has 349 members, 310 of whom are elected every four years in a proportional system. The remaining 39 seats are awarded on a national basis to further secure a proportional representation. A party must receive at least 4 percent of the votes in the entire country or 12 percent in a single electoral district to qualify for any seats. The prime minister is appointed by the Speaker of the House and confirmed by the Riksdag. King Carl XVI Gustaf, crowned in 1973, is head of state, but royal power is limited to official and ceremonial functions.
The Liberal Party and the Moderates are the largest opposition parties. Unlike in other parts of Europe, no populist anti-immigrant party has won national representation. The principal religious, ethnic, and immigrant groups are represented in parliament. Since 1993, the Sami community elects its own parliament, which has significant powers over education and culture and serves as an advisory body to the government. Corruption is very low.
Transparency International ranked Sweden the sixth least corrupt country in the world in its 2003 Corruption Perceptions Index. In 2003, some 80 employees of the state-owned alcohol retail monopoly were brought to court on bribery charges, the largest such scandal in Swedish history.
Sweden's media are independent. Most newspapers and periodicals are privately owned, and the government subsidizes daily newspapers regardless of their political affiliation. The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation and the Swedish Television Company broadcast weekly radio and television programs in several immigrant languages. The ethnic press is entitled to the same subsidies as the Swedish-language press. Reporters Sans Frontieres has reported that journalists who investigate extreme right-wing groups are regularly threatened and even physically attacked by neo-Nazi militants.
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. Although the country is 87 percent Lutheran, all churches, as well as synagogues and mosques, receive some state financial support. Academic freedom is ensured for all.
Freedom of assembly and association are guaranteed, as are the rights to strike and participate in unions. Trade union federations are strong and well organized and represent approximately 85 percent of the workforce.
Sweden's judiciary, which includes the Supreme Court, district courts, and a court of appeals, is independent. A Swedish court overturned a 25-year ban on alcohol advertisements in February, which has led to a dramatic increase in alcohol sales. The ban was judged to be in violation of EU regulations on free circulation of goods and services.
The Swedish intelligence service reports that neo-Nazi activity is increasing in Sweden, which is one of the world's largest producers of racist and xenophobic Web sites. However, popular support for neo-Nazi groups is in fact quite small. The movement's main political party, Sweden Democrats, won only 1.4 percent of the vote in the 2002 general election, which was not enough to win seats in the Riksdag.
While some advocacy organizations have urged a tougher stance against neo-Nazi groups, others fear infringement of the groups' right to freedom of expression. In March, five people were arrested for unruly protestation against a neo-Nazi demonstration.
Amnesty International criticized Sweden in March for its decision to freeze Iraqi asylum requests during the U.S.-led war. Sweden is generally very welcoming of refugees, but its immigration policy has become stricter in recent years.
Sweden is a leader in gender equality. At 45 percent, the percentage of females in the Riksdag is the highest in the world, and half of government ministers are women. Although 79 percent of women work outside the home, women still make only 70 percent of men's wages in the public sector and 76 percent in the private sector. Prime Minister Goran Persson has announced that the government will tighten already strict laws on gender equality if the gap remains in three years. Women are under-represented on company boards as well, and the government has threatened to introduce quotas if this does not change.
Sweden gave formal recognition to adoption by gay couples for the first time in October, which was made possible by a change in law that came into effect in February.
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