The EU's struggles to end Daylight Saving Time (and why they are so hard to solve)

By Lea Schiller

When daylight saving time was first introduced during the First World War, the goal was to maximise the use of summer daylight and conserve fuel. By moving sundown to an hour later in the day, it was possible to sustain daily routine while burning less fuel for light. First introduced in Germany, the scarcity of wartime helped it spread throughout Europe to the United States. Though abandoned after peace was established, some European countries picked up the practice again during the oil crisis of the 1970s. In 1996, the European Union adopted legislation that requires member states to conduct clock changes in March and October of every year to keep differing time zones from destabilising the single market.

In September 2018, after conducting an online public consultation on the clock change in the European Union, the European Commission decided on the goal of ending the seasonal time changes in 2019. With about 4.6 million respondents, this consultation ended up generating the highest number of responses ever received in any public survey of the European Commission, though most of the votes originated from Germany and Austria. 84% of those who voted decided in favour of abolishing the seasonal time changes, with over 70% of all voters reporting they had a “Very negative” to “Negative” experience with the clock change – only 10% of described their experience to be “Very Positive”. The seasonal time change has been associated with causing short-term jet lag, similar to the experience after travelling through different time zones. This disruption of the biorhythm not only causes sleep disturbances and mood swings in the short run, but increases the risk of developing chronic illnesses like diabetes (Deutscher Bundestag, 2016).

By the end of March, the European Parliament had voted in favour of discontinuing the time changes, leaving the governments of the individual member states to decide whether to stay in daylight saving time or maintain standard time. Naturally, the need for a coordinated approach was evident, as a patchwork of timezones could have disastrous consequences for Europe’s closely knit transportation and communication systems – not to speak of the active cross-border trade. Especially for neighbouring countries, differing time zones could cause massive complications to the schedule of international trains and cross-continent flights. The Parliament amended its proposal, stressing the importance of coordination and long-time certainty in this operation. But this certainty appears to be waining. Most countries face domestic disputes over which time to keep, or are instead in conflict with their neighbouring states, trying to cooperate in order to avoid a patchwork of timezones. Meanwhile, Britain is wondering whether EU law will even apply to them by the time the discontinuation comes into force (O’Hare, 2019). Just a month after the Parliament’s decision, the General Secretariat of the Council (2019) published a note saying they had only received positions on the time change from a small amount of member states:

“It appears that most Member States need more time to conclude relevant national inter-ministerial and stakeholder/citizen consultations, as well as consultations with neighbouring countries before finalising their position.”For now, the EU has abandoned its goal of abolishing the seasonal time changes by the end of this year. The new goal is set for 2021 – as long as all member states submit a plan on how to deal with the consequences by the end of October 2020.

Photo by Bryce Barker on Unsplash

Resources

Deutscher Bundestag (2016). Studien zu gesundheitlichen Folgen der jährlichen                                                Zeitumstellung auf die Sommerzeit. Retrieved from: https://www.bundestag.de/resource/                         blob/407624/d1fa2b547812da531f580ce77f348b4f/wd-9-044-14-pdf-data.pdf

Council of the European Union (2019, May 27). Retrieved from: https://data.consilium.europa.eu/                  doc/document/ST-9414-2019-INIT/en/pdf

European Commission. Seasonal clock change in the EU. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/                          transport/themes/summertime_en

European Commission (2018, August 31). Summertime Consultation: 84% want Europe to stop                                   changing the clock. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/summertime/                        news/2018-08-31-consultation-outcome_en

European Parliament (2019, February 15). Retrieved from: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/                   document/TA-8-2019-0225_EN.pdf?redirect

Es ist Winterzeit – Wissenschaftler gibt Tipps gegen die Müdigkeit (2019, October 26). Welt.                                Retrieved from: https://www.welt.de/vermischtes/article202237376/Zeitumstellung-2019-                        Es-ist-Winterzeit-Wissenschaftler-gibt-Tipps-gegen-Muedigkeit.html

O’Hare, M. (2019, October 25). Europe will change its clocks for the last time in 2021. Should                          Britain bother? The Independent. Retrieved from: https://www.zeit.de/politik/2019-10/                        winterzeit-zeitumstellung-eu-kommission-jean-claude-juncker

Schaverien, A. (2019, March 27). EU votes to end mandatory switch to daylight saving time. The                     New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/27/world/europe/                                 daylight-savings-time-european-union.html

Winterzeit: Zur Abschaffung der Zeitumstellung fehlt der EU die Einheit (2019, October 25). Zeit                    Online. Retrieved from: https://www.zeit.de/politik/2019-10/winterzeit-zeitumstellung-eu-             kommission-jean-claude-juncker