A referendum may be consultative or binding. The Riksdag decides whether a referendum is to be held nationally. Referendums can also be held locally, for example in a municipality. A majority of the Swedish people voted no to the Euro at a referendum in 2003. Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT If a referendum is binding, the results must be acted upon without delay. If a referendum is consultative, however, the final decision is made by others. In the case of a national referendum, the decision is generally made by Parliament, whereas the municipal council, or its equivalent in the area covered by the referendum, makes the decision in the case of a local referendum. In Sweden it is, first and foremost, the Riksdag that determines matters concerning the whole country. An exception to this is referendums applying to the whole country. A referendum can therefore only be held pursuant to a decision by the Riksdag. The Riksdag can decide on two types of referendums: consultative referendums and referendums on a matter of fundamental law. Consultative referendums A consultative referendum is not binding. In other words, the Riksdag can take a decision that goes against the outcome of the referendum. But their purpose is to provide guidance prior to a decision by the Riksdag. The possibility of holding consultative referendums was introduced in 1922 and was used the very same year on the matter of prohibition. Since then there have been five other consultative referendums: in 1955 on driving on the right, in 1957 on the national supplementary pension (ATP), in 1980 on nuclear energy, in 1994 on membership of the EU and in 2003 on the introduction of the euro. The Riksdag calls a referendum The decision to hold a referendum is made by the Riksdag. A special law is made determining both the questions to be put and the date of the referendum. Unless otherwise stipulated, the right to vote is the same as for elections to the Riksdag. People not wishing to vote for any of the available alternatives may cast a blank vote. In contrast to parliamentary elections, a blank voting slip is regarded as valid. Results can be difficult to interpret It may sometimes be difficult to interpret the results of a referendum, especially in cases where there are more than two alternatives, as in the referendum on the supplementary pension scheme in 1957 and the referendum on nuclear energy in 1980, where there were three alternatives in each case. In this case it is the task of the Riksdag to interpret the results. In the case of the last two referendums, on membership of the European Union and the introduction of the euro in Sweden, there were two alternatives; yes or no to EU membership and yes and no to the introduction of the euro. Although in a formal sense these referendums were consultative, in practice they became binding, as the parliamentary parties had in both cases previously committed themselves to acting in accordance with the outcome. When the Riksdag decides to hold a referendum it is also usual for it to allocate funding to organisations campaigning for the various alternatives Referendums on constitutional issues Since 1980, it has been possible to hold referendums on constitutional issues. These may concern pending changes in the Constitution or the approval of international agreements affecting rights and obligations protected by the Constitution. To make any changes to the fundamental laws, two decisions by the Riksdag are needed. After the first decision has been taken, the proposed change remains pending and may not be considered again until a new Riksdag has been elected. The change in the Constitution is confirmed if the newly-elected Riksdag ratifies the first decision; otherwise it is rejected. Must be requested by a minimum of 35 members The first time a proposal for a change in the Constitution is dealt with, the Riksdag may decide to submit it to a referendum. For this, at least 35 members of the Riksdag have to request a referendum. Subsequently, it is enough for one third of the members of the Riksdag, that is 117 members, to vote for the proposed referendum. If the proposal succeeds, the referendum must be held at the same time as the next parliamentary election. This type of referendum is subject to the same rules concerning the right to vote, voting and voting slips as parliamentary elections. Only a no is binding The outcome of the referendum is binding if a majority of voters reject the proposal and at the same time constitute more than half of those who have cast valid votes in the parliamentary election. If this majority is obtained, then the proposed change has been defeated, and the newly-elected Riksdag may not consider it a second time. If the proposal is not rejected in a referendum by the majority stipulated, then the proposed constitutional change is considered in the usual way by the newly-elected Riksdag. The decision to accept or reject the pending change is taken by a simple majority. The outcome of the referendum is, thus, binding only if the voters are against the proposal. It is therefore possible for a constitutional change that has been approved by a majority of those taking part in the referendum to be rejected by the Riksdag. No referendum on a constitutional issue has yet been held. Referendums held at the municipal level Referendums held in municipalities are always consultative. If requested by 10 per cent of those entitled to vote, the municipal council must examine whether a referendum is to be held. But if two thirds of the members of the municipal council subsequently vote no to the initiative, the referendum cannot take place. The council of a municipality or county can themselves decide to ask those living in the municipality about their opinion regarding an important matter by means of a referendum. The council may restrict the referendum to a certain district of the municipality/county. All those entitled to vote in municipal elections are entitled to vote in the area in which the referendum is to be held.