European Union Targets Daylight Savings, But Some Worry About the Consequences

By James Carstensen | April 1, 2019 | 8:51 PM EDT

(Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Berlin ( – The European Parliament has voted by a large majority to end daylight savings time (DST) across the European Union by 2021, a move coming not long after President Trump voiced support for abandoning the practice at home.

The motion, which passed by 410-192 votes (and met the additional requirement of support from 55 percent of member-states representing at least 65 percent of the population), will allow individual E.U. member-states to decide on the matter, although some are concerned about the potential effects should neighbors not coordinate.

The move originated after an online poll last year found overwhelming support for the idea from E.U. citizens, although the fact that 80 percent of respondents were Germans – renowned for being time-conscious – raised some eyebrows.

The proposal seeks to end an arrangement established in 1980, which sees clocks across all 28 member-states changed twice per year – moving an hour forward on the last Sunday in March, and an hour back on the last Sunday in October – to cater to changing seasonal daylight hours.

Each member-state will have to inform the E.U.’s executive Commission by next April whether it will stick permanently with summer or winter time.

While the three time zones of the E.U. will ostensibly remain intact, questions remain over the possibility of two countries in the same time zone choosing different times.

Maintaining harmonized times has been important goal for the E.U., as varying times can affect the smooth running of land and air transport networks, which are key to the European single market.

Last year, Slovakia stressed the importance of neighboring countries coordinating on the issue in order to avoid maintain well-run trade networks.

Last year, Slovakia stressed the importance of neighboring countries coordinating on the issue.

“From the point of view of the internal market, the most important thing is for countries not to decide individually (and differently) whether to keep to winter or summer time,” its Labor Ministry said at the time.

With Brexit looming, Ireland is another member facing uncertainty from the decision.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar noted that the pending departure of the U.K., which includes Northern Ireland, could result in two different time zones on the island – which he told the Independent would put his country “in a difficult position.”

For now, the E.U. has only said it will aim to “closely coordinate” the matter. The uncertainties, in part, led to the proposal’s initial goal of 2019 to be moved back to 2021.

The idea of DST first arose during World Wars I and II, when both Germany and allied nations sought ways to reduce energy use, particularly to save on coal needed to fuel the war effort. It was later readopted in Europe as a result of the 1970s oil crisis, again as a way to conserve energy.

Since then, however, arguments emerged questioning the benefits of changing the clocks. A European Parliament report in March suggested time changes were linked to cardiovascular diseases due to the interruption to biological cycles.

During the debate, Swedish MEP Marita Ulvskog said Europe was no longer dependent on “saving” daylight.

“New technology and different ways of living mean that we no longer earn anything,” she said. “We don’t save.”

In the U.S., states and territories including Arizona, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico have already opted out of DST, and Trump last month tweeted his support for the idea: “Making Daylight Saving Time permanent is O.K. with me!”

Russia, Turkey and Iceland are among other countries to have already abolished the practice.

Despite the E.U. parliament vote succeeding, not all agree on the idea.

Portuguese MEP Cláudia Monteiro de Aguiar said that a poll should not be considered a sufficient review of DST, especially given the fact most respondents were from one country, Germany, where the topic had been the center of popular debate at the time.

“This is completely unbalanced and we cannot accept this low representation of 500 million Europeans,” she said.

Although Portugal had unsuccessfully tried to abolish DST in the past, of the 34,000 Portuguese respondents in the poll, 79 percent voted to abolish it.

While the E.U. poll had no official standing, E.U. head Jean-Claude Juncker quickly responded to it, promising to end the practice. Over the last few years, member states including Finland, Lithuania, Sweden, and Poland had called for DST to be abolished.

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