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







Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Why it’s time Spain turned back the clock forever

When the clocks go back in Spain this Sunday, many in Spain hope it will be for the last time.

Why it's time Spain turned back the clock forever
The clock in Madrid's Puerta del Sol sets the time for Spain. Photo: Pablo Lopez/Flickr

When the EU announced a movement to abolish the practice of daylight saving last year, it particularly struck a chord in Spain, where many believe they are living in the wrong time zone.

Current convention has it that all of Europe changes its clocks back one hour during the night of the last Saturday in October and forward again on the last weekend of March.

The practice was introduced in the early 20th century as a way of making the most of the natural light and conserving fuel, but is considered by many to be obsolete.

EU wide movement against it

In 2018, the President of the EU Commission 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”.

Jean-Claude Juncker said he wanted to follow the wishes of the 80 percent of Europeans who voted to get rid of the seasonal changing of the clocks, so Europe could remain on Summer Time all year round.

But earlier this year the measure was postponed until 2021 to allow all the national government time to decide which time-zone they want to stick in. 

This means that European nations must communicate whether they choose summer or winter time, at the latest, by April 2020. If they opt for the first option, the last time change will take place in March 2021, while the clock will be changed for the last time in October 2021 in those nations that decide to stay with winter time.

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

Photo: AFP

Is Spain in the right time zone?

The EU-wide discussion ties in with a campaign within Spain to move the clocks back an hour permanently, ending a Franco-era legacy that has been in place more than 75 years.

Spain (apart from the Canary Islands) has been running on standard Central European Time (CET) zone, since 1942, when Spanish dictator Francisco Franco supposedly turned the clocks forward in solidarity with his allies, Nazi Germany. 

The change would make sense for Spain, which geographically lies further west than London, yet runs on the same time as the Serbian capital Belgrade, 2,500km (1,550 miles) to the east.

Map: Lmbuga/Wikimedia

The time difference also explains one of Spain’s most striking peculiarities: its late meal times. Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards' eating patterns mirror GMT; people tend to eat lunch at what would be 1pm in London (but 2pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but a yawn-inducing 9pm in Spain).

A parliamentary paper in 2013 recommended Spain return to GMT bringing it in line with the UK and Portugal. It also suggested that prime time television, which usually starts at around 10.30pm, be brought forward so Spaniards could go to bed earlier. 

Turning back the clocks one hour would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards “return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany”.

“If we don’t (change time zones) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep,” she added.

José Canseco, a professor at EAE Business School and a member of National Commission for Rationalizing Spanish Timetables (ARHOE) argues that the reasons for changing the time zone twice annually are now obsolete.

 “The reasons why the time change was introduced (energy saving, fewer accidents, benefitting agriculture and livestock) are no longer in force: energy efficiency measures save much more energy, developments in infrastructure and advances in car technology prevent accidents (at night) and agriculture and livestock industries have made enough progress to not depend on one more hour of sunlight,” he said.

“In contrast, the impact of changing the time in some population groups – children, the elderly, pregnant women, or people with chronic diseases or pregnant women – is very high.

“On average, a person takes 4 days to adjust to the new schedule, but these groups can take up to two weeks to adjust.”

Photo: Justyna Rawińska / Flickr

Some opposition

Not everyone, however is in favour of putting the clocks back an hour. Not even just for winter.

The Balearic Islands want to introduce a measure that will see time stand still across the archipelago, or at least will see the islands keep summertime when the rest of Spain turns the clocks.

MPs from all parties in the Balearic parliament support the initiative that argues that the hour change is bad for islands that depend so much on daylight.

Given their easterly location, the sun sets over the islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera almost an hour earlier than in the westernmost parts of Spain’s peninsula.

READ MORE: Balearic Islands choose to keep summertime forever

Keeping summertime, they argue, could also bring an economic boost, bringing more tourism during the winter months and keeping down electricity bills.

The Canary Islands, which get their own mention on the hour on every radio station, have also rejected any permanent time zone change for Spain arguing that it “in no case” wants to have the same time zone as the mainland.

Spain is yet to decide

In the wake of the EU decision, Spain approved the creation of a commission of experts to study the consequences of scrapping the hour change and settlling permanently on either Summer or Winter time.

A group of 14 experts are preparing reports on how Spaniards could be adversly affected, especially those in the most vulnerable population groups. They are also tasked with looking at how the different schedules influence social, environmental and economic sustainability.