For members


EXPLAINED: How a new law gets made in Sweden

Arguably one of the keys to Sweden's success as a nation is the thorough, systematic way that government proposals get turned into laws. Here's how it happens.

EXPLAINED: How a new law gets made in Sweden
An MP voting on a bill in Sweden's Riksdag parliament. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

The process is highly formalised, with the Swedish government’s website having a section to the right of each law showing where it is on the lagstiftningskedjan, or “Law-making chain”, the succession of at least six stages each law goes through until it is passed on to the parliament. 

The “legislative chain”. Screenshot: Swedish government website

1. The idea 

The first stage of any new law in Sweden is, of course, the idea. A proposal might be floated by a government minister in a newspaper, at a press conference, in a speech, or in a party manifesto. It may have been debated back and forth for decades, but without any formal steps being taken. 

Until it moves on to the next stage it doesn’t mean very much. 

2.The directive 

The first stage of the actual law-making process in Sweden is the directive, an order from the government, or more rarely the parliament, for a proposed law or change to be investigated and analysed.

This is when an idea goes beyond talk and the process is in motion. 

The directive summarises what proposal or idea needs to be analysed, lists the key proposals that should be answered, and sets a date by which the conclusions should be published, normally at least a year into the future.  

A directive can sometimes be issued to the Swedish Government Offices, or Regeringskansliet, in which case it is investigated internally. It is more common, though, for the government to issue a so-called kommittédirektiv, or “committee directive“, which sets up an ad hoc expert committee to examine the issue. 

The committee is led by an utredare, or “investigator”, who is normally supported by one or more secretaries, and who can appoint, or is appointed, experts drawn from the relevant agencies, from academia, or from elsewhere. The utredare is very often a senior judge, but can be a former politician, senior civil servant, or anyone else with relevant skills.  

3.The utredning, or inquiry

The next stage is the utredning, which does not correspond exactly to anything you might find in the US or UK. In some ways, it is like a government inquiry, as it is semi-independent from the executive and calls on various experts. Indeed, when an utredning is called into, say, the government’s handling of Covid-19, it functions in almost exactly the same way.

But it can also function like the preparations for a “white paper” in the UK, or a bill in the US, with the difference that rather than being prepared by a politician or government department, the proposals are put together by an expert committee given detailed instructions by the government. 

Once the utredning begins, it gets supported by a special department in the Swedish Government Offices. Since 1922, all committees and their conclusions have been collected together under a single umbrella organisation, Statens Offentliga Utredningar, “The Government’s Official Inquiries”. 

4. The slutbetänkande, or “final report” of the inquiry

The committee might publish its conclusions in several parts, in which case each section is called a delbetänkande, or part-report, or it might publish them all at once as a slutbetänkande, or “final report”. 

These detailed documents run to hundreds, sometimes close to a thousand, pages, and contain detailed analyses of the issues, the judgement of the utredare on each of the pertinent questions, and concrete proposals for what changes should be made to the law. 

The conclusions of the inquiry will normally be announced at a press conference attended by the utredare and the relevant minister. 

Mari Andersson, special investigator on “changes to the law on citizenship”, announced her part-report at a press conference alongside Sweden’s justice minister, Morgan Johansson, in 2021. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

5. The remiss or “consultation” stage 

After the report has been delivered, the next stage of the law is the remiss, or “consultation” stage. The report and its proposals are sent for consultation to the relevant government agencies or organisations, municipalities and other stakeholders, who can submit remissvar, or “responses”

It is the government department responsible for the proposed law which gets to decide which organisations or individuals are invited to submit responses, so sometimes organisations who believe they should have a say do not get one. It is possible for these organisations to send a response uninvited, but the government is not required to read them or take their arguments on board. 

Indeed, the answers given in consultation responses are purely advisory, meaning the government can, and often does, ignore the views of agencies and other stakeholders. If the responses are extremely critical, or raise insuperable obstacles, however, the proposed law can also be abandoned at this stage. 

6. The draft bill (stage one)

If the government decides to push ahead with the law, it then drafts a draft bill. The bill is then sent to Lagrådet, or the Council on Legislation. 

7. Lagrådet, or The Swedish Council on Legislation

Lagrådet, or the Council on Legislation, is responsible for analysing the legal aspects of a proposed government bill. The council can sometimes be very critical, informing the government that the law as proposed in unenforcible, against the constitution, or too vaguely framed for the courts to be able to interpret. 

8. The draft bill goes to parliament (stage two)

When the government is ready it sends the draft bill to the parliament, where it will often be scrutinised by the relevant parliamentary committee or committees. They can then submit views on the proposal, which are published as the utskottsbetänkande, the “parliamentary committee’s report”. At this stage the government may amend the bill to take into account the views of the committee, making it more likely that MPs for other parties vote in favour of the bill. 

9. Parliament votes

The final stage is the parliamentary vote on the bill. If a majority of MPs vote in favour of it, the bill is then submitted to the Svensk författningssamling, or Swedish Code of Statutes, the country’s official code of law. Each law is given an SFS number, and published both in paper form and online. 

The Swedish Government Offices have also produced an English-language document, titled “How Sweden is Governed”, which gives a good summary of the legislative process. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Five facts about Sweden’s Nobel prizes

Since 1901, Nobel prizes have been awarded for work that has led to great advances for mankind, in line with the wishes of inventor Alfred Nobel. The winners of this year's prizes will be announced daily from October 3rd-10th. Here are five facts about the prizes and their creator.

Five facts about Sweden's Nobel prizes

Posthumous awards

Since 1974, the statutes of the Nobel Foundation stipulate that the prize may not be given posthumously. But a person may be awarded if she or he dies between the time of the announcement in October and the formal prize ceremony in December.

Before the change, only two people had won a Nobel posthumously. One was Dag Hammarskjöld, the Swedish secretary general of the United Nations who died in a plane crash in 1961 but was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later the same year.

And in 1931, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded posthumously to another Swede, Erik Axel Karlfeldt.

In 2011, the medicine prize committee selected Ralph Steinman of Canada, unaware that he had passed away just three days before the prize announcement.

Nevertheless, the foundation decided to give him the award.

A fortune for a Nobel

The Nobel Prizes come with a tidy prize sum, currently set at 10 million kronor ($895,000) per discipline, along with an 18-carat gold medal.

The 2021 Peace Prize laureate, Dmitry Muratov, turned his gold disc into a fortune to benefit Ukrainian children displaced by the war.

In June, his 196-gram medal — including 150 grams of gold — sold at auction for a whopping $103.5 million to an anonymous philanthropist. That smashed the previous record for a Nobel medal 21-fold.

A misunderstanding?

On April 12, 1888, Alfred Nobel’s elder brother Ludvig died in Cannes, France.

But newspaper Le Figaro mixed up the brothers and announced Alfred’s death on its front page under a rather inflammatory headline: “A man who can hardly be called a benefactor of humanity died yesterday in Cannes. He is Nobel, inventor of dynamite”.

Many credit this slight as the inspiration for Nobel’s creation of the prizes, pointing to the wording in his will that the awards should go to those who “have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind”.

“But we can only imagine” that this is what happened because the incident is not mentioned in his correspondence, his biographer Ingrid Carlberg told AFP.

As for the visitors who came to offer their condolences at the inventor’s Parisian mansion, they were surprised to be greeted by a very much alive Alfred, as reported by Le Figaro the following day.

1903 Nobel to pioneering climate researcher

A man of many talents, Swedish physicist and chemist Svante Arrhenius won the 1903 Chemistry Prize for his “electrolytic theory of dissociation”.

But he is now more widely recognised for his other pioneering work: at the end of the 19th century, he was the first to theorise that the combustion of fossil energy  – which at the time was primarily coal — emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and leads to global warming.

According to his calculations, a doubling of CO2 emissions would heat the planet by five degrees Celsius; current models suggest a range between 2.6 and 3.9 degrees Celsius.

However, completely unaware of just how much fossil fuel the world would go on to consume, Arrhenius underestimated the speed at which this level would be reached, predicting it would take 3,000 years.

New prizes, even richer

With 120 years under their belt and a name associated throughout the world with excellence, the Nobel prizes are considered the creme de la creme of awards.

But some critics consider them to be archaic, often honouring discoveries made decades ago and not taking into account newer scientific fields.

The Right Livelihood Award was therefore created in 1980 by a German-Swedish philanthropist after the Nobel Foundation refused to create two new prizes for the environment and international development.

Finland created the one-million-euro Millennium Technology Prize in 2002 to recognise the role technology plays in solving global challenges, while the $1 million Kavli Prizes in Norway have since 2008 honoured discoveries in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.

But the richest prize of them all is the most recent one, the Breakthrough Prize created in 2010 by a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Dubbed the “Oscars for Science”, they come with a cheque for $3 million, more than three times the winnings of a Nobel Prize.