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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Historical development


1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.1Historical development

Last update: 27 November 2023


The war of liberation initiated by Gustav Vasa (1523-1560) in the beginning of the 16th century led to the break-up of the 'Kalmar Union' between Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Gustav Vasa became the first Swedish Regent and was, in 1523, crowned King of the united, centralized unitary state of Sweden.


It was under Gustav Vasa that, in 1527, a state church was formed, based on Lutheranism and Protestantism, whereby Sweden abandoned the international Catholic Church that had prevailed since the introduction of Christianity in the 11th century. The Protestant ethics have since strongly affected Swedish culture. Already when general elementary school was introduced in 1842, literacy was widespread thanks to efforts by the church.

Territory and Language

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Sweden was a major power in northern Europe. A number of wars were fought; during the height of its military power Sweden held control over parts of Germany, Poland, the Baltic States, Finland and Russia. Finland stayed a part of Sweden until conquered by Russia in 1809. A few years later Sweden formed a union with Norway that lasted until 1905. The formation of the Swedish-Norwegian Union in 1814 marks the end of Swedish involvement in military conflict. Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are partially mutually intelligible, and in Finland, there is still a Swedish-speaking minority and Swedish is one of the two official languages of Finland.

Law Making and Citizens' Rights

The Swedish constitution was adopted in as early as 1734 and its basic structure is still visible in Swedish law, even though its content has naturally evolved.

General elementary school was introduced in Sweden in 1842 by a Royal Decree that stipulated the responsibility of each parish to set up a school. The income and fortune based male voting rights system was abandoned in 1909 with the introduction of voting rights for all men. In 1921 universal suffrage was introduced, giving also women the right to vote. Religious freedom (also encompassing being able to choose not to belong to a religious community) was first enacted in legislation in 1951.

The Parliament

During the time of Gustav Vasa in the 16th century the first parliament (riksdag) was established with representatives from the four estates - the nobility, the clergy, the bourgeoisie and the peasantry. Over the following century stricter rules were adopted for the parliament and gradually an administrative apparatus developed. The power of the parliament has varied greatly and during certain periods its position in relation to the monarchy has been extremely weak. However, during the Age of Liberty in the 18th century, the parliament enhanced its position and a party system gradually emerged.

With the adoption of the constitution of 1809 the powers of the monarchy and the parliament were separated. At the same time the courts and authorities became independent. In 1865 a dual chamber parliament was introduced. A single chamber with 350 representatives replaced the two-chamber system in 1971, when standing committees in different areas were introduced (the number of parliamentarians was later changed to 349 to avoid the risk of a hung parliament). In 1974 Sweden adopted a new constitution. In 1994 the mandate period of the parliament was changed from three to four years with elections for all three levels of government taking place the first Sunday in September. The three levels represent the central powers on state, regional and municipality level.

Recent Reforms

From September 2022 election the Swedish Government has consisted of the Moderate Party, the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party. This minority government receives support from the Sweden Democrats (SD).

More information about the work of the Swedish Government and Government Offices, including contact information, is available at

Sweden became a member of the European Union on the 1st of January 1995 and has held the rotating Presidency of the European Council (‘EU Presidency’) twice, in 2001 and in 2009 and will hold it next time in 2023.