The Dubious Fate of Daylight Savings in the EU

By Savannah Green (CMC ’20)

In Europe, Germany was the first country to participate in Daylight Savings Time (DST). It was implemented in 1916 and rapidly spread to other countries throughout Europe and the rest of the world. It began as a way to maximize daylight hours for economic growth and allow people to enjoy more sunlight after work in the summer. The idea was first presented in a paper by George Vernon Hudson, but was only implemented years later because of Germany’s adoption. From 1916 until 1996, countries across Europe never fully committed to DST and chose to implement it selectively during times of crisis. The latest crisis that sparked the revival of DST was the oil embargo placed on most countries by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries in 1973 that sent most of the world into a recession. By the end of the 1970s, the majority of Europe had once again enforced DST in an effort to spark economic growth. Then, in 1996, the European Union officially standardized DST across all member states.

The European Union has been a long-standing participator in the bi-annual clock change and has thusly reaped the benefits. Adopting DST has many benefits. For instance, the increase in daylight evening hours allows people to enjoy time outside after work. People are more likely to enjoy the evening hours as compared to morning hours, so moving daylight from the morning to the evening fits this need. Citizens’ circadian rhythms also benefit greatly from the change as it allows the time of sunrise to be more consistent throughout the year. Without DST, the summer months would see a much earlier sunrise, affecting sleep patterns and productivity. It is easy to see the reasons to put DST into effect during a time of need for growth and boosted morale.

Unfortunately, the debate has turned toward movement away from DST in recent years. In 2018, Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, moved forward with a proposal to make the time change optional for member states. However, seamless transportation across member states is one cause for concern with this proposal. Currently, the only time difference between the various countries is a change in longitudinal time zone. But, if DST were made optional, a traveler could change their clock multiple times while traveling through a few states in the same region.

The proposal also pushes for member states to coordinate with their respective regions regarding whether to permanently adopt DST year-round or get rid of DST time altogether. These decisions would be made regardless of whether countries choose to continue to change their clocks bi-annually or not. In recent weeks, the proposal was advanced forward when the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee endorsed it, calming a lot of the nerves around the transportation industry. Unfortunately, member states are extremely divided on the move, so there is no guarantee of an outcome either way.

Europe watched neighboring Morocco deal with time change confusion in the fall. In October, two days before the clocks were set to change, the Moroccan government voted to maintain DST throughout the year and not change the clocks back one hour at the end of the month. This change created chaos for many businesses and travelers following the decision. (For example, with such a last minute decision, customers of the transportation industry were left confused regarding  which time to book various modes of travel for that week.) The Moroccan Government studied the effects of DST on economic, health, business, and energy sectors in order to reach their decision, similar to the EU proposal.

With DST in Europe set to begin on March 31 for what might be the last time, EU citizens patiently await a decision. Luckily, this decision seems much less hasty than Morocco’s. (The proposal would go into effect in October of 2019.) Although the issues in Morocco are not completely parallel to those in the EU, there are many hiccups that the EU can hopefully avoid after observing Morocco. With many Europeans in support of the proposal, a change like this would be difficult at first, but if handled correctly, might please many EU citizens and set a precedent for other countries to follow. One thing is for certain: there is much at stake in this debate; although DST may only affect sleep patterns by one hour every six months, it has a profound effect on worldwide productivity. 

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