Research Report

SNS Democracy Report 2017. Cooperation and Conflict in a Parliamentary Democracy

Sweden’s party system is more fragmented than ever, and new conflict lines have emerged. In recent years, government formation has become more complicated and uncertain. Meanwhile, popular confidence in Sweden’s democratic institutions has declined. Will these trends continue? In the SNS Democracy Report 2017, Cooperation and Conflict in a Parliamentary Democracy, five political scientists assess the quality and need for reform in contemporary Sweden’s parliamentary democracy.

The authors analyze the Swedish parliamentary system from a historical and comparative perspective: the party system, government formation, decision-making in parliament and the fulfillment of election pledges.

They conclude that political parties seem to adapt to changing political circumstances in Sweden. There is no evidence that decision-making in the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag,is deadlocked: parties are forming new types of voting coalitions. At least for now, political parties continue to deliver on election pledges. The prospect for a sustainable Swedish democracy remains good. While there is no need for constitutional reform, political stability in Sweden needs to be increased.

According to the authors, it is likely that minority governments will continue to dominate Swedish parliamentary democracy in the future. In the last three or four decades, the political power has shifted from the Riksdag to the Cabinet, however. There are strong reasons to believe that it has thus become difficult to maintain the balance between cooperation and conflict in parliament that has long characterized Swedish politics. Changes are needed to increase the political influence of the parliamentary opposition vis-à-vis the cabinet. The authors discuss the following proposals:

  • Form more commissions of inquiry in which the opposition parties are represented, to strengthen and facilitate cooperation in the Riksdag.
  • Take account of the interest of the political opposition in future reforms of the fiscal framework and in the system for consultations on EU legislation in the Riksdag. In a system with minority governments, the opposition has a legitimate interest in influencing policy.
  • Limit the resources of the central government offices as compared to the resources that the parliament has at its disposal. The total number of employees in central government offices, the number of committees, and the number of political appointees have increased sharply in the past three or four decades. A likely consequence is that the political parties prioritize the struggle for office over constructive legislative work in parliament.

Reception

The SNS Democracy Report 2017 was presented on September 8, 2017 at SNS in Stockholm. Members of the Swedish parliament commented on the conclusions and policy recommendations. Marta Ominska (M), member of the Committee on the Constitution in the Riksdag called it “a very interesting report.”

During the fall, the report has also been presented at SNS local chapters in Göteborg, Malmö, Malmberget, Jönköping, Piteå and in Helsinki, at Hanaholmen. The Riksdag’s Committee on the Constitution has invited the authors to present their conclusions to Members of Parliament in November.

Several leading Swedish editors and commentators followed up on the researchers’ conclusions and recommendations. The report initiated discussions about the balance of power between the Riksdag and the Cabinet, and the state of Swedish parliamentary democracy. Read the authors’ op-ed in Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish).

About the authors

Johannes Lindvall, Professor of Political Science at Lund University.
Hanna Bäck, Professor of Political Science at Lund University.
Carl Dahlström, Professor of Political Science at University of Gothenburg.
Elin Naurin, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Gothenburg.
Jan Teorell, Professor of Political Science at Lund University.