Clock changes: EU backs ending daylight saving time

A man working on a clock in Dresden, eastern GermanyImage copyright
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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.

Mr Winterstein rejected a suggestion the proposal could cause particular difficulties in Ireland: “I don’t see the link between our quest which is undiminished, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and our proposal, which will come in due course, to no longer constrain member states into changing clocks twice per year.

“One pertains to the internal market once adopted, the other initiative is to ensure the Good Friday Agreement and other safeguards remain in place.”

The Commission warns that unco-ordinated 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:

  • Changing clocks: a waste of time?
  • How time zones confused the world
  • How do countries swap time zones?
  • Why daylight saving time riles the US

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.

Your views from across Europe

Emma in Finland

As a Finn who has lived across Scandinavia I wholeheartedly welcome this initiative.

There have been times that I have fallen asleep at 16:00 in the afternoon or have not seen sunlight for several days due to the times I started and finished work.

Lars in Sweden

It would be a much better idea to keep daylight saving but have the change take place on Good Friday each year because most people would then be off work for four days. This would almost certainly reduce the risks of cardiovascular incidents and tiredness.

For us in northern Europe scrapping daylight saving and using so called summertime all year round would mean the mornings in wintertime would be incredibly dark until 09:00.

Also, using so-called wintertime in summer would mean an end to much of the long, bright summer nights.

Andrew in Denmark

Whilst I can see the advantages in stopping the change from winter to summertime and vice versa, it may create problems.

If Denmark kept summertime in the winter, it would not be daylight in late November-February until 10:00 and beyond. If they keep wintertime in the summer, the sun will rise at about 02:00.

This is not an easy problem to resolve.

Up until 1996, Denmark went to summertime one month after the UK and returned to wintertime one month before, so that for two months of the year they were on the same time as the UK.

Richard in Switzerland

This is a great shame.

Summertime was introduced in mainland Europe because it gave more daylight in the evenings. I was living in France at the time and it was very popular.

Some countries did not follow suit immediately – for example, Italy and Switzerland. This led to a chaotic situation for those close to the borders.

Jessica in Spain

It’s about time this was brought up.

I suffer from a vitamin D deficiency and the winter months in particular, are awful.

When I lived in Kent and commuted an hour into London for work, I only saw maybe a half-hour of daylight at lunchtime a day, and that’s if I managed to get away from my desk.

I know some people who only see sunlight at the weekends.

If this could be changed so we at least get a bit of sunlight en route to or from work, this would make the tiniest difference but could affect everyone’s health in a big way.

Also, everyone knows that people are happier and friendlier in the sunshine.

Graeme in Scotland

I lived through the UK’s experiment of having no time change while at school in Scotland. It was almost dark until 10:00 in the winter and that was horrible.

I have since worked in south-west Norway, which has a very similar sunshine period.

The winter in Scotland and Norway is dark and cold. Do not mess with the status quo.