1.6 Current and upcoming changesThe administrative system
The past 10-12 years have meant great changes to the values and preconditions of the Swedish welfare state. The financial crisis of 1992-1994 sent a quiver through Swedish society. Unemployment rose to levels not experienced in Sweden since the 1930s. The Government was forced to take drastic measures in different welfare systems to achieve a balanced state budget. Of these the most significant for planning was the abolishment of housing subsidies and rules for housing production connected to these. The housing sector that cost the state 3.5 billion EUR/year before the year 1992 changed to give the state a net contribution of 1 billion EUR/year at the end of the 1990s. This was primarily due to a property tax.
These changes caused the Government to establish several inquiry commissions on the division of responsibilities and legislation. The inquiry commission that may have the most long-lasting effects is the Committee of Responsibilities (Ansvarskommittén) set up in 2003. The Government finds that new behaviour and new needs, economic, demographic and technological factors, as well as the EU membership and internationalisation in general, pose important challenges for the organisation of society. At the same time these changes create preconditions for dynamic development.
The Committee of Responsibilities is to identify, to point at and to analyse those changes in society that have an impact on the structure and division of tasks between the state, the county councils and the municipalities, and that may cause changes to these divisions of tasks. The committee's task is also to analyse the changes in society that have an impact on the division of tasks between the Government and the government agencies.
In its directives the Government points to the paradoxical fact that Sweden is a unitary state with a strong central state at the same time as the there is far-reaching municipal self-government with a wide range of responsibilities. Another special feature is the fact that state agencies and authorities are under the Government but, unlike other countries, they do not form part of the central Government Offices. They are responsible for making their own decisions, based on legislation and governmental directives, and formally the members of Government have no political responsibility for these decisions to the Riksdag.
The regional level has, primarily as a consequence of EU membership, ended up as the focus of discussions on structure and the division of tasks. In Sweden it is, among other things, the co-operation on structural funds, the endeavours to increase democracy in the applicant countries, and the efforts in the Baltic Sea area that have played an important role in this development.
The committee's task is to look at how municipalities and county councils manage their welfare tasks based on demographic, social cost-benefit and technological changes. One of the main questions for the committee is the existing division into municipalities and counties. Which consequences does this division have for efficient co-operation in planning when the travel patterns of the citizens are changing and the housing and local labour market areas are growing in size? The committee also has a task of looking at how the internationalisation and in particular the co-operation in the EU is affecting the Swedish political and administrative system? This applies to both geographical divisions as well as the need to change areas of responsibilities in the organisation of society.
In particular, the role of the regional level is to be given special attention. In this context attention is also given to the insight and influence of the municipalities and county councils into the EU decision-making. One central question that is asked is whether the Swedish model of administration needs to be adapted to the special conditions that EU membership requires. The committee has, during the latter part of its work, been giving attention to the division of tasks in land-use planning and there especially pointed to the lack of co-ordination between environmental legislation and physical planning. The committee will deliver its proposals in 2007.
In 2002 the Government appointed a committee to produce a coherent review of the planning and building legislation. This committee reported in 2005. It found that there exists a unison and strong support in favour of the basic objectives of the Planning and Building Act, and for the basic structure of the Act. Thus the committee did not suggest any significant changes to the set of rules that are currently (2006) valid for physical planning. The committee emphasises that comprehensive planning should be more strategic in its orientation. The (so called) detailed comprehensive plan should gain an explicit legal status. It is also suggested that it could be thematic and deal with specific activities or areas of interest. Detailed development plans could, to a greater extent, be made more comprehensive. They should also, in certain cases, be made more concrete through regulations about buildings and plots of land during the implementation period. It is proposed that the legislation places higher demands on intermunicipal co-operation. The municipalities would be given increased opportunities to appeal the planning decisions of other municipalities, but the municipal planning monopoly and the municipal responsibility for physical planning is proposed to remain. The lack of intermunicipal co-ordination as a cause for state intervention against municipal plans is abolished. The committee proposes that the appeal decisions of municipal planning decisions should be moved from the Government to special planning and environmental courts. The county administrative boards should even in future be the first appeal instance.
The proposal of the committee is now (2007) being prepared by the Government Offices. A first proposal to change the laws, based on the committee's proposals, can possibly be expected during 2007.
In 1999 a special committee was given the task to evaluate the application of the Environmental Code and to deliver proposals for necessary changes. The questions, that this committee had paid particular attention to, include regulations on environmental quality standards, the water framework directive and how to make environmental assessment more efficient. Attention was given to the sanctions included in the Environmental Code and the Code's rules on consideration as well as the organisation that exists for trying these. In the final report (2005) the committee deals with the system for environmental quality standards in the Environmental Code, the experiences from the appeal rights of environmental organisations, and the fees for assessment and control.
An environmental quality standard is a regulation relating to the quality of land, water, air or other aspects of the environment. The committee's proposals are primarily aimed at strengthening the action programmes to achieve the quality standards. The committee delivered proposals for increased opportunities to issue general regulations when necessary, in order to achieve environmental quality standards. The proposals are important when it comes to the application of environmental quality standards in decisions according to the Planning and Building Act. The suggestion is that environmental organisations gain increased opportunities to participate in environmental processes.
The committee also believes that there is a need to create a co-ordinated system for environmental impact assessment, i.e. the production of environmental impact assessments (statements) and the environmental examination the follows this. Existing rules are unclear and can lead to the production of several EIAs for what is in essence the same purpose.