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Published on Jun 2, 2012
Sweden emerged as an independent and unified country during the Middle Ages. In the 17th century, the country expanded its territories to form the Swedish Empire. The empire grew to be one of the great powers of Europe in the 17th and early 18th century. Most of the conquered territories outside the Scandinavian Peninsula were lost during the 18th and 19th centuries. The eastern half of Sweden, present-day Finland, was lost to Russia in 1809. The last war in which Sweden was directly involved was in 1814, when Sweden by military means forced Norway into a personal union. Since then, Sweden has been at peace, practicing "non-participation in military alliances during peacetime and neutrality during wartime". However, Sweden has been a member of the European Union since 1 January 1995 and is a member of the OECD.
Today, Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy of government and a highly developed economy. In 2010, it ranked fourth in the world in The Economist's Democracy Index and ninth in the United Nations' Human Development Index. In 2010, the World Economic Forum ranked Sweden as the second most competitive country in the world, after Switzerland. According to the UN, it has the third lowest infant mortality rate in the world. Sweden also has the lowest Gini coefficient of all countries (0.23), making Sweden the world's most equal country in terms of income. Sweden's wealth, however, is distributed much less equally than its income. At a Gini of 0.742, Swedish wealth inequality is similar to the global average.