The European Parliament has backed a proposal to stop the obligatory one-hour clock change which extends daylight hours in summer EU-wide.
The proposal would give each member state a choice from 2021: either to keep the current summer time system or scrap the twice-yearly clock changes.
Ministers will also have a say on this.
Under an EU directive, all 28 states currently switch to summer time on the last Sunday of March and back to winter time on the last Sunday of October.
The European Commission – in charge of drafting EU legislation – made the proposal last year, after a public consultation which showed 84% of respondents wanting to scrap the biannual clock changes. There were 4.6 million replies in that consultation, 70% of which were from Germans.
But MEPs and the Commission stress that states must co-ordinate their choices, to minimise the risk of economic disruption from a patchwork of different time systems.
What are the pros and cons of summer time?
Daylight saving time (DST) has been compulsory in the EU since 2001, aimed at making the EU internal market work more smoothly and reducing energy costs.
Fewer time differences, it was argued, would facilitate cross-border trade and travel in the EU. The extra daylight hours in summer could reduce spending on artificial lighting and help outdoor leisure activities.
But the energy savings from DST have proven to be quite marginal. And some of the EU’s major trading partners – among them China, Russia and Turkey – do not operate under DST.
The consultation and scientific studies suggested that the clock changes were having negative effects on people’s health.
The EU Commission says studies suggest “the effect on the human biorhythm may be more severe than previously thought”.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said “there is no applause when EU law dictates that Europeans have to change the clocks twice a year.
“Clock-changing must stop. Member states should themselves decide whether their citizens live in summer or winter time.”
Under the new legislation, governments opting to make summer time permanent would adjust their clocks for the last time on the last Sunday in March 2021.
For those choosing permanent standard time – also called winter time – the final clock change would be on the last Sunday of October 2021.
Finland called for daylight saving to be abolished EU-wide, after a petition gathered more than 70,000 signatures from citizens calling for such a change.
Opposition to the clock changes tends to be greater in northern countries, where seasonal differences in daylight hours are greater than in the south.
In June, Finland has 18.5 hours of daylight, but in December only 5.5 hours. The corresponding figures for Greece are 14.5 hours and 9.3 hours. Yet both countries are in the same standard time zone – Eastern European Time (GMT+2).
What are the EU’s time zones?
During the winter, spring and autumn, when DST is not applied, there are three standard time zones:
- Three states apply GMT (the UK, Ireland and Portugal)
- 17 have Central European Time, which is GMT+1
- Eight have Eastern European Time, which is GMT+2.