Clock changes: EU backs ending daylight saving time

The EU Commission is proposing to end the practice of adjusting clocks by an hour in spring and autumn after a survey found most Europeans opposed it.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said millions “believe that in future, summer time should be year-round, and that’s what will happen”.

The Commission’s proposal requires support from the 28 national governments and MEPs to become law.

In the EU clocks switch between winter and summer under daylight saving time.

A European Parliament resolution says it is “crucial to maintain a unified EU time regime”.

However, the Commission has not yet drafted details of the proposed change.

In a consultation paper it said one option would be to let each member state decide whether to go for permanent summer or winter time. That would be “a sovereign decision of each member state”, Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein explained on Friday.

He stressed that the proposal was “to no longer constrain member states into changing clocks twice per year”.

The UK is one of the 28 nations, but is due to leave the European Union in March 2019. Any change would be unlikely to happen before then.

The Commission warns that uncoordinated time changes between member states would cause economic harm.

In the public consultation, 84% of 4.6 million respondents called for ending the spring and autumn clock change.

By far the biggest response was in Germany and Austria (3.79% and 2.94% of the national population respectively). The UK’s response was lowest – 0.02% – but few Italians took part either (0.04%).

Read more on the world’s time controversies:

Why do many dislike Europe’s daylight saving time?

Some studies cited by the Commission point to adverse health impacts from the clock changes.

“Findings suggest that the effect on the human biorhythm may be more severe than previously thought,” it says.

Clocks go forward by an hour on the last Sunday in March and switch back to winter time on the last Sunday in October.

Finland called for daylight saving to be abolished EU-wide, after a petition gathered more than 70,000 signatures from citizens calling for such a change.

The EU made the spring/autumn clock change the rule in all member states in 1996, based on the argument that it would reduce energy costs. But the Commission says the data on energy-saving is inconclusive.

There is also no reliable evidence that the clock changes reduce traffic accidents, the Commission says.

What are the EU’s current time zones?

There are three standard time zones:

  • Three states apply GMT (the UK, Ireland and Portugal)
  • 17 have Central European Time, which is GMT+1
  • Eight have Eastern European Time, which is GMT+2

The current seasonal clock changes are controversial partly because there is a big difference in daylight hours experienced by Scandinavia and by southern Europe.

Nordic countries have long, dark nights in winter and short nights in summer. The pattern in the south is more even across the seasons.

There are anomalies too. For example, neighbours Portugal and Spain are in different time zones, as are Sweden and Finland.


What is the situation in the UK?

The UK adopted Daylight Saving Time in 1916, along with many other nations involved in World War One, in order to conserve coal.

It followed years of pressure from William Willett, a great-great-grandfather of Coldplay singer Chris Martin.

But the UK has had its own debate about time zones.

In 2011, the government proposed a three-year trial of moving to Central European Time, so the time would be GMT+1 in winter and GMT+2 in summer.

The change would have meant lighter evenings but darker mornings, and one of the arguments was that it would reduce accidents. But it was abandoned after opposition from Scotland and northern England, where some areas would not have seen daylight until 10am under the proposal.


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