1.1 General description and key data of the constitutional system

Sweden covers 449 964 km2, of which 410 934 km2 consists of land area. The country has 9 011 392 inhabitants (2005). Sweden is 1 572 km from north to south and 499 km from west to east. The country is divided into 25 provinces, 21 counties and 290 municipalities as well as 13 dioceses and 2220 parishes. The capital is Stockholm, which has 765 044 inhabitants (2005).

The Instrument of Government (regeringsformen), the Act of Succession (successionsordningen), the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression (yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen) and the Freedom of the Press Act (tryckfrihetsförordningen) form the fundamental laws of Sweden (the ‘Swedish Constitution'). The Instrument of Government contains the basic rules on the form of government, as well as a catalogue of freedoms and rights and regulations on the tasks and workings of the government, parliament and administration.

The starting point for the Swedish form of government can be found in Article 1 of the Instrument of Government. It states that all public power in Sweden proceeds from the people and shall be based on free formation of opinion and on universal and equal suffrage. Through free, secret and direct elections held every four years the people of Sweden appoint the Riksdag (the parliament), which consists of 349 members. The 349 seats in the single chamber Riksdag are of two types: 310 fixed constituency seats and 39 adjustment seats. The country is divided into 28 constituencies. Before each election the 310 fixed constituency seats are divided between the constituencies based on the number of people entitled to vote in each constituency. The adjustment seats are divided between the constituencies after the elections so that each party will get as many seats as represented by the party's total share of the vote. A party has to get at least 4% of the votes to be represented in the Riksdag.

The principles of parliamentarianism are applied in Sweden. Through this, the influence of the people has been extended to Government. The Riksdag appoints the Prime Minister (statsminister). She/he then appoints the other ministers. The Speaker of the parliament (talman) proposes a Prime Minister to the Riksdag. She/he is approved unless opposed by a majority of the members of the Riksdag.

Democracy is based on the free formation of opinion and on universal suffrage. The preconditions for free speech are regulated in the Instrument of Government, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression, passed in 1991. These contain two basic rules that also fundamentally influence the work of the state and of the municipal administrations, namely the principle of free access to official documents (offentlighetsprincipen) and the principle of informant protection (meddelarskyddet). The principle of free access to official documents means that, with a few exceptions, all official documents are public documents. State and municipal authorities have to register all incoming and outgoing documents. These registers are public and the authority is obliged to let everyone who so demands to inspect a registered document. In certain cases the authority should hand over a copy of the document. Nowadays, the registers are often available on the Internet. Incoming and outgoing e-mail is also public, as are other documents held on computers. The principle of free access to official documents stems from the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766.

The informant protection principle means that whoever provides information to a newspaper, the radio or the TV about the conditions in the public administration has the right to remain anonymous. A journalist who has received the information has a legal duty of confidentiality to his or her source or informant. The person who has delivered the information (the informant) cannot be punished by law. Any official from a public authority who attempts to investigate the source of the information can be sentenced to prison. The only exception to the informant protection principle relates to secret information concerning matters of national security.