Years after the proposal to end the seasonal changes of time across the EU was first released, Europeans will on Sunday have to again set their clocks back, a practice that’s unlikely to change soon.
The European Commission unveiled its proposal to abolish the time change in September 2018 following a public consultation in which an overwhelming majority of the 4.6 million European citizens who took part called for the practice to be brought to an end. The proposal was then rubber-stamped by MEPs in the first half of 2019.
Since then, nothing.
EU leaders are currently wrestling with Russia’s war in Ukraine which has pushed energy and food prices to new highs, hitting European consumers and businesses hard and threatening to push the economy into recession.
Before that, it was COVID-19 and its successive, unrelenting waves that left over a million people dead in the EU alone and an economy on tenterhooks.
Time to discuss ending seasonal clock changes has therefore been scarce.
Daylight Saving Time (DST), where clocks are set ahead one hour in early spring and set back one hour in the autumn, was first introduced in Europe in 1916 when Germany, then still at war, was trying to reduce consumption of coal so it could be used for its weapon factories.
Most neighbouring countries, as well as the UK, US and Australia, followed suit.
The practice was mostly abandoned in Europe after World War II but was rolled out once more in the 1970s due to the oil shock, in a renewed bid to reduce the need for artificial light and thus energy use.
A number of studies have since shown that its impact on energy consumption is now negligible thanks in part to advances in technology. Evidence is however mounting that DST has adverse effects on health.
There are, for instance, more heart attacks and digestive and immune-related diseases in the week following the shift to DST. A small bump in car accidents also tends to be recorded.
Long-term health effects include depression, slowed metabolism, weight gain and cluster headaches.
That’s because our “social clock”, ie, the schedule under which our societies operate, and our internal clocks, which are more or less aligned with the sun, are out of whack.
But ending the practice is not easy and necessitates a lot of decisions at the highest level because time is very political.
In order for discussions to resume, the topic needs to be put on the agenda by the country that holds the rotating presidency of the European Council. The last time the topic was discussed was during the Finnish presidency in the second half of 2019.
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