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Wintertime: changing of the clocks, but why?

Zeitumstellung Winterzeit Zahlen Symbole Schwarz
© Jan Engel / Fotolia

Citizens recurrently turn to the European Parliament with comments on the changing of the clocks. Some citizens are in favour of the summertime/wintertime arrangement; others call on the Parliament to abolish it. On Sunday, 29 October 2017 the clocks go back one hour – but why?

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 the EP Answer: ‘Summertime: changing of the clocks, but why?‘, published on 24 March 2017.


EU legislation and its implications

The current reference text in EU legislation with regard to summer-time arrangements for all Member States is Directive 2000/84/EC. The main idea is to provide stable, long-term planning which is important for the proper functioning of certain economic sectors.

Harmonising time

The standard time is wintertime and during the summer the time is put forward 60 minutes. Decision-making regarding standard time falls within the competence of Member States. Most Member States introduced summer time in the 1970s, although some began to apply it much earlier, for varying lengths of time. Since the 1980s the EU (the European Parliament and the Council), has adopted several directives harmonising the varying summertime arrangements step by step, 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.

In 2007, the European Commission published a report on the impact of this directive, concluding 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 launched a further 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.

European Parliament action

The latest European Parliament plenary debate on summer/winter-time arrangements took place on 27 October 2016. Members of the European Parliament have also submitted various parliamentary questions asking whether the Commission is planning to revise or repeal Directive 2000/84/EC.

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.

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 arrangements 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.

The European Parliamentary Research Service has produced a study on the summer-time arrangements, which points out that summer time benefits the internal market (notably the transport sector) and outdoor leisure activities, yet health research associates the arrangements with some disruption to the human biorhythm.

Petitions

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.

European Commission to bring forward an analysis

The European Commission announced, in its reply of 23 January 2017 to a parliamentary question, that it is looking into the issue of summer and wintertime and will bring forward an analysis of the impact of the current arrangements in the Member States, based on available evidence.


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