Sweden: Non-binding Rules against the Pandemic - Formalism, Pragmatism and Some Legal Realism

Eur J Risk Regul. 2021 Mar;12(1):127-142. doi: 10.1017/err.2021.2.


Swedish measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 differ from the strategies used in other comparable countries. In contrast to the lockdown approach that has been applied in many European countries, the Swedish strategy has been based to a substantial extent on individuals taking responsibility under non-binding recommendations. This contribution explores the Swedish strategy from a constitutional and administrative law perspective, highlighting the tension between the formalist system for delegating norms under the Swedish Constitution and the pragmatic use of non-binding rules such as the "General Recommendations" adopted by the Public Health Agency. The article concludes that the official use of soft law instruments is confusing from a legal perspective, because non-binding rules do not offer the traditional formal mechanisms for legal protection, the publication of norms or accountability. The legal-realist approach of the Supreme Administrative Court's case law, however, has the potential of balancing some of the unfortunate effects arising from the Swedish combination of formalism and pragmatism.