The Instrument of Government is the fundamental law that gives us the fundamental starting points for Swedish democracy and the role of the administration. Here we focus on two points you need to be aware of regarding the principle of democracy.

The first is that as a central government employee you are part of the chain of democratic governance and therefore work on behalf of the citizens of this country. The other is that you must promote democratic values when performing your duties.

"All public power in Sweden proceeds from the people" - Chapter 1, Section 1, first paragraph of the Instrument of Government

The Instrument of Government gives us our starting point

The Instrument of Government sets out the starting points for the governance of Sweden. One central principle is that all public power proceeds from the people. Swedish democracy is founded on the free formation of opinion and on universal and equal suffrage.

The Instrument of Government describes public institutions i.e., the institutions that are there to solve shared tasks in our society. The term public institutions means all public activities, for instance government authorities, municipalities, universities and courts. The public institutions must promote the ideals of democracy as guidelines in all sectors of society.

As a civil servant, you are part of the chain of democratic governance

Public administration is part of the chain of democratic governance. This chain of governance starts when citizens elect members of the Riksdag (the Swedish Parliament). A Government is then formed on the basis of the election result; its task is to govern the country. The Government implements the laws adopted by the Riksdag, but also has the power to introduce additional rules, called ordinances.

Central government agencies function autonomously, at the same time as they are subordinate to the Government. They must also follow all the laws adopted by the Riksdag. The Riksdag and the Government must not interfere in how government authorities act in particular cases. Their governance must fulfil certain formal requirements and be exercised through, for example, instructions in ordinances, appropriation directions and special directives from the Government. Informal signals are not sufficient.

Government authorities are part of a democratic system, since all public power proceeds from the people. As a central government employee, you are also part of the public institutions and the chain of democratic governance. Your role requires that you uphold and promote the principles laid down in our constitution. You are, quite simply, part of the structure of public power and you exercise public power through the decisions you are involved in making. You work on behalf of citizens and towards our common objectives. This distinguishes the role of a central government employee from that of a private employee.

The administration of justice by the courts has particular independence. Neither a public authority, nor the Riksdag, may determine how a court of law is to adjudicate an individual case.

Corresponding autonomy applies to authorities under the Government regarding the exercise of public authority against private persons. This means that the Government must not get involved in what decisions an authority makes in a particular matter. This obviously also applies to individual ministers. It is usually said that Sweden does not have “rule by ministers”. This is a distinctive feature of Swedish administration.

Your role includes upholding democratic values

The Instrument of Government lays down that the public institutions must promote the ideals of democracy as guidelines in all sectors of society. This is an aim, however, and not a legally binding rule (provision stating aims). This means that private persons cannot demand their rights in a court under this policy aim and must instead find support in other laws setting out detailed rules. For example, a person who feels that they are the victim of negative discrimination must rely on the rules of the Discrimination Act (2008:567).

  • The aim that the ideals of democracy are to be guidelines applies to all public activities. In addition to promoting democracy, the public institutions also have an obligation to: ensure that public power is exercised with respect for the equal worth of all and for the freedom and dignity of the private person;
  • uphold the personal, economic and cultural welfare of the individual;
  • promote sustainable development leading to a good environment for present and future generations;
  • promote the opportunity for all to attain participation and equality in society and for the rights of the child to be safeguarded;
  • promote the opportunities of the Sami people and ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities to retain and develop a cultural and social life of their own.

As a central government employee, you must respect certain values, but you have freedom of expression

As a central government employee, you are part of the public institutions and therefore have to work for the principles that are set out in our fundamental laws and that our democracy is based on. At the same time, you have the same right to freedom of expression, freedom of information and other rights as all other citizens of Sweden. So you are free to express yourself on any subject at all without risking reprisals or other interventions. Since you can be seen, both in working life and outside work, as a representative of your authority, there is an inherent conflict here. We return to this in the section Free formation of opinion.