Skip to main content

Sweden

Flag of Sweden

Sweden country brief

Sweden country brief

Introduction

The Kingdom of Sweden (Sweden) is the fifth largest country by area in Europe (449,964 square kilometres) with a population of 10.2 million (2018). The capital of Sweden is Stockholm. Sweden celebrates its National Day on 6 June.

Political overview

System of Government

Sweden is a constitutional monarchy and has a parliamentary system of government. King Carl XVI Gustaf exercises only ceremonial functions as Head of State. Executive power rests with the Cabinet, which is responsible to the unicameral Parliament (Riksdag) comprising 349 members who are directly elected every four years on a proportional basis. Voting is not compulsory but turnout is usually over 80 per cent

Political developments

Swedish general elections were held in September 2018. The outcome resulted in almost equal support for the two main coalitions. The incumbent centre left coalition (Social Democratic Party and Green Party) won a combined 40.67 per cent of the vote (144 seats in parliament), just ahead of the opposition centre right coalition, the Alliance (Moderate Party, Centre Party, Liberal Party and Christian Democrats) with a combined 40.62 per cent of the vote (143 seats in parliament). Overall, support for the incumbent centre-left coalition declined, losing 15 seats, while support for the centre-right coalition increased, gaining 3 seats. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven formed a minority government in January 2019, returning the incumbent centre left coalition (Social Democratic Party and Green Party) to power after four months of intensive negotiations. The next parliamentary elections are due to be held in September 2022.

Sweden's government is a self-declared feminist government, the first in the world, having stated that all national policies, budgets and international aid will contribute to gender equality. The government's focus areas include women's health and their participation in the labour market.

Foreign policy

Sweden's 2019 Statement of Foreign Policy identified three priorities: the promotion of democracy, shared responsibility for peace and security, and active diplomacy. Other areas of focus include climate change, development assistance, human rights and the multilateral trade system.

Equality between women and men is a fundamental aim of Swedish foreign policy. In October 2014, Sweden became the first country in the world to launch a feminist foreign policy. Sweden is committed to strengthening women's rights, representation and access to resources. Sweden is also a vocal advocate for women's participation in peace and security efforts. In December 2015, Sweden released the Swedish Foreign Service action plan for feminist foreign policy 2015-2018. Sweden also released its feminist foreign policy handbook in August 2018 as a resource for international work relating to gender equality and for sharing lessons that Sweden learned from the first years of its feminist foreign policy.

An active commitment to the United Nations has been a cornerstone of Sweden's foreign policy since it became a member in 1946. On 28 June 2016, Sweden was elected by a wide margin as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2017–2018 term. Priorities included supporting international law, human rights and gender equality. In June 2017, Sweden co-hosted (with Fiji) the UN Oceans Conference in New York.

Sweden joined the EU in 1995, following a referendum in which a narrow 52 per cent of electors voted in favour. In a referendum in September 2003 the Swedes rejected joining the Eurozone by 56 per cent.

Sweden has a long-held policy of non-participation in military alliances, although its security doctrine was revised to allow cooperation with other countries to 'secure regional and international peace and security.' Sweden became a NATO Partner for Peace in 1994 and an Enhanced Opportunity Partner in 2014 (along with Australia, Finland, Georgia and Jordan). Sweden has contributed military forces to NATO-led operations in Afghanistan since the end of 2001 through the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Resolute Support Mission. Sweden's military contribution to the Global Coalition to Counter Daesh is through the military training mission in northern Iraq. Every three years, Sweden is the lead nation for the EU's Nordic Battlegroup, a coalition of seven Nordic and Baltic nations whose mission is to be ready to contribute to the EU's crisis management capability. Nordic-Baltic cooperation is an important aspect of Sweden's foreign policy. Along with Finland, Sweden joined the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) in June 2017, tasked with tackling threats and responding to crises around the world and encompassing eight like-minded northern European partners.

Economic overview

The Swedish economy is heavily dependent on a highly developed and internationally successful industrial sector, which was established in the early part of the 20th century through companies such as Ericsson, ASEA/ABB, Astra, Alfa Laval, SKF, Electrolux, Volvo and SAAB. It now includes more recently established retail companies such as H&M and IKEA. However, many of the flagship companies are now totally or partially owned by foreign companies and shareholders. There have been several structural reforms since Sweden became a member of the EU, such as the deregulation of the telecommunications, energy and air traffic sectors.

Bilateral relationship

The bilateral relationship between Australia and Sweden is based on warm people-to-people links and shared values. The relationship is underpinned by a Double Taxation Agreement (1981) and a Working Holiday Maker Arrangement (in effect since 2001).

The 2016 census recorded over 40,200 people in Australia of Swedish ancestry. For the year ending March 2019, 44,600 Swedish visitors arrived in Australia, while 21,000 Australian residents returned from visits to Sweden.

Australia has an Embassy in Stockholm. Sweden has an Embassy in Canberra as well as a Consulate-General in Sydney and Consulates in Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne and Perth.

Recent visits

Recent high-level visits to Australia include the Swedish Cyber Security Council in November 2018. Sweden's then-Speaker of the Riksdag, Urban Ahlin, visited Australia with a parliamentary delegation in September 2017. This followed visits by then Minister for Health Care, Public Health and Sport, Gabriel Wikström and Minister for Employment, Ylva Johansson, in October 2015 and January 2016 respectively. Sweden's then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Carl Bildt, visited Australia in March 2013. Sweden's then-State Secretary for Trade, Mr Gunnar Oom, visited Australia in March 2012 with a concurrent visit by the Swedish Parliament's Committee on the Constitution.

The Australian Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Migration visited Sweden in July 2017, followed by an Australian Parliamentary Field Visit on Mental Health in October 2017. In January 2017, Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin visited Stockholm for bilateral discussions with the Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, General Micael Bydén. In February 2013, then-Minister for Defence, Mr Stephen Smith, and Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, visited Stockholm for discussions with Sweden's Minister for Defence, Ms Karin Enström. Then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Kevin Rudd, visited Sweden in May 2011 for the UN High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, where he met with HM King Carl XVI Gustaf, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Mr Vidar Helgesen, then Secretary-General of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

Australia and Sweden have strong trade and investment links. Australia's total goods and services trade with Sweden was valued at $4.1 billion in 2018. The stock of Swedish investment in Australia was worth $8.2 billion in 2018, and Australian investment in Sweden was worth $10.0 billion. Total goods and services imports from Sweden were valued at $3.4 billion in 2018, while Australia's total goods and services exports to Sweden were valued at $723 million.

For information on doing business in Sweden, please see Austrade's website.

Last updated July 2019.

Last Updated: 29 July 2019
Back to top