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    Constitutional law Essay (4068 words)

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    The Swedish Constitution consists of four separate documents:the Instrument of Government passed in 1974, the Act of Successiondating from 1810, the Freedom of the Press Act of 1949, and theFreedom of Expression Act of 1991. In addition, there is a ParliamentAct of 1974, which occupies a position midway between constitutionaland ordinary statute law. The Instrument of Government is the most importantconstitutional document. It went into effect in 1975, when it replacedthe 1809 Instrument of Government.

    The new Constitution broughtabout no radical changes in the prevailing system of government. Thereform largely involved a formal incorporation of current practices intothe written Constitution. Thus, the new Constitution is consistentlybased on the principles of popular sovereignty, representativedemocracy, and parliamentarism. A Parliament elected by the peopleoccupies the pre-eminent position among the branches ofgovernment; it is the foundation for the democratic exercise of powerthrough the Cabinet.

    The reforming of the Constitution did not end with the enactmentof the new Instrument of Government. In 1976 and 1979, Parliamentpassed laws amending the Constitution. The aim of both amendmentswas to strengthen the constitutional protection of the human rights andfundamental freedoms. The new Freedom of Expression Act protectsfreedom of expression on the radio and television, in films, videos andsound recordings, etc.

    , and is based on the same principles as theFreedom of the Press Act. Thus, for example, the ban on censorshipand freedom of establishment now applies to the entire field of modernmass media. Only when it comes to the use of radio broadcastingfrequencies might the principle of freedom of establishment not applyas it does for the freedom of the press. Further, films and videos forpublic screening may also be subject to preliminary scrutiny.

    In 1994 the Instrument of Government was amended in order tomake it possible for Sweden to join the European Union. Theagreement on Sweden’s entry into the EU was ratified by Parliament inDecember that year. The KingThe King of Swedensince September 1973 Carl XVI Gustafexerts no political power and takes no part in politics. He representsthe nation.

    According to the Constitution he is the Head of State. Inthis capacity he performs only ceremonial duties and functions as theofficial representative of Sweden. One of these official duties is toopen the annual session of Parliament in September. He does nottake part in the deliberations of the Cabinet, nor does he have to signany Government decisions. His earlier role in selecting a new PrimeMinister has been taken over by the Speaker of Parliament. In 1979, the Act of Succession was amended in order to givemales and females equal rights to the throne.

    As from 1980, this rightbelongs to the first-born, regardless of gender. The CabinetPolitical power rests with the Cabinet and the party or parties it represents. There are 22 ministers (11 men and 11 women)in the Cabinet. The Prime Minister has at his side a Deputy PrimeMinister and 13 Heads of Ministry.

    The latter are the ministers of 1. justice, 2. foreign affairs, 3. defense, 4. health and social affairs, 5.

    transport and communications, 6. finance, 7. education and science,8. agriculture, 9.

    labor, 10. culture, 11. industry and trade, 12. theinterior, and 13. the environment.

    The present Cabinet also includesseven ministers without portfolio. At times, independent experts are called upon to serve on theCabinet. As a rule, however, the ministers are representatives of thepolitical party or parties in power. In many cases they are members ofParliament, retaining their seats in Parliament while serving on theCabinet.

    A substitute takes over the parliamentary duties of any MPwho has been appointed to the Cabinet, and this continues as long asthe MP remains in the Cabinet. In other words, a Cabinet minister hasto give up his right to vote in Parliament. All ministers are, however,entitled to take part in parliamentary debates. According to the Constitution, the formal power of governmentaldecision rests with the Cabinet, not the monarch. If the Cabinet hasresigned, the Speaker of Parliament is required to confer with theleaders of the parliamentary parties and with the Deputy Speakersbefore proposing a new Prime Minister.

    Parliament then votes on thisproposal. If an absolute majority votes against the proposal, it isconsidered to have failed. Otherwise it is considered approved. TheSpeaker thereupon appoints the Prime Minister, who in turn appointsall other Cabinet ministers. If the Prime Minister so requests, theSpeaker can discharge him. The same applies if Parliament declaresthat the Prime Minister does not enjoy its confidence.

    Other Cabinetministers may be dismissed either by the Prime Minister or byParliament through a vote of no confidence. Functions of ministriesThe ministries are small units, each as a rule consisting of nomore than about 100 persons (including clerical staff). They areconcerned with 1. preparing the Government’s bills to Parliament onbudget appropriations and laws, 2. issuing laws and regulations andgeneral rules for the administrative agencies, 3.

    international relations,4. appointments of officials in the administration, and 5. certainappeals from individuals, which are addressed to the Government. Except for these appeals, the ministries are generally not concernedwith details of administration. Matters concerning the practicalimplementation of legislation or general rules may, however, in variouswayse. g.

    through the mediabe brought before the ministries. Working methods of the CabinetThe Cabinet as a whole is responsible for all Governmentdecisions. Although in practice a great number of routine matters aredecided upon by individual ministers and only formally confirmed bythe Government, the principle of collective responsibility is reflected inall forms of government work. Once a week, the formal decisions of the Government are madeat a meeting presided over by the Prime Minister.

    All importantdecisions to be made by the Government are subject to previousdiscussion by the Cabinet as a whole. Plenary meetings under thechairmanship of the Prime Minister are normally held one tothreetimes a week. At these meetings, top officials often introduce thematters at hand and reply to questions raised by ministers, whereuponthe Cabinet discussions and informal decisions proceed behind closeddoors. No minutes are taken. As a rule, Cabinet members lunch together in their privaterestaurant in the Government Office, where no guests are admitted. Inpractice, a great number of decisions are made quite informally atthese luncheons after a briefing given by the minister concerned.

    A third informal kind of Cabinet decision-making is when two orthree ministers discuss a matterwith or without the presence ofofficials from their ministriesin order to reach agreement withouttaking up the time of the whole Cabinet. The working methods thus described allow for a high degree of coordination between all the branches of Government in matters of policy. The officials of the ministries often meet one another in order to prepare decisions. Before becoming final and public, all decisions of interest to more than one ministry are commented upon by top officials of the ministries concerned.

    An important feature of the workingmethods of the Government is that all bills to be presented andimportant ministerial pronouncements to be made in Parliament onbehalf of the Government, are circulated beforehand to all ministersfor their written comments. This system allows for exchange ofinformation and discussion between Cabinet ministers and top officialsbefore the formal decisions are taken. The ministries at workThe actual functioning of the ministries differs somewhat fromone ministry to another although the fundamental set-up is very muchthe same. The following account is applicable to the present workingmethods of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.

    This ministry has six divisions which deal with social insurance, children and families, social services, health care, the disabled and elderly, and administrative law. Four secretariats deal with planning and budgetary questions, international relations, long-term analysisand legal matters, fulfilling an advisory and coordinating function forthe specialized units referred to above. The highest-ranking officials of the ministry are the Under-Secretary of State, the Permanent Under- Secretary, and the Under-Secretary for Legal Affairs. The Under-Secretary of State is responsible to the minister forleading the work within the ministry.

    It is thus up to him to plan the ministry’s work, to supervise the execution of this work and to establish the necessary coordination between the activities of the different ministerial units. The Permanent Under-Secretary supervises the legality andconsistency of administrative decisions to be made within the ministryand is responsible for the final drafting of Government decisions to be dispatched from the ministry. The Under-Secretary for Legal Affairs is mainly responsible forthe drafting of laws and regulations within the ministry’s sphere of authority. The Under-Secretaries of State are among the few politicalappointees of the ministries. An Under-Secretary’s post as such doesnot entitle him to speak in Parliament, but there is a listener’s seat forhim in the assembly hall. The Under-Secretary represents the ministryand the minister.

    He is often a delegate to international conferences. All officials of the ministries are appointed by the Cabinet (or bythe minister concerned); Parliament has no right to intervene or pass judgment on the appointments. In the case of a change of party or parties in office, limitedchanges take place in the cadre of officials. Under-Secretaries ofState, political advisers and information officers are all recognized as political appointees and have to resign when there is a change of Government. All civil servants in Sweden as well as military and policepersonnel are free to take part in political life and to hold politicaloffice.

    Commissions of inquiryAs a rule, the preparation of legislative or other reforms is not handled by the ministerial staff alone. In matters of major importance the following procedure is normal: the Government on its owninitiative or at the request of Parliamentcalls upon a group of expertsto serve on a commission of inquiry. The tasks of the commission arespecified in a written statement by the minister concerned, approvedby the Government. Commissions may include members of Parliament, both fromthe Government and the Opposition, representatives of labor andmanagement bodies or other organizations interested in the problemsat hand, and experts from the scientific world or the administrativebodies concernednormally 510 people in all. The secretariatalthough in most cases organized as an independent officeisprovided by the appropriate ministry, which also pays the expenses ofthe commission. The commissions are given a high degree of freedom to pursuetheir inquiries through travel, hearings, research, etc.

    The proceedingsare, in general, closed to the publicbut are often closely followed bythe pressuntil the day when they publish their printed report. Acommission often works for one or two years, sometimes longer. Inmany cases, the proposals of the commissions are unanimous, atleast on matters of principle, but members may have alternativeproposals printed in the report. Every commission report is sent by the ministry concerned tovarious administrative agencies and non-governmental organizationsfor their official comments. Any organization, whether approached inthis way or not, is free to make known its opinions to the ministry.

    Thematerial thus assembled is reportedthough normally not in fullasbackground to Government bills to Parliament. Consequently, a bill isoften a heavy documentsometimes hundreds of pagesin whichthe Government has to argue its position in the light of a very thoroughpublic discussion reproduced in the bill. MPs can easily discoverwhether or not the Government has followed the wishes or intentionsbrought to the fore by party representatives or the organizations theyfavor. This method is cumbersome and often time-consuming. It is,however, considered to be a very valuable form of democraticgovernment.

    The parties of the opposition, directly taking part in thepreparation of political decisions, are given a chance to influence theGovernment before it takes its position. Administrative organizationThe enforcement of Government decisions is entrusted to anumber of central administrative agencies. For example, under theMinistry of Health and Social Affairs come the National Board ofHealth and Welfare, the National Social Insurance Board, and certainother smaller agencies. Every such agency is headed by a director general appointed bythe Government, as a rule for a period of six years at a time. Sometimes a director general is chosen from political circles. Theboard of an agency consists of the director general as chairman, anumber of the senior officials serving under him and some laymen,representing organizations or sections of the population with specialinterest in the matters of the agency concerned.

    To some degree,politicians are also included in this lay element. Ministers or ministerialbodies cannot interfere with the agencies’ handling of particularadministrative cases. All board members are appointed by theGovernment, as are senior officials of the agencies. Less seniorpersonnel are appointed by the board itself.

    As a consequence of their independent position, the centralagencies are expected to submit proposals to the Governmentregarding the policy to be followed by them. On the basis of theirpractical experience they often propose, in their respective fields,amendments to laws and regulations decided upon by Parliament andGovernment. Such recommendations by agencies are customarilycirculated for examination and written comment in the same way ascommission reports. AppealsIf a person affected by the decision or administrative action of an agency finds it unacceptable, he may appeal to a higher authority. Appeals mainly concerning subjective matters or questions ofaptitude, such as those related to civil service appointments, areusually settled in the final instance by the Cabinet. Appeals mainlyinvolving legal questions are as a rule settled by administrative courts,with the last resort being the Supreme Administrative Court.

    The principle of public access to official documentsMost official documents are accessible to the press and toprivate citizens. All files of any administrative office are open to thepublic if not secret, according to the Freedom of the Press Act andthe Secrecy Act, for reasons related to military security, international relations or the privacy of individuals concerned (because they contain criminal or medical records and the like), etc. Nobody is obliged to justify his wish to see a public document or to reveal his identity to get access to the document. ParliamentSince 1971, Sweden has had a unicameral Parliament. Aconstitutional amendment adopted in 196869 abolished thebicameral system which had existed since 1866. The wholeParliament is constituted by direct elections based on a suffrage thatcomprises all Swedes aged 18 or over, who are or have been residentin Sweden.

    Parliament has 349 members, who serve four-year terms. Eligibility to serve in Parliament is subject to Swedish citizenship andthe attainment of voting age. All elections are by proportionalrepresentation. The electoral system is designed to ensure adistribution of seats between the parties in proportion to the votes castfor them nationally. Proportional fairness is not to be primarilyachieved in each electoral district but in the whole country regarded asa single electoral district.

    Hence, in addition to 310 fixed electoraldistrict seats, 39 seats are distributed at large so as to obtain a fair,nationally proportional result. However, the at-large seats are alsofilled by candidates from the parties’ regular electoral rolls. There isone exception to the rule on complete national proportionality: a quotarule intended to prevent very small parties from gaining representationin Parliament. A party must thus gain at least 4% of the national voteto qualify for representation.

    In any one electoral district, however, a party will be allocated a number of the fixed seats by obtaining 12% of the votes, even if its national popular vote falls short of 4%. A newly-elected Parliament commences its first session andterm of office fifteen days after the election. The trades and professions of Swedish society are fairly well represented in Parliament, although public sector employees are overrepresented. Following the 1994 election the proportion of womenin Parliament has risen to 41%.

    To perform the function of control that is so important for a representative assembly, Parliament may, with an absolute majority,pass a vote of no confidence leading either to the resignation ofindividual ministers or of the whole Government. However, a vote ofno confidence is of no effect if the Government calls for new electionswithin one week. The unicameral Parliament has a presidium consisting of theSpeaker and three Deputy Speakers. Each newly-elected Parliamentappoints for its four-year term at least fifteen standing committees, ofwhich one is on the Constitution, one deals with budgeting andfinance, one deals with taxes, and the remainder are specializedbodies, largely corresponding to the division of ministries. Additionalcommittees may be constituted while Parliament is in session.

    Onthese committees parties are represented in proportion to theirstrength. Committees may allow Cabinet ministers to attend theirmeetings in order to provide information. Ministerial officials are oftenrequested to attend such meetings in order to provide explanationsand other relevant information. Posts in the parliamentary presidium as well as thechairmanship of committees areaccording to free agreement amongthe parties generally distributed among the parties.

    During the first fifteen days after the Government has presentedits Budget Bill, individual members are entitled to introduce bills onany subject. After the delivery of each Government bill , a period offifteen days is allotted to the MPs to propose amendments. All suchbills and MPs’ bills are referred to committees, where they arediscussed thoroughly. Committees often invite written comments onMPs’ bills or, occasionally, hold hearings on Government bills. All matters dealt with in committee are reported to Parliament in plenary session.

    To kill a proposal in committee by sitting on a bill is not possible. Committee reports generally contain a thorough accountof historical and other relevant facts connected with the proposal. Cabinet members are expected to defend their bills in theplenary sessions. Ministers normally do not take part in the debates on individual members’ bills. Such bills, when not related to aGovernment bill before Parliament, as a rule result in a request to theGovernment to investigate the issue raised or to put forward, for afuture session, a proposal of a certain character. Although the right of MPs to speak is practically unlimited, it isnot possibleby filibustering or otherwiseto avoid decision on amatter which is before Parliament.

    The rules of procedure being veryclear and detailed, procedural debates are very rare. Parliament is in session for roughly eight months, the periodmid- JuneSeptember being free. Committees normally meet onTuesdays and Thursdays, while plenary sessions are held onTuesdays through Thursdays. The MPs have official substitutes. The substitute takes over the parliamentary duties of any MP who is a Cabinet minister or Speakeror who is absent for a month or longer. Because the Speaker has a substitute, he or she cannot vote in Parliament.

    As coordinator of thework of Parliament, the Speaker is expected to stand above partypolitics. Dissolution of ParliamentGeneral elections are held on the third Sunday of Septemberevery fourth year. The Government has the right to call for extraelections between the regular ones. The mandate of an extra electionis valid only for the remaining portion of the regular four-yearparliamentary term of office. ReferendaReferenda are permitted by the Constitution in two differentcases. Parliament may enact a law according to which a consultativereferendum is to be held.

    As yet, only five consultative referenda havetaken place. The latest was held in November 1994 on the question ofSweden’s entry into the European Union. In 1979, the Constitution was amended so that decisivereferenda may be held on amendments to the Constitution. One thirdof the MPs can bring about such a referendum, which then shall beheld simultaneously with the general elections.

    As yet, no suchreferendum has taken place. The political partiesThe seven parties presently in Parliament are the ModerateParty , the Liberal Party , the Center Party, the Christian Democrats,the Green Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Left Party. Theparties are well organized both in Parliament and outside. The SocialDemocratic Party is closely allied with the predominantly blue-collarSwedish Trade Union Confederation, LO, which has a number ofSocial Democratic representatives in Parliament. Since 1966, State subsidies have been paid to every politicalparty which has any significant support from the voters, as manifestedin the general elections. These funds are paid in the form of partysubsidies and secretariat subsidies.

    A party is eligible for partysubsidies if it has received at least one seat in Parliament or 2. 6% ofthe votes throughout the whole country at either of the last twoelections. To qualify for secretariat subsidies, a party is required, inprinciple, either to have won a seat in Parliament in the last election orto have received at least 4% of the votes in the whole country at thatelection. The size of the subsidies is related to party strength. Secretariat subsidies are larger for opposition parties than for partiesin office.

    A total of approximately SEK 133. 4 million will be distributedto the parties with seats in Parliament in fiscal 1997. No conditions are attached to the subsidies, nor is there any public audit of their expenditure. Between 1932 and 1976, the Social Democrats were in office continuouslyexcept for an interregnum of 100 days in 1936. Between1933 and 1936, they had a working agreement with the Center Party. Coalition governments of Social Democrats and the Center Party werein power in 19361939 and 19511957.

    During World War II,19391945, all parties except the Communists were represented in acoalition government. During the years 19451951 and 19571976,the Social Democrats were in office alone. In the 1976 elections, the non-socialist parties together won amajority of parliamentary seats. The Social Democratic Governmentresigned and was succeeded by a coalition made up of the Center, theModerates and the Liberal Party. The Center Party chairman becamePrime Minister. After two years in office, this coalition Government wassucceeded by a Liberal Party minority Government.

    In the 1979 elections, the non-socialist parties together kept the majority of parliamentary seats with the narrowest margin possible(175 out of 349). A new three-party coalition Government was formed. In the spring of 1981, the Moderate Party left the Government. In the 1982 elections, the non-socialist parties lost their majorityof parliamentary seats.

    The coalition Government was succeeded by aSocial Democratic minority Government (166 out of 349 seats). Afterthe 1985 elections, the Social Democrats remained in power (159seats), as well as after the 1988 elections when they won 156 seats. In the 1991 elections, the Social Democrats received only 138seats and the Government was succeeded by a non-socialist minorityGovernment made up of the Moderates, Liberals, Center andChristian Democrats (with a total of 170 seats). In the 1994 election three of the four coalition parties lost seatsand the Government resigned.

    The Social Democrats with 161 seatsformed a new minority Government. All political organizations enjoy full freedom and all democratic rights. The freedom of the press has no limits in Sweden as far aspolitics is concerned. Almost half the daily pressin terms ofcirculation figuressupports the Liberal Party or has a politicalphilosophy mainly reflecting Liberal values, while just under onequarter favors the Moderates and another quarter the SocialDemocrats.

    The Center and other parties have relatively fewnewspapers. The role of organizationsRepresentatives of interest organizations of different kinds sit in Parliament, serve on commissions of inquiry and on the boards ofsome of the administrative agencies. These organizations are invitedto submit comments on all sorts of proposals forwarded within theadministration or Parliament. Their views are recorded in the officialpublications of the political system. The above applies especially to organizations representing blue-collar workers, salaried employees, women, employers, consumers’and producers’ cooperatives, smallholders, industry, business, thewholesale and retail trades, tenants, landlords, etc.

    Since 1977, the unions representing civil servants have enjoyedcertain rights to negotiate with the State in its role as an employerconcerning planned reforms and the like which may affect theemployees’ working conditions. However, contracts which infringe onpolitical democracy are not permitted. At the top level, in the Government Office, leading personalitiesfrom management and labor, industry and trade, etc. , are invited toserve on certain advisory committees. Thus they sit on consultativebodies for matters relating to employment policies, constructionissues, etc.

    It would seem that pressure groups in Sweden should notreally be called by that name, since they constitute a regular part ofthe democratic system itself. Not only are they involved in publicdiscussion, but they also play a responsible part in actualadministration at all levels. Local administrationBefore 1971, Sweden was divided into 850 municipalities, eachwith an elected assembly. This number has now been reduced to 288. The powers and duties of the municipalities relate to the provision of awide range of services and facilities: housing, roads, sewerage andwater supply, basic education, public assistance, care of the elderly,child welfare, etc. They have the right to levy income taxes andreceive the revenue of a modest tax on real estate.

    They charge feesfor various services. Thus they are able, to a degree which appearsextensive when compared with other countries, to provide publicservices at their own discretion. At the same time, they are bound bylaw and regulations to provide a number of basic services. Between national and municipal government there is a regionallevel of government, composed of 23 counties. The nationaladministration in each of these counties is represented by a countygovernor (landshvding) and a county administrative board.

    Thecounty governors are appointed by the Government for six-year terms;they are often chosen from among politicians but normally leave thepolitical scene upon their appointment. The most important business of a county administration istransacted by the board, of which the county governor is chairman. The board members are appointed by the county council. For certain tasks of a fundamentally local character, each countyhas an elected county council. These assemblies are responsibleprimarily for health care, including the provision of hospital services,certain types of education and vocational training.

    The county councilsare entitled to impose an income tax to cover their expenses. Since the 1976 elections immigrants resident for three years inSweden have had the right to vote and run for office in localelectionsboth for municipalities and county councils.

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