Germany – like the rest of Europe – moved to ‘winter time’ at the weekend. In the early hours of Sunday, October 31st, the clocks went back by one hour giving people a lie-in.
That happened despite lots of talk about the seasonal clock changes being abolished in Germany, and the rest of the EU.
In place in the EU since 1976, the modern version of the twice-yearly changing of the clocks has been controversial for some time – and it is very unpopular among Germans.
Germany introduced the switch between summer and winter time in 1980 after the global oil crisis. The idea was that it would save energy by making the most of sunlight hours.
In 2019 lawmakers in the European Parliament voted by a large majority – 410 MEPs against 192 – in favour of stopping the changing of the hour from 2021.
However, following the vote, the Parliament specified that each EU member state would decide whether they would keep summer time or winter time.
Due to Covid, arrangements to scrap the clock changes were put on the back burner in most countries, including Germany.
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What do people in Germany think about the clock changes?
In Germany, public opinion is resoundingly in favour of scrapping the hour change.
A recent opinion poll by YouGov found 71 percent of Germans are in favour of abolishing the practise of changing the clocks in spring and autumn.
In a survey published last week by the health insurance company DAK-Gesundheit, 78 per cent were in favour of abolishing the time change, and 30 percent of respondents said they had experienced health or psychological problems after the clocks changed.
Meanwhile, a KKH survey provided a similar picture. A total of 24 percent said they were irritable or tired in the days after the time change, and 26 percent had trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night.
Winter or summer time?
A major question is which time zone Germany – and other countries – would adopt.
The economics ministry said in October 2020 that the German government had not yet decided whether it would prefer permanent summer or winter time.
The ministry said it wanted to prevent different time zones and “to ensure a harmonised internal market”.
For that to happen, it was waiting on the Europe-wide impact report. “The EU Commission has not yet presented such an impact assessment,” the ministry said.
Meanwhile neighbouring Switzerland also wants to end the changing of the clocks. In a statement made back in 2019, the Swiss Federal Institute of Meteorology said it would be following the lead of the EU in winding the clocks back for the last time in 2021. France has also said it supports ditching the clock changes.
But so far EU member states have not agreed on a common approach.
What would ditching the time change mean?
The consequences of any change to the status quo would be considerable. There are three time zones in the EU, the largest of which, Central European Time, stretches from Spain to Poland.
With permanent daylight savings time (summer time), it would not be light until mid-morning in winter in the west of the continent. In Vigo on the Spanish Atlantic coast, the sun would not rise until about 10.01am on December 21st. In Brest in French Brittany at 10.07amm and in Emden in northern Germany at 9.45am.
With permanent winter time, on the other hand, it would not only get dark an hour earlier than usual in the beer garden or at the beach bar in summer. The sun would also rise extremely early in the east of the EU: in Bialystok in Poland it would rise at 3:01am on June 21st, in Warsaw at 3:15am and in Berlin at 3:44am.
Scientists and teachers against permanent introduction of daylight saving time
The German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine is in favour of keeping standard time – i.e. winter time. Daylight, and in particular the blue component of sunlight, is the main timer for the human internal clock and is decisive for the wake-sleep rhythm, they say. According to experts, all of this is best guaranteed by winter time.
Switching to daylight savings time or summer time could cause a lack of sleep, which would lead to a loss of concentration and performance as well as more accidents, they say.
The German Teachers’ Association also fears health risks for pupils in the case of a permanent switch to daylight savings time.
So when will things change?
Due to the pandemic it seems unlikely that there will be any swift action on this – so seasonal clock changes could be in the works for one or two years yet.
However, because countries do seem to want the clock changes abolished, it probably will happen down the line. The question is, will there be a patchwork of different time zones among neighbouring countries in Europe, or can the EU agree on a common line?