Clock moving forward

View from Brussels: No justice yet for time thieves

Image credit: Dreamstime / Romans Klevcovs

Daylight Saving Time is here once again to annoy and confuse in equal measure. An EU plan to do away with the biannual clock change was supposed to be fully under way by now, but the chances of it ever happening now look incredibly unlikely.

Back in 2018, the European Union said that it was high time to do away with twice-yearly clock changes and stick to one timezone all year round.

The EU’s executive branch, the Commission, responded to a pan-European survey that showed more than 80 per cent of respondents favoured scrapping the system, which was first deployed by Germany during World War I.

A fair majority of the survey’s replies were actually from Germans. No surprise, given the country’s central and northern location within the Central European Timezone, which means that evenings draw in earlier.

The Commission did not propose such a radical change just based on what one survey says, of course, as it also referenced numerous studies over the years that have suggested factors like road safety and even human health would be improved by ditching the clock changes.

According to the Commission’s plan, each of the bloc’s 27 countries would have to decide by March 2019 whether to stay on winter or summer time, as well as carrying out studies to see how it would affect sectors like transport, logistics, energy and education.

There was immediate pushback though, as governments said they would need more than the 12 months allotted by the Commission to make a decision, instead saying they would organise among themselves before a 2021 deadline.

Under the proposal, countries would not have to unanimously decide which time zone they would rather stay on, which led plenty of analysts from various different fields to warn that the EU was asking for trouble.

Transport systems in particular could have run the risk of total chaos if countries only agreed to a patchwork of time zones. Cross-border train journeys could end up travelling back in time if neighbouring nations decided on different plans, for example.

One need only look to the ongoing disarray in Lebanon, where a spat between government and religious leaders over delaying the spring time change until after the holy month of Ramadan has led to a mixture of time zones across the country.

Although the Commission said that there would be safeguards in place to prevent that hodge-podge of time zones being deployed, the question quickly began to be asked whether it was all even worth it?

In early 2020, when the entire world was changed by a microscopic virus, the EU had its answer: it was a clear 'no'.

Despite the European Parliament voting in favour of the change, there is little chance of the plan being resurrected any time soon. The current Commission was not the one that proposed it and EU elections to install a new one are due next May.

With the war in Ukraine and a delicate balancing act of energy demand going on every day — DST was, after all, implemented as part of widespread power saving measures – there is little to no appetite to revisit the issue.

European Council meetings are chaired by one of the 27 member countries on a six-month rotating basis and the current holder, Sweden, and its upcoming successors, Spain and Belgium, have not indicated that they will work on the plan.

A recent YouGov survey showed that countries are rather split still as well. Northern member states still favour ditching the current system, while southern nations generally would rather preserve it. Germany is the most in favour, with Italy the most against.

In terms of which option countries would adopt if the plan were ever carried out, only Sweden currently supports sticking to winter rather than summer time, although official government policy might differ from public preference.

The United Kingdom is not considering ditching British Summer Time or even shifting to BST permanently. A parliamentary report in 2010 concluded that sticking with BST might yield some energy savings but very few other benefits.

Across the Atlantic, the United States also was on the cusp of making daylight savings the permanent default last year but the legislation needed to enact it remains stalled in Congress. 

However, Greenland, the world’s largest island and an autonomous part of Denmark, has had enough of the time-change and its parliament last year voted to ditch the practice. This month’s ‘spring forward’ was Greenlanders’ last.

Instead, the nation will regularly stay three hours behind most of the rest of Europe instead of four, granting residents and firms an extra hour in the afternoon in which to do business with customers in other countries.

Unless you are a resident of Nuuk or another one of Greenland’s towns, it seems very likely that you will have to keep changing the clocks twice a year and wondering where the lost hour of sleep went.

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