U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Sweden, August 1998
Official Name: Kingdom of Sweden
Area: 449,964 sq. km. (173,731 sq. mi.) -- about the size of
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,
Education: Compulsory -- 9 years. 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%.
Type: Constitutional monarchy
Constitution: A new constitution was adopted in 1975, replacing the
Acts of 1809, 1866, and 1949.
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
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): Dairy products, grains, sugar beets,
Arable land: 3 million hectares.
Industry (19.5%): 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
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
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,
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
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
Telephone: 46-8-783-5300, Fax: 46-8-661-1964
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel
Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends
that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular
Information Sheets exist for all countries and
include information on immigration practices, currency regulations,
health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country.
Public Announcements are issued as a means to
disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other
relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant
risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this
information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs
at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000.
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available
on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov
and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program
to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation
to VT100. The login is travel and the
password is info (Note: Lower case is required).
The CABB also carries international security information from
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau
of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning
a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954,
PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling
abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services
at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays,
Passport Services information can be obtained
by calling the 24-hour, 7-day a week automated system ($.35 per
minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday
($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778).
Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-
Travelers can check the latest health information with
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta,
Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health
advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and
advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries.
A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel
(HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency
and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest
to travelers also may be obtained before your departure
from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this
country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing
in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling
in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy
upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy
Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family
members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network.
Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access
to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN
includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official
magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; Country
Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published
annually by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information
on the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes
an array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the
present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government
Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To
order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by
the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of
trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-
usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more
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