Synthesis/Regeneration 13   (Spring 1997)

A History of the Swedish Greens

by Ursula Mueller, International Secretary, Green Party of Sweden

The Green Party of Sweden (GPSw) was founded in 1981, largely as a reaction to the outcome of the 1980 referendum on nuclear power and because of growing concern about environmental problems. The GPSw took part in the general elections of 1982 and 1985, but it was not until 1988 that it received more than the 4% of the votes required for representation in Parliament. With 5.5% of the vote the GPSw was the first new party to enter the Swedish parliament in 70 years. In 1991, however, the GPSw obtained only 3.4% of the vote and was consequently forced out of Parliament. A well planned campaign in 1994 brought the party back to Parliament with 5.02% of the vote; and, 1995 was its "boom year" bringing 17.2% of the vote in the European Parliamentary elections and a rating of 8 to 12% in regular opinion polls.

1995 was the "boom year" for the Green Party, bringing 17.2% of the vote in the European Parliamentary elections.

The GPSw does not have a leader, but is represented by two spokespersons, one man and one woman. Since 1992, the spokespersons have been Marianne Samuelsson and Birger Schlaug.

Party Roots

Environmental, women's rights, antinuclear, peace and other "alternative" groups emerged and increased in importance during the 1970s. People from these groups campaigned together against nuclear power before the referendum on nuclear energy in 1980, and many then realized that they shared basic views on social issues.

The "No" alternative lost in the 1980 referendum. But because of obvious manipulations on this issue, the political parties lost credibility. Many people in the alternative movement now saw the need for a new party.

Thus the GPSw was founded in September 1981, in response to centralized growth-oriented poli-cies and the growing inability of the traditional parties to cope with mounting environmental problems. General elections would take place one year later, in 1982.

1982: The First Test

Intensive work went into organizing the party all over the country and rapidly developing policies in all major political areas, since most of the early criticism of the GPSw charged that it was a "one-issue party."

Opinion polls in the spring of 1982 showed that the GPSw had more than 4% in electoral support; in May support was as high as 7%. However, as the election drew closer, voter support eroded quickly. In the end the GPSw won only 1.7% of the vote nationally, much less than the 4% needed to enter Parliament. Nor was there any success on the regional level. However, the party obtained 126 seats on 96 local councils.

1985: Local Success

The following general elections, in 1985, brought more disappointment for the Greens on the national level: they received only 1.5%. But on the local level, support almost doubled. The GPSw obtained 237 seats on 148 local councils, a vote of confidence in local Green politicians.

One area in which we have succeeded is pushing to the limits what is considered "extreme."

This gave the GPSw the opportunity to gain political experience and a base from which to recruit regional and national candidates for the 1988 general elections.

1988: National Success!

The elections of 1988 proved to be different in two significant ways. First, the rules for campaign coverage by state-owned radio and TV were changed considerably for 1988 in favor of the small parties. Second, in early summer, when the election campaigns were beginning, environmental problems, such as the death of many seals along the Swedish coast and the pollution of lakes, suddenly became the main focus of political debate. The traditional parties were extremely weak in suggesting credible solutions to these problems, and the GPSw received increased support because of its radical program and competent media personalities.

This time the Greens' share of the national vote was 5.5%. Twenty GPSw representatives entered the Swedish parliament and gained seats on all parliamentary committees. The party also tripled the number of local council members, obtaining 698 seats on 260 councils. (There are 284 local councils in Sweden.)

The 1988 elections were a breakthrough on the regional level too; giving the GPSw 101 seats and representation on all 25 county councils.

Three Difficult Years

The 1988-1991 parliamentary session proved difficult for the Greens. Participating in 16 parliamentary committees put a severe strain on the resources of the Green parliamentary group with its 20 members. Opportunities for the 20 newly elected Greens to bring about change in a parliament totaling 349 members were, of course, very limited. However, some green ideas were accepted; these included the decision to take account of environmental concerns in calculating the GNP and the increasing use of taxes in environmental policy. As a Green MP noted, referring to taxes on gasoline, one area in which we have succeeded, is pushing to the limits what is considered "extreme." The same can also be said about waste handling and burning.

Increasing discontent with EU membership among the Swedish people culminated in a transfer of votes from parties backing membership to those opposing it.

GPSw was also the leading political force in the country advocating a critical analysis of the consequences of Swedish membership in the European Community.

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Structure of the GPSw -- No Party Leader

The way the GPSw is organized reflects a desire to avoid the traditional party structure with a hierarchy, centralized power, male dominance, and a focus on the party leader. The GPSw does not have a party leader.

Instead, two spokespersons, one man and one woman, are elected by the Congress to represent the party in external contacts. In order to ensure democracy, equality between the sexes and grassroots power, several checks have been built into the party's statutes and structure. It is the party's policy that at least 40% of each gender shall be represented on party committees and groups. According to the statutes, party representatives may serve no more than three terms in parliament, as well as in regional and local councils -- and no more than nine years on party committees. On GPSws ballots, male and female names alternate.

Green Youth. Green Youth (GU) is an independent Green organization. GU was founded in 1986 for party members below age 26. All members of GU are members of the GPSw. It is organized like the GPSw with two spokespersons, one of each gender, and a yearly Congress, where the major decisions are made. At the Congress, all registered members are allowed to vote. GU has about 1,300 members in Sweden. GU has a fully developed organization on the local, regional, and federal level. Rather than acting independently, it generally cooperates with the GPSw.

International Working Group. The GPSw has an International Working Group, which takes an active part in Green international affairs, and has employed an international secretary. Party members keep track of events and maintain Green contacts in a growing number of countries throughout world.

Congress and Council of Representatives. The supreme body of the GPSw, the Congress (Kongressen), convenes once a year. At the Congress, local organizations are represented by one delegate per 100 members, and Green Youth sends its delegates. Participation in the Congress is open to all members of the party. The Congress lays down statutes and guidelines for work on political programs, adopts programs, and makes amendments. Between Congresses the power of decision rests with the Party Council, which convenes every sixth week. The Congress and the Party Council define the policies of the Party.

Decentralized Administration. The GPSw has three offices on the national level. The office in Stockholm is responsible for political, administrative and organizational committees, the International Secretariat and public information. An office for Green telecommunications and the GU office are in Lund in southern Sweden. MAX, the center for the sale and distribution of publications, posters, and other promotional material, is also in Lund.

(continuation from above)

GPSw achievements, through the adoption of bills proposed by Green MPs or through committee work together with other parties, include the following:

However, not much notice was taken of the Greens in the Swedish parliament since the "environment" as a political issue was overshadowed by the declining economic situation and by events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during 1989 and 1990. These spelled death for socialism and the victory of liberal capitalism, and created a euphoria which soon led to a reexamination of Swedish foreign policy and to membership in the European Union (EU).

1991: One Step Backward

If the GPSw had the right message at the right time in the elections of 1988, it had the worst possible message three years later. In 1991 nothing seemed to raise more political excitement than the message that Sweden should "become part of Europe." Solidarity and social responsibility were out-"everyone for himself" had to be tried.

With 3.4% of the vote in the September 1991 elections, the GPSw failed to reach the threshold necessary to stay in Parliament. In addition, Green representation decreased from 83 to 34 seats on the county councils and from 698 to 397 seats on the municipal councils.

The "Comeback Kids" in 1994

With 5.02% in the parliamentary election of September 1994; the Greens became the first Swedish party ever to regain its lost seats in the "Riksdagen."

Now the GPSw is represented in all but one regional government and has 616 seats in local councils all over Sweden. Representation in Parliament during 1994 prepared the way for the upcoming European elections.

European Elections 1995: A "Home Run"

The GPSw led the race for seats in the European Parliament as the strong winner, with 17.2% of all votes. This is the best result a Green Party ever achieved in a national election. Increasing discontent with EU membership among the Swedish people culminated in a transfer of votes from parties backing membership to those opposing it.

The great success of the GPSw is a mandate to carry out a new referendum about Swedish EU membership. The GPSw now holds 4 of the 29 seats of the Green Group in the European Parliament.

The Swedish Government Electoral System

Every four years, in September, elections are held for the parliament, county councils and municipal councils. The elections are direct, and all Swedish citizens aged 18 and over can vote. Eligibility to serve in Parliament is subject to Swedish citizenship and the attainment of voting age.

The electoral system is designed to ensure a distribution of seats between the parties in proportion to the votes cast for them nationally. In addition to 310 fixed electoral district seats, 39 seats are distributed "at large" so as to obtain a fair, nationally proportional result. However, a party must gain at least 4% of the national vote to qualify for representation. Since the 1976 elections, immigrants resident in Sweden for three years have had the right to vote and run for office in county and municipal elections.

The Administrative System in Sweden

There are three levels of political administration in Sweden: the national, the regional and the local levels.

The National Level. Since 1971 Sweden has had a one-chamber Parliament (Riksdagen). Each newly elected parliament appoints at least 15 standing committees for its four-year term. The Constitution of 1975 is based on the principles of popular sovereignty, representative democracy, and parliamentary government. Political power rests with the Cabinet (Regering) and the party or parties it represents. In the elections of 1994, seven parties gained seats in the Parliament: the ruling Social Democratic Party (Socialdemokraterna), the Conservative Party (Moderaterna), the Leftist Party, the Liberals (Folkpartiet Liberalerna), the Center Party (Centerpartiet), the Green Party (the GPSw), and the Christian Democrats (Kristdemokraterna).

The regional level. In each of the 25 counties in Sweden the national administration is represented by a county governor and county administrative board. Every county also has an elected county council (landsting), responsible primarily for health care, and also for transport, certain types of education, and occupational training. The counties and municipalities receive their inhabitants' yearly income taxes up to 250,000 skr.

The Local Level. There are 286 municipalities (kommun) in Sweden. Each is governed by a municipal council and bound by law and regulations to provide a number of services, including basic education, public assistance, child care, welfare for the elderly, housing, and public utilities such as roads, sewage, and water supply.

Green Parties in Other Countries

European Greens. The GPSw is an active member of the European Greens, a body for Green Party cooperation on political and administrative matters. More than 20 Green Parties in Europe are members of the European Greens. A Green political statement was adopted in 1993 by all the member parties. They then agreed on a common platform for the June 1994 elections to the European Parliament.

One of the main political tasks of the European Greens, following recent events in Eastern Europe, is to develop a common vision of a Green Europe and regional cooperation among states, such as those around the Black, Baltic, and the Mediterranean Seas.

Greens in Parliaments. The first Green national parliamentarian was elected in 1979, in Switzerland. Belgium followed in 1981 and the Federal Republic of Germany and Finland followed in 1983.

More recently Greens have been elected to a number of parliaments in the emerging democracies in Eastern and Central Europe. Green parties are now represented in some 20 national parliaments, including those of Australia and Brazil.

In the 1994 European Community elections, a Green Group of 25 MPs was formed in the European Parliament. In September 1995, it welcomed three new members from Sweden. There are now four Swedish Greens in the European Parliament.

The Green Party of Sweden can be contacted at:
The Green Party of Sweden International Secretariat
Box 16069, Drottninggatan 25 S-103 22 STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN
tel + 46-8-20 15 77 fax+46-8-15 20 77 e-mail:

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