The article analyses Scandinavian activation policies through the study of Swedish and Danish labour market policies since the early 1990s. Active labour market policies have been an important component in the social investment policies of the Scandinavian countries, defined as ‘an active corner’ in Europe. In this study of the trajectories of Swedish and Danish labour market policies during the last two decades, I examined official documents and analysed OECD data on public expenditures on labour market programmes. The analysis shows that institutional change of activation policies has increasingly developed towards an incentive-strengthening, work-first approach. The policy development, specifically in the case of Sweden, is here conceptualised as demands on ‘standby-ability’, a specific policy configuration of stricter work incentives, contractualisation of citizenships rights, less generous unemployment benefits and less costly forms of activation.