Officially, it is again the fault of the Covid-19 : since the start of the health crisis, the project to abolish the semi-annual time change in the European Union (EU) has fallen to the bottom of the list of priorities for member states, far behind the Green Deal and the 750 billion euros of the stimulus plan. Voted in 2019 by the European Parliament, the directive asking the Twenty-Seven to make a choice between winter time and summer time should have come into force in 2021, but, on Sunday, October 31, the French will well take an hour off their clock (at 3 a.m. on the night of Saturday to Sunday, it will be 2 a.m.) – and should do the same in 2022.
Despite the craze of a consultation carried out by the European Commission in 2018, in which 4.8 million people participated – 84% of whom were in favor of the end of the seesaw – governments are reluctant to agree. The Council of the EU, which brings together the ministers of the States by theme, has still not given its opinion on the draft directive, a prerequisite before any entry into force. The subject was not on the program for the semester of the presidency of the Union held by Slovenia until December and was not announced for the French presidency, from January to June 2022.
MEPs have left the possibility for each country to fix itself on the legal time of the time zone of the country (in winter) or to keep an additional hour (in summer). With this choice, many potential incompatibilities appear: Poland could, for example, be shifted with Germany but on the same line as the Czech Republic, causing a permanent headache at the borders – the transport ministries have moreover have been appointed responsible for the subject within the Council of the EU. Leaning towards total harmonization would have posed other problems: dawn in the middle of the morning for part of the year in Spain, if winter time is maintained; a night ended at 3 a.m. in Poland if summer time covers the whole year.
To limit discrepancies, the Commission asked that geographically close countries align themselves, by group, on a common choice. However, interests diverge: the German executive, with the support of public opinion, is largely in favor of summer time but is not followed by all its neighbors. The Republic of Ireland is now stuck on the British rhythm and getting rid of it could further complicate border management with Northern Ireland, already a source of tension since the implementation of Brexit.
“This is a subject dear to our citizens and we must show them that the European Union is attentive to their concerns”, called in March 2021 the Swedish MEP Johan Danielsson, rapporteur of the draft directive. “This is only possible if we start negotiations on new rules as soon as possible”, added in a joint statement French MEP Karima Delli, president of the transport and tourism committee of the European Parliament. In an interview at South West, on October 21, the elected Europe Ecology-The Greens called for the appointment of a “European coordination so that this subject is put back on the agenda”.
“Time passes very slowly”
No news since. The French Foreign Ministry maintains, in response to Mme Delli, that exchanges “Continue” on the subject, without giving more details. “Time flies very slowly when it comes to the time change”, summed up a Commission spokesperson at German daily The world. If an agreement ends up being reached at European level, the choice between summer time and winter time would still have to be made in each Member State. In France, a consultation of the European Affairs Committee at the National Assembly had collected 2.1 million responses: 83% of participants were for the end of the time change; 59% said they were in favor of daylight saving time.
In France, the switch to summer time was decided in 1976 to save energy by reducing artificial lighting times in the evening. Many studies have since put into perspective the real contribution of the measure on this point. MEPs are today highlighting suspected health effects to support the removal of the semi-annual change.
“It is estimated that 20% of the population suffers from physical or mental problems linked to the time change”, argues Johan Danielsson, althougha summary on the subject produced by the European Parliament in 2018 recalled that the evidence on “Global consequences [du changement d’heure] on health are inconclusive “.
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Winter time: how the abolition of the time change disappeared from the European political agenda