The Dramatic Decline of Parliamentary Commissions

Carl Dahlström, Professor of Political Science, University of Gothenburg Erik Lundberg, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Dalarna Kira Pronin, Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, University of Pittsburgh

Swedish commissions of inquiry are no longer able to facilitate political compromise like they once did. Nowadays, parliamentary commissions are almost nonexistent, a group of political scientists shows in a new report from SNS.

In recent years, the political climate has become increasingly polarized. The Swedish party system is more fragmented, and relations among political parties have become so contentious that it is occasionally difficult to have constructive debate. In the past, commissions of inquiry, i.e. independent inquiries appointed by the government, facilitated political compromise between the government, the opposition parties, and interest groups. However, a study conducted by political scientists Carl Dahlström, Erik Lundberg, and Kira Pronin shows that the role of the system of commissions has weakened in the last 27 years.

One of the main results of the study is that while the share of parliamentary commissions with representatives from all major political parties has decreased, the share of special investigator inquiries has increased. Previously, parliamentary commissions have made up about half of the total number of inquiries. In 1990, the share of parliamentary commissions had fallen below 20 percent. In 2016, the share was approximately 3 percent, whereas the share of special investigator inquiries was around 90 percent.

Historically, parliamentary commissions have allowed the involved parties to reach a common understanding of the problem at hand and helped them clarify their policy positions. But, according to Dahlström, Lundberg, and Pronin, parliamentary commissions have largely been replaced by special investigator inquiries carried out by civil servants.

– One might say that there has been a bureaucratization of the commissions, says Carl Dahlström, Professor of Political Science at Gothenburg University.

Having fewer politicians in the commissions of inquiry may postpone the political conflict to later stages of the political process, for example in the referral system or the parliamentary debate, where there is less opportunity for careful analysis of policy problems and where the resolution of policy conflicts may be more challenging.

– This would have been less worrisome if the government had a relatively stable parliamentary support. But in these times of political polarization and mounting societal challenges, the situation is probably more serious, says Dahlström.