World News

EU Votes to End Mandatory Switch to Daylight Saving Time

Posted March 27, 2019 2:30 p.m. EDT

LONDON — The European Union has moved one step closer to scrapping seasonal time change after a substantial majority of lawmakers voted to end the requirement to move clocks ahead by one hour in spring and then back in the fall.

Under the current law, which has been in place for member states for two decades, clocks are moved ahead one hour on the last Sunday in March to create daylight saving time, and then moved back to standard time on the last Sunday in October. The European Parliament voted 410-192 on Tuesday to back a draft law to abolish the twice-a-year switch.

Under the draft law, each of the 28 countries in the bloc (although Britain may have left by then) will have to choose before 2021 whether it will follow daylight saving time throughout the year or maintain standard time.

That may seem to be a recipe for confusion, but Violeta Bulc, European commissioner for mobility and transport, sought to allay concerns.

“I know from my discussions with member states so far that all of them see as clearly as we do the need for a coordinated approach,” she said during the debate. “No one wants to see a patchwork of time zones within the EU.”

European countries unified arrangements for daylight saving time in 1980 to prevent differing time zones from undermining the single market. The practice started in the United States and some European countries during World War I as a way to conserve fuel by extending summer daylight.

“This seasonal time change that was invented because of a wish to save energy does not work; it does not give the desired result,” said Marita Ulvskog, a member of the European Parliament from Sweden who wrote the transport and tourism committee’s draft resolution on discontinuing seasonal time changes, in a phone interview. “So why keep that system? We are deciding to give up on the experiment.”

Although the directive approved by Parliament on Tuesday had initially suggested that the practice would end this year, lawmakers amended the proposal to delay the switch for two years.

In March 2021, countries that want to remain on daylight savings would turn their clocks forward for the final time, and others that opt for permanent standard time would make the last switch back in October that year.

The bloc’s member states will be required to inform one another of their choice by spring of next year, and to submit a plan by the end of October 2020 of how they will address any potential negative effect caused by the change.

This puts Britain, which is in the process of leaving the EU, in an uncertain position.

If the country enters into an extended transition period, which features in Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, it would have to follow other member states in abandoning the practice of changing the clocks.

But British Conservative Party lawmakers in the European Parliament were quick to dismiss the decision to abolish seasonal time changes. One of them, John Flack, wrote on Twitter that the draft law was “yet more interfering with nation states.”

Tuesday’s debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, stemmed from a European Commission proposal in September.

More than 4 million people responded to a public consultation from the commission last summer, and 84 percent were in favor of scrapping seasonal time changes. Respondents expressed concerns about the effect on their health, increased traffic accidents and a lack of proven energy savings.

“The people want it; we will do it,” the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, told a German broadcaster when he heard of the record numbers of people sharing their opinions on abolishing daylight saving time.