As is widely known, Sweden’s coronavirus response has been an outlier in several ways. One point, in particular, is that many measures are just issued as recommendations to the public, rather than legally imposed and enforced as in many other countries.

I’ve heard it claimed, quite widely, that this is (in part) because the Swedish government doesn’t have the constitutional power to impose lockdown-type restrictions. I find this claim difficult to assess in context. As I understand it, many countries’ lockdowns are beyond what their governments would be constitutionally empowered to impose under normal circumstances — but governments have suspended/overridden this in various ways, e.g. declaring states of emergency (in a process provided by their constitution for suspending normal limits), or passing other kinds of emergency legislation that expand powers while remaining constitutional, or simply ignoring constitutional issues and imposing strict measures anyway. So it’s not clear to me whether the Swedish limits could have been similarly suspended/overridden if the government had chosen to, or whether something in the Swedish constitution or legal system makes their limitations genuinely harder than elsewhere.

In summary, my question is: Is the Swedish government more constitutionally limited in its powers to impose lockdown-type measures than the governments of other comparable countries?

I would be most interested in answers comparing Sweden with closely comparable countries — e.g. other Northern/Western European countries, and especially those that have imposed stricter lockdowns.

(Note: I am trying to stay on-topic and as non-controversial as possible given the topic. I’m not asking anything broader about the Swedish response in general, and I hope commenters will refrain from discussing that; I’m just asking about a constitutional-legal point often mentioned as part of the explanation for the response.)

  • I am not knowledgeable of Swedish law at all, but other EU governments have been abusing even their constitutional provisions regarding state of emergency. Apparently Sweden has not. It is not just a mere coincidence that Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries systematically rank very high in the list of least corrupt countries. Nov 25, 2020 at 14:58
  • 1
    @IñakiViggers exceeding lawful powers is not (necessarily) corrupt. You can break the law for non-corrupt reasons.
    – Dale M
    Nov 25, 2020 at 20:07
  • @DaleM I agree. But in this particular matter the pattern of erraticism, arbitrariness, and lack of transparency from various governments in the EU is in stark contrast with the much less intrusive approach the Swedish government has taken. Nov 25, 2020 at 20:16
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    I am skeptical, because Sweden announced its approach as part of a reasoned policy decision made upon counsel from and deliberation by expert advisors and senior politicians, rather than as a second choice made because it did not have the power to do otherwise. Also see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_Laws_of_Sweden Human rights protections in Sweden are mostly by treaties that other European nations are also party to and didn't find themselves restricted by.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 25, 2020 at 22:44
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    I agree with @ohwilleke. Adding to that, Sweden had a temporary law from mid April until end of June which gave the government the power to (among other things) close shops and restaurants, but not limit the freedom of movement. The law was never used.
    – Anders
    Nov 26, 2020 at 15:25


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