Analyze Swedish politics with Wikidata

Wikimedia Sverige

On October 29, Wikidata turns eight years old. During the last year, Swedish volunteers have worked hard to connect open data from the Swedish Parliament with Wikidata. This will enable entirely new kinds of analyses, of the work of the Swedish parliament. One of the volunteers behind the project, Daniel Eriksson, tells you more.

Wikidata turns 8 this week. As part of the celebration, we want to highlight aspects of how Wikidata can be used. In this blog post, I want to shed light on how Wikidata can be used in order to analyze political decision making in Sweden.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the open data of the Swedish Parliament, which is of an extraordinarily high quality, worthy of all praise.

During the last year, a group of Wikimedians have imported substantial parts of the open data of the Swedish Parliament to Wikidata. We have also added precedents from the Supreme Court. By making use of Wikidata’s many properties, we have been able to describe how different documents, proposals, government inquiries etc. are linked. Finally, all items have been linked to the full text on the website of the Swedish Parliament in different file formats, making it easy to reach the source text for anyone who wishes to do so. This wouldn’t have been possible without the open data of the Swedish Parliament, which is of an extraordinarily high quality, worthy of all praise. A big advantage of Wikidata is, however, the large pool of items to link to. For example, all written questions, legislative proposals etc. on the ongoing pandemic can be linked to the item COVID-19 pandemic in Sweden.

To illustrate how this data can be used, we will follow a case that received a lot of attention a few years ago – the introduction of tuition fees for non-European students at Swedish universities. We will highlight all steps in the legislative process, all the way to a civil case and a precedent from the Supreme Court. 

26 October 6-9pm, Stockholm time, we will hold an open webinar where we go through this in more detail. The webinar will be in English, and is a part of the conference WikiCite. You are all welcome to join in and ask questions!

Visualization of the connections between different legal texts, cited in the committee report on tuition fees for non-European students.

Example of legislation

Initiative

A legislative process can begin in several different ways. The Government has often a long agenda of changes it wishes to make. Another common reason is that an EU Directive needs to be introduced in Swedish law. The Parliament can also make initiatives, through so called declarations, but at the end of the day, it is still the Government that decides what it wishes to do with the declaration. In the case with the tuition fees, it was a question that had been highlighted in several inquiries, and also in discussions in the parliament. The idea was controversial at the time, and there was a lot of opposition from the student movement. Another important reason for why the question was put on the table was that several European countries had done this just prior to Sweden.

Inquiry

After the need for new legislation has been identified, the common next step is for the Government to appoint a government inquiry. The inquiry consists of one or several persons with great knowledge into the matter, and a secretariat managing the administration and documentation. The written instructions from the Government to the government inquiry is called a directive. On December, 22, 2004, the Persson Cabinet appointed the “Utredningen om studieavgifter för studenter från länder utanför Europeiska ekonomiska samarbetsområdet“ (“inquiry on study fees for students from countries outside of the European Economic Area”), and decided upon the directives. As seen in the object, the directive cites previous inquiries into the matter.

An inquiry often results in one or several utredningsbetänkanden, or inquiry reports, most often published in Statens offentliga utredningar (“State public reports”, SOU). In this case, the report Studieavgifter i högskolan (“Tuition fees in universities”, SOU 2006:7) was published, with a proposal on how tuition fees could be introduced. 2006 was also the year of a Swedish election, and in the fall of 2006, Sweden got a new government. 

Government bill and parliamentary process

When the report is published, the Government usually opens up for a formal consultation, where different stakeholders can give their views on the legislation. After the consultation process, the Government writes a proposal for a new legislation, a proposition (government bill). The government bill is then sent to the Parliament, where the Members of the Parliament can table amendments, so called follow up-motions. In our case, the Government put forward the government bill Konkurrera med kvalitet – studieavgifter för utländska studenter (“Compete with quality – tuitionfees for foreign students”). The bill rendered two follow up-motions, linked with the property immediate cause of (P1536).

In the Parliament, the Government bill is considered along with the potential follow up-motions, in one of the committees. The committee leaves a committee report with a proposed parliamentary decision. In this example, the report had the same title as the government bill. When the Parliament has made its decision, the report and the decision are sent to the Government for execution, in a so-called written communication from the Parliament. The new legal text is published in Svensk författningssamling (Swedish Code of Statutes), putting the provisions in force.

Trials

Most new laws will sooner or later be tried in a court case, and the courts need to decide on how to interpret the law. The Supreme Court has the final word on how to interpret the law; they prioritize cases that can have a large impact on further legal interpretation. In Swedish legal tradition, the court will not only read the final legal text. It will also read the preparatory materials and the legal history that formed the basis for the new law. This is made in order for the court to understand how the lawmaker wanted the law to be interpreted. The first precedent from the Supreme Court on tuition fees came in 2018. A student who was unhappy with the quality of their education sued their university, with the help from Centrum för rättvisa (“Center for justice”), to retrieve parts of the fee. The case got the name “Högskoleavgiften” (“University fee”) from the court. We can follow how the court cites the different preparatory texts, and a court case of interest for the decisions in the actual case. 

Examples of analyses

The first example is on how to find material for further reading. By analyzing citation patterns we can find additional documents on similar cases. Try it out!

Among the search results we find a government bill on the Swedish gymnasium (high school) from 2009. Has this bill been referenced in other judgments or legal documents? We can easily find this out with the help from Wikidata. But Wikidata can also help us understand which parts are important to read. If there is a page reference, the page number will be listed below the reference. In that way, we can, for example, see that later authors have considered the pages starting with 112 particularly important. Try it out!    

These relatively straightforward examples show how we have been able to use Wikidata to find additional preparatory material of relevance for this kind of case. 

Further development

There are many ways in which this dataset can be improved, further developed and enriched. Every Wikidata editor can categorize motions or proposed amendments with the property main subject (P921). A list of motions where the word “högskola” (university) is a part of the title, but without the property main subject, can be queried in this way

Another possibility is to look for other connections, for example citations of scientific articles. Perhaps a Member of the Parliament writes that they are tabling the motion due to a certain event X. That would be an ideal opportunity to use the property has immediate cause (P1478). A list of parliamentary motions about university politics but where P1478  is lacking instead can be found here. Objects lacking both P921 and P1478 can be retrieved through this query.

An obvious next step would also be to link to EU legislation, where Swedish laws are directly caused by it. A project is ongoing to create objects for all EU directives, which can then be linked to national legislation. When these are put in place, it will be possible to analyze how decisions on the EU level affect the work in the Swedish Parliament in a completely new way.

Daniel Eriksson
Wikidata volunteer