Time’s up for the seasonal clock change
Before going to bed on the night of Oct. 27, or perhaps the morning after, Europeans will turn their clocks back by exactly one hour. With this action, they’ll be transitioning from European Summer Time, the continental version of Daylight Savings Time that we’re used to back in the U.S., to standard clock time.
The spring-forward, fall-back manipulation of time is carried out to make best use of the long daylight hours of the season. The practice dates as far back as the First World War, when it was put into place as a means of cutting energy use, and has been by and large standard procedure since the energy crisis of the 1970s. Others advantages to summer time hours seen by some include more time for leisure activities in the evening hours, a reduction in crime, and fewer road accidents.
To avoid the chaos associated with each country imposing seasonal time changes according to its own whims, various European Community directives have been synchronizing the process since the early 1980s. As it now stands, clocks are moved forward on the last Sunday in March and switched back on the last Sunday in October.
But could it soon be lights out for the longstanding practice?
Following requests from citizens and some of the European Union’s Member States, the European Commission took a hard look at the functioning of the current arrangements to assess whether they were due for a change. An online survey opened between July 4 and Aug. 16 of this year garnered 4.6 million responses, the most ever received in any Commission public consultation. About 84% of respondents called for an end to the spring and autumn clock changes.
Those in favor of abolishing the semi-annual change of clocks spoke of its adverse health impacts on the human biorhythm and the short-term sleeping disorders it causes. Others claimed the changes were a source of confusion, as it was not self-evident when and in which direction the clocks should be changed. Businesses functioning according to timetables (airlines, railroads, broadcasters) were also cited as those which would benefit from doing away with the biannual switch.
A European Commission Fact Sheet dated Sept. 12 hints that changes may soon be afoot. According to the document, the Commission is proposing the discontinuation of seasonal clock changes yet maintaining a coordinated approach to safeguard the functioning of the internal market. The Member States themselves would decide on whether they want to keep permanent summer or winter time and notify the Commission of their decisions. While they would be free to decide which time zone to apply to their territories, they would no longer be able to apply the seasonal clock changes.
Should the European Parliament and the Council adopt the proposal in a timely fashion, the last mandatory change to summer time would take place on March 31, 2019. Each Member State would have until April 2019 to notify the commission as to whether it intends to apply permanent summer or winter time. A Member State wishing to stick permanently to winter time would make one last seasonal change of its clock on Oct. 27, 2019. Following that date, seasonal clock changes would no longer be possible.
While most would likely welcome the demise of the switch, it’s hard to imagine that all citizens within a single country would be uniformly happy with the adoption of either the summer or winter time option. Some like more light in the morning, others prefer it in the evening, and come December in the EU’s northern extremes, there’s not much daylight to go around no matter how you slice it.
The next time you lament darkness at your dinner hour, spare a thought for the some 200 residents of the village of Nuorgam, the northernmost settlement in Finland and the European Union, where the Polar Night, a twilight time in which the sun never rises above the horizon, stretches for over 50 days between November and January.