Politics For Members

EXPLAINED: How a new law gets made in Sweden

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How a new law gets made in Sweden
MPs voting on a new bill in the Swedish parliament. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

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


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. 

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 countries like 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 former 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 unenforceable, 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. 


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