Whatever happened to the EU plan to ditch the changing of the clocks?

The past weekend marked, once again, the changing of the clocks across Europe - but the EU had actually come up with a plan to end this practice back in 2019. So what happened?

Whatever happened to the EU plan to ditch the changing of the clocks?
Photo: Ocean Ng/Unsplash

On the morning of Sunday, October 29th, people across Europe turned the clock back by one hour, as daylight savings time ends and countries move to winter time.

For the next six months, it will get dark earlier and most people will gain an hour of sleep on Sunday morning.

But wasn’t this supposed to change? What happened to the idea circulated in the European Union some years ago of no longer having seasonal time changes? 

The most successful public consultation

In 2018, the European Commission launched a public consultation asking people what they thought of scrapping the time changes.

It was the most successful EU consultation ever: 4.6 million people participated, in some cases representing a signification portion of the national population (3.79 per cent for Germany and 2.94 per cent for Austria).

People overwhelmingly said they wanted to stop moving the clock back and forward every six months – in fact 84 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposal. 

Negative health impacts, including sleep disruption, the lack of energy savings and an increase in road accidents were the most common reasons to justify the idea.

On that basis, in 2018 the Commission proposed legislation to end seasonal clock changes. This had to be approved by the European Parliament and by national governments represented at the EU Council.

The European Parliament in 2019 supported the proposal by a large majority suggesting time changes should be scrapped in 2021.

But EU governments could not find an agreement. Should summertime or wintertime become the norm? How to coordinate the change among neighbouring countries to avoid a patchwork of different time zones? And who would benefit the most? 

Brexit and the pandemic also got in the way. With the UK leaving the bloc and unlikely to follow new EU rules, abolishing time changes would have left the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in different time zones for half of the year. 

In some countries, support for the idea was also flimsy – in Cyprus, Greece and Malta less than half of participants in the consultation agreed.

The last time the matter was discussed at the EU Council was in December 2019. Countries then called on the European Commission to produce an “impact assessment” of the proposal before being able to decide. Then Covid-19 hit and the pandemic overshadowed the discussion.

Why changing time?

Time changes, adopted by some 70 countries, have a long history.

Daylight saving time (DST) was introduced in several countries, including Germany, France and the UK, during World War I to save energy by delaying switching the lights on in the evening.

The arrangements were abandoned after the wars but were revived in the 1970s to deal with the oil crisis. Italy introduced daylight saving time in 1966, Greece in 1971, the UK and Ireland in 1972, Spain in 1974 and France in 1976.

Since 2001, an EU directive obliges EU member states to move the clock forward by one hour on the last Sunday of March and backward on the last Sunday of October. Earlier in the 1990s countries were changing time on different dates, with complications for transport, communications and cross-border trade. 

But today does the system really ensure energy savings?

Several assessments have found that the benefits are ‘marginal’. One study estimates energy savings at between 0.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent, also depending on the geography, climate, economic and cultural factors of the country.

Generally, it seems that southern countries benefit the most, although gains are potentially diminished by technological advances, such as energy efficient devices. In other words, there is not just one factor to consider and results achieved in some countries do not necessarily apply to others. 

What happens next? 

The debate on seasonal time changes was somewhat revived due to the energy crisis. In March 2022, the US Senate passed a bill to make daylight saving time permanent from November 2023, although it still hasn’t been passed by the House of Representatives.

In summer 2022, reports in Italian media suggested the discussion could resume in the EU too. 

However, a spokesperson for the EU Council told The Local there is nothing new on the agenda.

“The Council has not yet formed its position on the Commission’s proposal,” he said in an email. 

It seems therefore likely that Europeans will keep changing the time for a while. 

In 2023, the switch to winter time happened at 2am on Sunday, October 29th, when the clocks move back by one hour.

This article was produced in collaboration with Europe Street news. 

Member comments

  1. Well it was a different world back then in 2019 when the EU had the leisure to debate unimportant things

  2. Firstly, the end of March to end of September is seven months, not six. I sometimes wonder why don’t we go on to Summer time in February as there’s just as much daylight then as there is in October. Secondly, my parents spoke of something called Double Summer Time during the peak summers of World War 2 in UK. I’m too young to know but I certainly remember DST in the Sixties. I believe we tried to stay on DST in 1972 (maybe 1973 as well) and didn’t like it.

  3. Changing our clocks twice per year is one of the more ridiculous undertakings we engage in. We should all just stop, and remain on Standard Time. And “Permanent DST” is really just changing the time zone – in my case California would be changing from the Pacific to the Mountain time zone – and that is just as ridiculous. The time zones were determined so that Noon (Mid-day) would be approximately the middle of the day, and Midnight the middle of the night, wherever one may be.

  4. It is only half-true to say that the UK and Ireland introduced DST in 1972. They retained it after the war. But in 1968 began an experiment to keep the clocks permanently on GMT+1. The clocks went forward in spring 1968 and stayed there. This was abandoned in 1971, and so the clocks went back in autumn of that year. In spring 1972 the clocks went forward again, as they had done for decades. Seemingly politicians can’t resist the Canute-like temptation to pass laws telling the sun when to rise.

  5. What happened to permanent DST in UK is that the papers mendaciously described each child road death in the morning as a wilful act of the Wilson (Labour) government, and omitted to mention that child road deaths in the evening had fallen by substantially more than they had risen in the morning, ie they were reduced. An early lesson in politics

  6. Yes, I remember we used to have 6 months of Summer Time, but the UK had 7 months. So for one month each year the UK had the same time as on the Conteninent. This was confusing for international time tables, and so on. Eventually, the rest of the EU (of which the UK was a member then) decided to adopt the British practice.

    Personally, I’m very much in favour of changing the clocks, as it’s so much nicer to have longer day light during Summer TIme.

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Can Denmark residents vote in the European elections?

The year 2024 is a bumper one for elections across Europe, among them the EU elections which are scheduled for June. Denmark is of course a member of the EU - so can foreign residents vote in the elections that will almost certainly affect their daily lives?

Can Denmark residents vote in the European elections?

Across Europe, people will go to the polls in early June to select their representatives in the European Parliament, with 13 seats up for grabs in Denmark. 

When to vote

Polling takes place across Denmark on Sunday, June 9th.

Polling stations will generally be set up in the same places as for national and local elections – usually town halls, schools and other public buildings.

Voters can choose between postal voting or physically attending an assigned polling station you. A ballot card or valgkort is sent to all eligible voters in the post ahead of the election.

Voting must be completed by 9pm Danish time on the Sunday.

Who can vote?

In EU parliamentary elections, nationals of all EU countries who reside in Denmark can both vote in the elections and run for office.

Nationals of non-EU countries cannot vote or run in these elections.

To be eligible to vote and run in the EU elections, you must either be eligible to vote in Danish general elections or be an EU national who resides in Denmark. You must be 18 years old or more.

Unlike with general elections, foreign-based Danes can also vote in EU elections in Denmark if they live in another EU country (but not a non-EU country).

How does the election work?

The system for European elections differs from most countries’ domestic polls.

MEPs are elected once every five years. Each country is given an allocation of MEPs roughly based on population size.

At present there are 705 MEPs, Germany – the country in the bloc with the largest population – has the most while the smallest number belong to Malta with just six.

At the last elections in 2019 France had 74 MEPs but it has since gained an extra 5, bringing it to 79, in part due to the UK’s exit from the EU and some of its 73 European Parliament seats being shared out among other countries.

Denmark had as many as 16 MEPs in the 1990s, before that number was reduced as the union expanded. It was as low as 13 at one point before increasing again, moving from 13 to 14, and now 15 as a result of Brexit.

READ ALSO: Denmark to get extra seat in EU parliament

In the run up to the election, the Danish political parties decide on who will be their spidskandidater (candidates heading the list) for the European parliament, and these people have a high chance of being elected. The further down the list a name appears, the less likely that person is to be heading to parliament.

The spidskandidater are generally responsible for running that party’s election campaign and become their spokesman on European issues. 

Once in parliament, parties usually seek to maximise their influence by joining one of the ‘blocks’ made up of parties from neighbouring countries that broadly share their interests and values, such as centre-left, far-right, or green.

The parliament alternates between Strasbourg and Brussels.