Citizens recurrently turn to the European Parliament with comments on the changing of the clocks. Some citizens are in favour of the summertime /wintertime arrangements; others call on the Parliament to abolish it. On Sunday 26 March 2017 clocks go forward, but why?
In fact, twice a year the clocks in all EU Member States are switched back by one hour from summer to wintertime (on the last Sunday in October) and forward one hour from winter to summertime (on the last Sunday in March)
This is an updated version of EP Answer: ‘ Wintertime: why change the clocks?’ published on 26 October 2016
Harmonising varying summertime arrangements
The standard time is wintertime and during the summer the time is put forward 60 minutes. The decision on the standard time falls within the competence of Member States. Most Member States had introduced summer time in the 1970s, although some had started applying it much earlier for varying lengths of time. Since the 1980s the EU legislator, i.e. the European Parliament and the Council, have adopted several directives harmonising step by step the varying summertime arrangements, in order to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market. The main idea is to provide stable, long-term planning which is important for the proper functioning of certain economic sectors, especially transport.
EU legislation and its implications
The current reference text in EU legislation with regard to summertime arrangements for all Member States is Directive 2000/84/EC.
Main justifications for changing the clocks
In 2007, the European Commission published a report on the impact of this directive, providing a chronology of the European legislation and its implications for different sectors of activity. The reports concludes that ‘apart from the fact that it provides greater opportunities for a wide range of evening leisure activities and produces some energy savings, summer time has little impact and the current arrangements are not a subject at the forefront of people’s minds in the EU Member States. No Member State has expressed a wish to abandon summer time or change the provisions of the current Directive. On the contrary, it is important to maintain the harmonised timetable to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market, which is the main objective of the Directive.’
In 2014, the Commission commissioned another study on the harmonisation of summertime in Europe. The study, entitled ‘The application of summertime in Europe‘, concludes that if summertime was not harmonised in the Union, it would entail substantial inconvenience and disturbance for citizens and businesses alike.
Public hearing and parliamentary questions
In view of the concerns expressed by citizens regarding the summertime arrangements, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have submitted various parliamentary questions asking whether the Commission is planning to propose to repeal Directive 2000/84/EC on summertime arrangements.
In its answer of 8 February 2017, the Commission makes clear that independently from the specific time zone a Member State has decided to apply on its territory, every Member State has to apply the summertime and move the clocks one hour ahead on the last Sunday of March and move the clocks back to wintertime on the last Sunday of October.
In its answer of 1 September 2015, the Commission refers to the abovementioned study and concludes that, at this stage, it has no intention to propose the revision or repeal of Directive 2000/84/EC. Furthermore, the Commission states in its reply of 3 February 2016‘that Directive 2000/84/EC (also called Summertime Directive) obliges all Member States to switch from winter‐ to summer-time and vice-versa, at the precise points in time specified therein. The aim is to ensure the proper operation of the internal market, notably (but not exclusively) in the areas of transport and communications. Omission by a Member State of those changes would amount to a breach of the Summertime Directive.’
Furthermore, three parliamentary committees held a joint public hearing entitled ‘Time to Revisit Summer Time?” on 24 March 2015. Since the hearing, new parliamentary questions have been submitted, pointing to experts’ findings that the current summertime arrangements have more negative than positive effects.
The public hearing on summertime changes in Europe and the subsequent oral question of 25 September 2015 addressed to the Commission were also subject to a plenary debate on 29 October with Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport.
During the debate, the Commissioner stated that different studies on the subject matter examined by the Commission present mixed results and no conclusive argument was to be gained from them regarding potential impacts on health, energy savings or other impacts. Furthermore the Member States consulted by the Commissioner were divided on this subject. ‘So, at this stage, the Commission is not considering changes to the relevant directive but, should new evidence emerge and a more systemic approach be put forward, we would be willing to reconsider that position’, Commissioner Bulc stated.
In that direction, several Members of the European Parliament have put an oral question on 17 October 2016. MEPs ask for a full assessment of the costs and benefits of the directive in particular for energy, health, agriculture and transport sectors, the effects on citizens’ health, in particular on sensitive people such as children and the elderly and the impact on competitiveness of European industry, including energy prices and consumption. A debate on the switch between summer and winter time is scheduled for the October II Strasbourg plenary session, the verbatim debate for 27 October 2016 is available here.
The Commission has announced that it is looking into the issue of summer and winter time. This will include an analysis of the impact of the current arrangements in the Member States, based on available evidence.
For years, the summertime arrangements have also been subject of petitions that citizens have submitted to the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions, for example Petition 1477/2012. Information on petitions and procedures for submitting a petition to the European Parliament are available on the Parliament’s Petitions website.
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