Sweden country brief

Introduction

The Kingdom of Sweden (Sweden) is the fifth largest country by area in Europe (449,964 square kilometres) with a population of 9.6 million (2015). The capital of Sweden is Stockholm. Sweden celebrates its National Day on 6 June.

Political overview

System of Government

Sweden is a constitutional monarchy and has a parliamentary system of Government. King Carl XVI Gustaf exercises only ceremonial functions as Head of State. Executive power rests with the Cabinet, which is responsible to the unicameral Parliament (Riksdag) comprising 349 members who are directly elected every four years on a proportional basis. Voting is not compulsory but turnout is usually over 80 per cent.

Political developments

Swedish general elections were held in September 2014. The outcome resulted in the three largest centre left-wing parties (the Social Democrats, Green Party and Left Party) attainment of more seats than the centre-right Alliance for Sweden coalition, with the two blocs receiving 159 and 141 seats respectively. The non-aligned Sweden Democrats more than doubled their support and won the remaining 49 seats. On 3 October 2014, Stefan Löfven, formed a minority government consisting of the Social Democrats and the Greens. General elections to the Swedish Parliament are held every fourth year on the third Sunday in September. The next parliamentary elections will be held in September 2018.

Foreign policy

Sweden joined the EU in 1995, following a referendum in which a narrow 52 per cent of electors voted in favour. However, in a referendum in September 2003 the Swedes rejected joining the eurozone by 56 per cent.

Sweden's key areas of foreign policy focus are development assistance, conflict prevention, peacekeeping, the environment, refugees and trade policy. An active commitment to the United Nations has been a corner-stone of Sweden's foreign policy since it became a member in 1946. Sweden has a long-held policy of non-participation in military alliances, although its security doctrine was revised to allow cooperation with other countries to ’secure regional and international peace and security.’ Sweden became a NATO Partner for Peace in 1994 and has had personnel deployed to the International Security Assistance Force to Afghanistan (ISAF) since 2001. Nordic-Baltic cooperation is an important aspect of Sweden's foreign policy.

Economic overview

The Swedish economy is heavily dependent on a highly developed and internationally successful industrial sector, which was established in the early part of the 20th century through companies such as Ericsson, Asea, Astra, Alfa Laval, SKF, Electrolux, Volvo and SAAB, and now includes more recently established companies such as H&M and IKEA. However, many of the flagship companies are now totally or partially owned by foreign companies and shareholders. There have been several structural reforms since Sweden became a member of the EU, such as the deregulation of the telecommunications, energy and air traffic sectors.

Since economic slowdown in 2013, Sweden’s economy has recovered well, with real GDP growth of 3.4 percent per year in the first three quarters of 2015, up from 2.3 per cent in 2014. Job creation was robust in the first three quarters of 2015, helping bring the unemployment rate down to 7.2 per cent in the third quarter. According to the IMF, solid growth of about 3 per cent is expected to continue into 2016. Migration inflows to Sweden have surged to over 1.5 percent of the population in 2015, with the majority being asylum seekers.

Bilateral relationship

The bilateral relationship between Australia and Sweden is strong, particularly in the areas of trade and education services. Sweden, like Australia, is an active member of the UN, a strong advocate for free trade, and a significant contributor to international development assistance. The 2011 census recorded 34,029 people in Australia of Swedish ancestry. Around 1,500 Swedish students study in Australia each year, and Australian students are also studying in Sweden.

The bilateral relationship is underpinned by a Double Taxation Agreement (1981) and a Working Holiday Maker Arrangement (in effect since 2001).

Australia has an Embassy in Stockholm. Sweden has an Embassy in Canberra as well as a Consulate-General in Sydney and Consulates in Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne and Perth.

Recent visits

Ministerial level contact was strengthened over the past year, with visits to Australia by Sweden’s Minister for Health Care, Public Health and Sport, Gabriel Wikström, in October 2015, and the Minister for Employment, Ylva Johansson, in January 2016. Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Carl Bildt, visited Australia in March 2013. Sweden's State Secretary for Trade, Mr Gunnar Oom, visited Australia in March 2012 with a concurrent visit by the Swedish Parliament's Committee on the Constitution.

In February 2013, former Minister for Defence, Mr Stephen Smith, and Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, visited Stockholm for discussions with Sweden's Minister for Defence, Ms Karin Enstrom. Former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Kevin Rudd, visited Sweden in May 2011 for the UN High-level Panel on Global Sustainability, where he met with HM King Carl XVI Gustaf, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Mr Vidar Helgesen, then Secretary-General of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

In 2014-15, Australia's two way merchandise trade with Sweden totalled A$2.18 billion, overwhelmingly in Sweden's favour. Australian merchandise exports to Sweden totalled A$260 million and included coal, non-electrical engines and motors and alcoholic beverages. Imports from Sweden totalled A$1.9 billion and included medicaments and pharmaceutical products, vehicle parts and accessories and civil engineering equipment and parts.

In 2015, approximately 43,500 Swedish nationals travel to Australia Australia has an Austrade office in Stockholm. Sweden has a Swedish Trade Council office in Sydney.

For information on doing business in Sweden, please see Austrade’s website.

Last updated: April 2016

Last Updated: 18 April 2016