Sweden

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Footnotes



Introduction

Sweden is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe which borders Norway, Finland and, via a bridge tunnel, Denmark. A constitutional monarchy where the king serves a fairly symbolic role, Sweden is well regarded internationally as an example of social democracy and good governance. Sweden’s human rights record is generally very good indeed, though concerns have been raised over denying access to treatment for people who use drugs.


Geography

Sweden is located on the Scandinavian peninsula and shares borders with Norway to the west, along the Scandinavian mountain range, and Finland to the north east. The country has an extensive coastline along the east on the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Bothnia. The capital city is Stockholm.

Population and language

Sweden is home to 9.4 million people. Around 15 per cent of this highly diverse population were born outside of the country,[1] a result of the country's generous asylum and immigration policies. In 2007, 11 per cent of asylum claims received in the industrialised world were received within Sweden.

Swedish is almost universally spoken, though English is also widely spoken and there are significant number of Samill, Finnish, Meänkieli, Yddish and Romani Chib speakers.

History and politics

From the middle ages, Sweden developed into one of the great military powers of Europe, with an empire that at its peak stretched into Russia and modern day Germany. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, however, the country launched a policy of international neutrality, which was a key part of the State's foreign relations until the end of the Cold War. Sweden has not initiated any armed conflict since the early 19th century, though it has watered down its doctrine of neutrality and does now engage in peacekeeping operations and joined the European Union in 1995.

Throughout the 20th century, the Social Democrats have been the dominant force in Swedish politics, and since the end of the Second World War have only been in opposition three times. In 2006, however, a centre-right alliance took power under the leadership of Frederik Reinfeldt. In the elections of 2010, Prime Minister Reinfeldt's became the only centre-right government to be re-elected in modern Swedish history, though it is three seats short of a majority in the national Parliament (Riksdag). The most recent elections were controversial in that they marked the entrance of the Swedish Democrats into the Parliament, a right-wing anti-immigration party.[2]

King Carl XVI Gustaf is formally the head of state, though political power is vested in the the government headed by the Prime Minister.

Economy

The European Union played an important role in Swedish politics and economics since the 1990s, culminating in Sweden becoming the 15th member of the Union in 1995, though Sweden rejected membership of the shared currency in 2003. The country has achieved a high-tech capitalist economy alongside extensive welfare benefits and a high standard of living. The 2008 financial crisis hit the Swedish economy hard, leading to a 5 per cent fall in GDP in 2009 and, though the economy has begun to recover, the Eurozone crisis is likely to limit growth. Unemployment is expected to rise as high as 7.8 per cent and affect young people particularly hard, among whom around 25 per cent are expected to be jobless.[3]

Media and civil society

Sweden has a good record on media freedom, and has strong laws on freedom of the press that date back as far as 1766, laws which protect journalists' sources and provide access to information for all citizens. Protections on freedom of expression are also extensive, but prohibit hate speech and threats of expressions of contempt directed against a group or member of a group. Freedom House, however, has reported that media outlets operate self-censorship with regards to controversial issues such as immigration, in particular in relation to the private broadcaster TV4's decision not to show a video produced by the nationalist party, the Swedish Democrats. The producer of that video was also later released from his freelance agreement with the public television station, Sveriges Television.[4] Reporters Without Borders has also reported on a small number of controversial state actions against journalists, including the prosecution and conviction of three journalists for an investigative news report that involved one of the journalists purchasing an illegal firearm.[5]

Reporters Without Borders rated the country 12 out of 179 in its 2011/12 Press Freedom Index.[6]

Human rights and children's rights

Sweden has a generally strong record on human rights, including children's rights, but has faced criticism from some quarters with regards to some of its practices. In particular, though Sweden has a much more open immigration policy than much of Europe, the expedited process by which asylum applications can be found “manifestly unfounded” has given rise to criticism among human rights groups for denying proper individual determination of applicant's protection needs and proper access to legal aid.[7] The Committee on the Rights of the Child has also been critical of the States refusal to incorporate the Convention on the Rights of the Child into national law.[8]

  1. Statistics Sweden, "Foreign born persons by municipality, age in ten year groups and sex. Year 2001-2011"
  2. The Guardian, "Sweden's ruling coalition heads for minority government" 20 September 2010
  3. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Country profile: Sweden" 16 May 2012
  4. Freedom House, "Freedom of the Press 2011: Sweden"
  5. Reporters Without Borders, "Three journalists convicted for researching availability of illegal firearms" 18 May 2012
  6. Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12"
  7. Amnesty International, "World Report 2012"
  8. Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for Sweden's 4th periodic report", September 2009

Sources:

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