Germany set to turn back clocks: Will this be the last time?

It’s that time of year again: on Sunday, clocks across Europe will go back an hour to mark the start of winter time on the continent. But could next year mark the end of twice-yearly ritual?

Germany set to turn back clocks: Will this be the last time?
This Sunday will see clocks across Europe go back one hour. Photo: DPA

Spring forward, fall back – a handy mnemonic to remember which way to turn your clock this weekend. 

At 3am on Sunday October 25th, the clock will go back one hour to Central European Time, meaning it will get darker earlier (but offering us all an extra hour’s sleep).

If the EU Parliament had its way, this practice would come to an end next year. But it remains to be seen if the time change, which is very unpopular amongst Germans, will actually be scrapped. 

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in Germany in October 2020

“The time change should be abolished”, declared former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in 2018, after 84 percent of those asked in an EU-wide survey voted to scrap it. 

In March 2019, the European Parliament voted with a significant majority to scrap seasonal clock changes as of 2021.

But the ball now lies in the court of individual member states, who each have to decide whether they want to remain permanently on Summer or Winter Time. 

A unified approach?

But making that decision is easier said than done. EU diplomats announced this week that the topic would get no real discussion time for the remainder of Germany’s stint as President of the EU Council this year.

They explained that there are many other topics more pressing than clock changes. The Council itself also shared that it has not yet reached a conclusion on the issue, for that would require “a qualified majority of member states”.

According to the Federal Ministry of Economy, the German government is also yet to make a decision. 

“We believe it is important to ensure that there aren’t certain countries running on a different time to others nearby so that we still have a harmonized internal market” said the Ministry. 

A Europe-wide impact assessment is also needed for “an appropriate and harmonized approach”, it said. 

“The EU Commission has not yet submitted such an impact assessment,” says Minister Peter Altmaier of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

New daylight hours

The consequences of a change to the status quo would be considerable. In the EU there are currently three time zones, the largest of which being Central European Time, which spans from Spain to Poland.

If the clocks switched to permanent Summer Time, it would only get light at mid-morning in the North and North West.

On December 21st in Vigo, on the west coast of Spain, the sun would not rise until 10:01am, while in Brest in the French Province of Brittany it wouldn’t get light until 10:07am.

A permanent Winter Time wouldn’t just mean that bar goers and beach revellers would have to get used to it getting dark earlier.

READ ALSO: More Germans 'suffer health problems after clock changes'

In parts of Eastern Europe, the sun would also rise extremely early: on June 21st, it would start getting light at 03:01am in the Polish town of Bialystok, 03:15am in Warsaw and 03.44am in Berlin. 

Nonetheless, the current clock changes cause problems for many people. According to a survey carried out by health insurance company DAK-Gesundheit, 29 percent of people in Germany suffer from physical or psychological problems after a time change.

They reported feeling limp or tired, as well as having difficulty falling or staying asleep. Another 76 percent of those surveyed found that the changeover was pointless and should be abolished.

The survey carried out by Juncker suggests that Germans are more passionate about the issue than citizens of other EU-countries.

Of the 4.6 million people who took part in the survey, three million came from Germany – although the survey only represented one percent of the total EU population. 

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The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.