EU backs ending daylight saving time

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On 12 September 2018, The European Commission presented a proposal to end the practice of adjusting clocks between summer and winter time leaving Member States the freedom to decide their standard time, after it was revealed that most EU citizens were against the clocks switch. 

In the UK, daylight saving was introduced during the First World War to give factories and workers an hour of extra daylight to work in. It was then introduced in Europe at the beginning of the 1960s and 1970s to save on energy costs particularly during the oil crisis of the 1970s.

Since 2001, EU summertime arrangements have been governed by Directive 2000/84/EC, setting out the obligation on all Member States to switch to summer-time on the last Sunday of March and to switch back to their standard time (“winter-time”) on the last Sunday of October.

The European Commission has previously maintained that the benefits of daylight saving time outweighs the inconvenience or any negative impacts, claiming that the time difference allows for greater opportunities for evening leisure activities, more flexible transport schedules and potential for small energy savings. Advocates for the use of daylight saving time, say the switch to give extra morning daylight in winter and evening light in summer also helps to reduce traffic accidents.

Critics have claimed that daylight saving can cause long-term health problems, which particularly affect young children and elderly people. Research has shown that the changing the clocks can have a negative impact on concentration levels with the change disrupting sleep schedules and impacting productivity and work performance as well as being a hassle for transport and industry.

Many Member States also agree with these critics, most notably Finland, who started formally petitioning the European Union in January 2018 to stop the usage of daylight saving time, after a petition was signed by over 70,000 Finnish citizens calling for such a change.  The EU directive from 2000 forbids individual Member States from abolishing daylight saving time.

However, this is set to change following a recent continent-wide survey, (in which 4.6 million people responded,) where a whopping 84% of EU citizens wanted to put an end to changing the clocks. The biggest responses were from citizens in Germany and Austria (3.79% and 2.94% of the national population respectively) with the lowest responses being from UK citizens (0.02%) and Italians (0.04%).

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said millions “believe that in future, summer time should be year-round, and that’s what will happen” he also added “The people want this, we will do this.” However, this proposal will require the support from the 28 Member State governments and MEPs to become law and is set to be debated by commissioners.

On the 12th September 2018, the Commission published a report of the results of the public consultation (found here: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52018SC0406) which accompanies the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council discontinuing seasonal changes of time and repealing Directive 2000/84/EC (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/soteu2018-discontinuing-seasonal-changes-time-directive-639_en.pdf).

The consultation paper said that “Findings suggest that the effect on the human biorhythm may be more severe than previously thought,” and also raises concerns about the negative effects daylight savings has on agriculture and road safety.  

One solution proposed by the European Commission would be to allow individual Member States to decide whether to choose permanent summer time or winter time. Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein stated this would be “a sovereign decision of each member state”, and that the proposal was “to no longer constrain member states into changing clocks twice per year”. At the same time however, Commissioners have also warned that any uncoordinated changes could damage Europe’s economy and Parliament has warmed that it is “crucial to maintain a unified EU time regime”.

At the moment, the UK is one of the 28 Member States, but is due to leave the European Union in March 2019. Any change to the UK daylight saving time would be unlikely to happen before March 2019, but will apply if there is a transition period.

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