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Article Sweden: Parliament Decides Absent Members Must Repay Salary

On November 17, 2021, the Riksdag (Swedish parliament) decided that members who are absent during parliamentary votes may have to repay their salary to the Parliamentary Administration. The decision, expressed in an amendment to the Remuneration Act (Ersättningslagen (SFS 2016:1108)) also includes changes to rules concerning when a member of parliament may be removed from his or her committee seat and what periods of absence members may not count as time served for purposes of income benefits.

Currently, members of parliament are not required to attend votes in the chamber or otherwise participate in the parliamentary process. The rationale for allowing members of parliament to define their own work has been that members of parliament who do not fulfil their duties toward their constituency will not be reelected, and removing them or otherwise disciplining them would infringe on the principle that the voters elect their representatives.

According to the committee,

[t]he purpose of the new provision is to identify those few members who have high absenteeism without a valid reason over an extended period. According to the Riksdag Board, the fact that members over a long period of timechoose not to participate in the work of the parliament but nevertheless continue to receive compensation risks harming voters’ confidence in the Swedish Parliament and the democratic system. The new provision is based on the [members’] presence on voting occasions in order to capture reprehensible cases without creating a great deal of bureaucracy. According to the Riksdag Board, it is reasonable that the member of parliament is first made aware that he or she is at risk of being subject to a repayment duty before the Parliament’s remuneration committee makes such a decision.

The amendment to Chapter 3, Section 11 of the Remuneration Act specifically provides as follows:

A member of parliament who has been absent on no less than 60 percent of voting occasions [voteringstillfällena] in the chamber during a quarter must repay the emolument specified in 3 ch. 1–4 §§ that corresponds to that period, if

1.  The member has been absent during at least 60 percent of the voting occasions in the chamber also during a previous quarter of the election period, and

2.  The speaker has informed the member of his or her absence during the quarter mentioned in 1. and the duty to repay.

The provision would not apply in instances where the member is absent due to excused leave, such as parental leave, international travel, or other special reasons.

The Swedish parliament has previously operated with a reduced number of members voting in-person in the chamber, most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic, when only 55 voting members, reflecting the overall representation of each party in the 349-member parliament, were present to vote in person. Absence during similar parliamentary situations would not trigger a repayment duty.

Currently, members of parliament are compensated 69,900 Swedish kronor (about US$7,700) per month, while certain assignments, such as positions as committee chairpersons, entitle the member to additional remuneration. (3 kap. 3 § Ersättningslagen (SFS 2016:1108).)

Members of parliament who must repay their remuneration for any period will also not be allowed to count that period as time served in the parliament for purposes of income guarantee payments, adjustment support when retiring from parliament, or survivor protection payments. (12 kap. 5, 8 §§, 13 kap. 7 § Ersättningslagen, as amended.)

In the same decision, the parliament also decided that members of parliament who leave their political party while retaining their seat in parliament must give up any position that they hold in a parliamentary committee. Currently, committee seats are awarded on the basis of the party’s parliamentary majorities, but parties cannot force former party members to give up a seat. Currently, one sitting member of parliament lacks a party affiliation after she left her political party during this parliamentary term (2018–2022). Members who leave their party but retain their seat are known as politiska vildar (literally, “political savages”). There have been 33 politiska vildar in recent Swedish history.  

The proposal was one of many decisions in a larger proposal that also included amendments to the Riksdag Act (Riksdagsordningen (SFS 2014:801)). The Riksdag Act holds a special status in Swedish law and is subject to special rules for amendment, requiring that amendments be adopted either with a qualified majority (consisting of at least three-quarters of voting members and half of all members) or through two simple majority decisions with one national parliamentary election between them before they can take effect. According to that proposal (Ändring i riksdagsstyrelsens förslag till lag om ändring i riksdagsordningen), the Riksdag Board would be free to forgo asking the Swedish Council on Legislation (Law Council) for comments when it determines the Law Council’s opinion is unnecessary. Under current rules the Riksdag Board may refuse to ask the Law Council for comment only when the “Law Council’s review would be irrelevant due to the nature of the issue or would delay the treatment of the legislative issue, thereby causing detrimental harm.” (8 kap. 21 § Regeringsformen (1974:152) (Swedish Constitution).)

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