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







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More Germans ‘suffer health problems after clock changes’

The clocks go back one hour this coming weekend. But a new survey has highlighted the rising health concerns of Germans over the time change.

More Germans 'suffer health problems after clock changes'
Clock changes cause health problems for many Germans. Photo: DPA

It's that time of year again: on Sunday (October 27th) the clocks in Germany will go back by one hour, inaugurating shorter winter days again.

READ MORE: Everything that changes in October 2019 in Germany

But numerous surveys have shown the majority of Germans want to see time changes abolished.

Now new research carried out on behalf of the DAK health insurance company, has found that almost every third German (29 percent) experiences physical and mental health problems due to the clock changes – the highest amount in recent years.

The clocks reset from 3am back to 2am this coming Sunday. Technically daylight savings (in spring) means an extra hour of light in the evening, while standard time means there is less darkness in the morning. The clocks 'spring forward' an hour in March and 'fall back' an hour in October, every year.

However, time is running out on the clock changes after the EU parliament voted to get rid of them.

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

Health problems due to time change

According to DAK, more than three quarters of Germans are of the opinion that the time change is unnecessary and should be abolished.

More than three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents to their survey said they felt tired because of the time change. According to the survey, the next most common complaints involve problems falling asleep (65 percent) and insomnia (70 percent), from which women suffer particularly frequently. 

A total of 41 percent of Germans find themselves less able to concentrate, while almost a third feel irritable. One in eight people even suffers from depressive moods. Men are 14 percent more likely to be affected than women (10 percent). 

Meanwhile, 18 percent of respondents said they arrived late to work after the time change.

“Psychological problems which occur after the time change are nothing unusual,” said psychologist Franziska Kath. 

Kath said it is similar to jetlag because the inner clock gets confused.

“The best medicine is also the simplest,” Kath said. “Rest and a few days of patience. Often it helps not to make stressful appointments in the week after the change and to approach everything at a more leisurely pace.”

In an EU-wide survey last year, 84 percent of participants spoke out in favour of an end to the time change. The EU Parliament voted in March for the abolition of the time change by 2021.

So far, however, it is unclear how this is to be implemented. Each member state has to give a preference as to whether they want summer or winter time to apply permanently. However, the majority of Germans (67 percent) would like to see a new uniform time regulation throughout Europe, reported DPA.

In Germany, the time change was introduced in 1980 as a reaction to the oil crisis two years earlier. The aim of this measure was to save energy because daylight savings means it stays brighter for longer in the evening.

Since 1996, summer time has applied throughout the EU and begins on the last Sunday in March. On the last Sunday in October, the clocks in all the countries of the EU are then turned back to winter time, i.e. normal time.

“Most people do not want to switch their clocks every six months, they want permanent summer time,” Germany's Finance Minister Peter Altmaier said last year.

“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.”