When it comes to a whole-of-government approach (WGA), Sweden has taken three relevant actions. In 2003, there was the introduction of a general policy for global development, which aims to be a crosscutting coordinating device (Regeringens proposition 2003). This was followed in 2007 by a strategy for international military-civilian operations (Regeringens skrivelse 2007a). The latter strategy is in line with the scope of this study, while the broader policy of 2003 is often seen as a role model for policy coherence in external policies, providing a background for the 2007 strategy. As discussed below, the policy and the strategy have hardly lived up to the high ambitions they set.
In addition, in 2002, an agency was set up to support international civilian peacebuilding missions by coordinating their Swedish and non-Swedish participants. The agency, which was partly based on pre-existing programmes, was named the Folke Bernadotte Academy. Whereas the proper name refers to an early Swedish peace negotiator, the term ‘academy’ indicates that one of its major goals is to educate people for these missions.
Returning to take a deeper look at the policy introduced in 2003, we see that it is linked to separate EU and UN initiatives. The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were introduced just before the Swedish policy was introduced, and the EU also introduced its principle of coherence in development policy at around the same time. The Swedish policy was later linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the minister for international development cooperation being put in charge of related issues on the international level and the minister for public administration being tasked with handling related issues on the domestic level. What’s more, a number of policies were introduced around the same time to pursue cross-cutting issues and to be advanced by all ministries. Other examples are an elaborate set of environmental goals, regional coordination of national policies, and a general policy of gender mainstreaming.
In general, however, the 2003 policy and its focus on coherence only make sense when viewed in the context of Sweden’s particular constitutional structure, which prioritises governing by consensus. To quote The Oxford Handbook of Swedish Politics (Persson 2016: 637): “Almost all government decisions [in Sweden] are made collectively – a marked contrast to the situation in most other countries, where ministers make most decisions independently. The strong commitment of the Swedish government to collective decision-making is institutionalized through a joint preparation procedure (gemensam beredning) […]. Moreover, it is common practice to circulate all government bills among ministries […]. These procedures ensure that all government decisions are prepared jointly and that all relevant ministries are involved.”
In other words, Sweden’s constitution simply doesn’t allow theme- based groups of ministries to work together on an issue. In fact, this strong principle of consensus-based decision-making actually makes it difficult to integrate policies across ministerial boundaries, as no ministries can be excluded. The available option is to introduce general policies, often giving weak powers to the lead ministry, which is what the other ministries accept (Niklasson 2007, 2011, 2015; Niklasson and Barr 2015).
Complicating matters further, there are two highly independent agencies involved in these issues that operate under different ministries (foreign affairs and defence, respectively). The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) enjoys a strong international reputation and is involved in long-term development aid as well as short-term humanitarian aid. The other agency is the armed forces, which have gone through a period of fundamental change, shifting their focus from national defence to international operations (and, more recently, back to national defence). The 2003 policy and the 2007 strategy aim to coordinate cooperation among these agencies and other agencies involved in international operations.
The documents described above were introduced by different governments and have survived several changes of government, which indicates that their content has been embraced by most political parties. But the policies have also been revised, partly to send political messages and partly to deal with the strong criticism from the two national audit bodies regarding the weak design of the policies.