Sweden’s status as a constitutional monarchy is at odds with its own claim that all public power “proceeds from the people”. Within the country’s constitution lies a central article that in some ways reduces Sweden to a semi-democratic anachronism within the EU:
“[T]he King shall always profess the pure evangelical faith, as adopted and explained in the unaltered confession of Augsburg and in the Resolution of the Uppsala meeting of the year 1593, princes and princesses of the Royal House shall be brought up in that same faith and within the Realm. Any member of the Royal Family not professing this faith shall be excluded from all rights of succession.”
Sweden has made something of a name for itself during the last twenty years for being unswerving in its insistence that third world countries from Nicaragua to Iraq, the Palestinian territories to Guatemala and Burma to Zimbabwe, elect democratic heads of state. But for a country that prides itself as being something of a beacon of democracy, Sweden’s rights of succession are absurd, sectarian and discriminatory.
Why the double standard? Why are the democratic political appointments of heads of states in third world countries the target of such passionate engagement among Swedish politicians while the status quo is cheerily maintained within the embryo of the supposedly non-discriminatory and democratic society of Sweden in 2009?
Despite the predictable and somewhat fringe criticism of the prevailing order by the Social Democrat’s youth section, the Left Party and a small Republican movement, no serious debate on the issue has taken place in recent decades.
One clue to this unspoken and somewhat consensual approval has been revealed in periodic opinion polls generally in favour of the royal order.
So what powers does the king have? Though the king’s role is expressly limited in the constitution to ‘ceremonial functions’, the position bestows on him a huge amount of informal power for which he cannot be held to account by the electorate. This became apparent during the Asian tsunami crisis, for example, when Swedes turned to their king for the leadership many felt was lacking in the government.
To be fair, Sweden does have a functioning and relatively efficient system of governance rooted in the decisions of the Riksdag. The active parliamentary system composed of parliamentary committees prepare and investigate proposed legislation in a fashion consistent with internationally accepted norms; indeed it is replicated somewhat in the processes of the EU parliamentary system.
But this transparent approach to law-making stands in glaring contrast to the highly discriminatory and sectarian clause in the constitution pertaining to the appointment of Sweden’s head of state.
Noel McCarthy has a Political Science degree from a Swedish university and has lived in his adopted country for eighteen years.