EU aims to scrap turning the clocks back for winter

The President of the EU Commission has announced his plan to abolish the changing of the clocks after an online survey showed that Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on "summer time".

EU aims to scrap turning the clocks back for winter
The European Commission will recommend EU member states stay permanently on "summer time". Photo: AFP
The results are in and with 80 percent of Europeans for getting rid of the seasonal changing of the clocks, the EU wants to grant their wish. 
Six months after the European parliament approved ditching the practice that many find problematic, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has now backed the move.
Juncker said the commission would recommend “abolishing” the transition to winter time that takes place when the clocks go back by one hour each autumn, so in effect Europe would remain on “summer time”.
“The changing of the clocks will be scrapped,” Juncker told German news channel ZDF, adding that the idea would be to keep the whole of Europe on “summer time” all year-round.
“The people want it, so we will do it.” 
More than 80 percent of the Europeans who took part in the survey were in favour of ending the changing of the clocks, with the survey striking a particular chord with Germans who made up 3 million of the total 4.6 million people surveyed. 
“Millions of people have responded and are of the opinion that in the future it is summer time that should be in place all the time, and we will achieve that,” said the president of the Commission.
The practice sees Europeans put their clocks forward by an hour in spring, which is also known as daylight saving time, and go back by an hour in autumn. 
That change effectively makes the evenings longer in the summer and shorter in the winter, although the winter mornings are less gloomy.
Photo: AFP
Most areas in North America and Europe, and some areas in the Middle East, observe daylight saving time (DST), while most areas of Africa and Asia do not.
But in order to turn back the time on the changing of the clocks, the move will first have to be approved unanimously by all member states of the European Union via the European Council as well as MPs in the European parliament.
With Britain on schedule to quit the EU in March next year, it is unclear whether the country would be affected by the EU's move if it goes ahead. British time is currently an hour behind French time throughout the year along with Ireland and Portugal.
The change between summer and winter time, introduced in Europe originally to save energy after the oil shock, has been a constant controversy for years.
Its detractors point out in particular the physiological disturbances that it entails.
Why was the practice introduced at all?
The idea of daylight saving time was introduced during WWI as a way of conserving energy and Britain has it almost continuously since it was first brought in. 
However other European countries did not adopt the practice until the oil crisis of the 1970s. 
But, according to a study published in October 2017 by the European Parliament, the energy savings from daylight saving time are actually very small, with the change in consumption somewhere between 0.5 percent and 2.5 percent depending on the country's latitude.
What effects might abolishing it have on Europeans?
– Road safety: If Europe decides to stick to its summer hours, in theory there could be fewer traffic accidents. Previously governments have said that the sleep deprivation that people experience when the clocks go forward in spring, could increase the risk of accidents on the road. 
– Health: The European Parliament members who initially supported getting rid of the clock changes looked at several reports into the negative effect they have on people's health. 
According to a 2017 study, with 185,000 subjects, diagnoses of depression during the transition from summer to winter time increase by 11 percent.
Findings “suggest that the effect on the human biorhythm may be more severe than previously thought,” the Commission said on its site.

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Will next Sunday’s switch to winter time be the last?

The EU Commission is set to push through proposals to scrap seasonal time changes, or at least to let each EU state decide how it wants to run its own time. Could the result be a mixed patchwork of time zones?

Will next Sunday's switch to winter time be the last?
Photo: nito103/Depositphotos

An hour's less sleep, more light in the morning but less in the evening. On Sunday, Daylight Saving Time will end in Germany (at 3am on October 28th) and the clocks will go back an hour, inaugurating shorter winter days again. 

But could the clocks be turning back for the last time? A proposed EU-wide initiative plans to scrap the switch from Daylight Saving Time in winter. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's term ends in 2019 and Juncker is keen to see permanent summer time enacted. The abolition of time changes is extremely popular with EU citizens.

In an EU-wide online survey, 84 per cent of respondents said they were in favour of abolishing time changes. Most requested permanent summer time. More than 4.6 million EU citizens gave their answers, a record for such an EU survey. At least three million of the respondents were in Germany. 

“If people want it, we will do it,” Juncker has said. The Commission has left it up to individual states to decide whether they'd like to maintain the status quo or stop the seasonal time switching. They have until April to decide. 

Even if such a pace can be enacted, unusual by EU legislative standards, a majority of EU member states, as well as the European Parliament, would have to agree on the change. Since 1996 (1980 in Germany), in all EU countries the clocks are turned forward one hour on the last Sunday of March and back again an hour on the last Sunday of October.

The idea of abolishing the practice is still being discussed in a working group although disagreements have already erupted among member states. Some are pro, some against – many states have not yet taken a final position. Most are asking themselves: how could it affect the EU Single Market, trade in goods, rail or air traffic? 

A question of timing

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are one hour ahead of Central Europe, have spoken out in favor of the elimination of the change over and in favour of permanent summer time. Slovakia wants permanent winter time. Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa, on the other hand, is in favor of maintaining the six-month switch. 

READ ALSO: EU aims to scrap turning the clocks back for winter

The EU has three time zones. The same time applies in Germany and 16 other states. Eight countries – including Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Greece and Cyprus – are one hour ahead. Three states are one hour behind, namely Ireland, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Austria, which currently holds the revolving presidency of the EU Council, has already spoken in favour of a full-year summer time. However, the government in Vienna wants to coordinate with its neighbours to implement a uniform time zone in Central Europe. The Benelux countries – Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg – are reportedly undecided. 

Germany is leaning towards change. “Most people do not want to switch their clocks every six months, they want permanent summer time,” says Peter Altmaier, Germany's finance minister. “People want to enjoy their free time in daylight after a hard day at the office or in school in winter, spring or autumn too. We will use the upcoming meetings at EU level to discuss this to reach agreement as quickly as possible,” added Altmaier. 

EU transport ministers are set to discuss the topic at a meeting behind closed doors in Graz, Austria, next week. 

Rail companies would be able to adapt to any mutations in EU time zones by adding “local time” to arrival times, said a spokesperson for Germany's national rail company Deutsche Bahn. Such a system already exists for long-distance rail timetables, for example, for travel to Russia. 

Airline fears

The aviation industry on the other hand would be more affected and its German lobby is calling for uniform regulation for the whole of Europe. 

“The looming patchwork of individual nation-state regulations would considerably disrupt the flight planning of airlines and airports,” explained the German Aviation Association (BDL).

It is difficult to reschedule flight lots even by one hour at busy airports, added the body. If winter time is abolished, some flights in the late evening in winter would take off later and thus extend into night-flight bans. “There is an acute risk that currently offered flights would no longer be viable,” added the BDL. 

In the European Parliament, on the other hand, there is more enthusiasm for the Commission's proposal: it must be adopted quickly, according to the health policy spokesman of the conservative EPP Group, Peter Liese (CDU).

“If we didn't have the time change, and today someone would come up with the idea of introducing it, everybody would think that person was crazy,” said Liese. 

According to a recent survey, more than 80 per cent of Germans are in favour of abolishing Daylight Saving Time. 

READ MORE: Survey: Majority of Germans want to abolish clock changes