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Charlie Flanagan has 'open mind' about scrapping seasonal time changes

The President of the European Commission has proposed to end the changes in Europe next year.

Image: Shutterstock/Yulia YasPe

Updated Sep 12th 2018, 4:26 PM

JUSTICE AND EQUALITY Minister Charlie Flanagan has “an open mind” on the proposed abolition of seasonal time changes, a department spokesperson has said.

The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed to end the changes in Europe next year.

The Commission held a public consultation during the summer and found that 84% of respondents to the online survey were in favour of ending seasonal clock changes.

“We all say in soap-box speeches that we want to be big on big things and small on small things. But there is no applause when EU law dictates that Europeans have to change the clocks twice a year.

“The Commission is today proposing to change this. Clock-changing must stop,” Juncker said.

A spokesperson said the Department of Justice “will study the Commission proposals in consultation with relevant Departments and other stakeholders and make a recommendation to the Minister for Justice and Equality”.

European member states that do opt in will be free to decide whether they follow winter time or summer time.

In 2017 former Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said that a report submitted to her in 2014 recommended that the matter of bringing forward the start of summertime be kept under review and that consideration of any trial be coordinated as a joint venture with the United Kingdom, in the event that the UK would consider a similar trial.

“The Committee was impressed by the benefits of introducing summer time for a longer portion of the year and recommended this position be put forward in any future review of European legislation.

“However, particularly in light of the current context arising from the UK’s decision to exit the European Union, I have no immediate plans to pursue this at the present time,” Fitzgerald said. 

‘An exercise from a bygone era’

The twice-yearly changing of the clocks for winter and summer has been a ritual in Europe since 1916, originally conceived as an energy-saving measure. 

Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune has said she is in favour of scrapping the clocks changing entirely as it is an exercise from a bygone era that no longer serves a useful purpose.

“There are many benefits to ending the process of changing the clocks each year such as improved outcomes for road safety and economic benefits. In addition, brighter evenings in winter would have a positive benefit for public health,” Clune said. 

The European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation bloc, said most EU citizens answering an online survey complained that the time change was disruptive, caused sleep problems, harmed their health and increased road accidents.

According to results, some 4.6 million European citizens responded to the online poll last month on whether they wanted the change.

“Millions of Europeans used our public consultation to make their voices heard,” Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said.

The European Commission’s proposal will now go to the European Parliament and the Council for their agreement.

To allow for a smooth transition, under the Commission’s proposal each Member State would notify by April 2019 whether it intends to apply permanent summer- or wintertime.

The last mandatory change to summertime would take place on Sunday 31 March 2019. After this, the Member States wishing to permanently switch back to wintertime would still be able to make one last seasonal clock change on Sunday 27 October 2019. 

Tampering with time

US statesman Benjamin Franklin is credited today with coming up with the idea for clock changes in 1784, in a satirical essay published in the Journal de Paris in which he called on France to bring the start of the day back by an hour to cut back on using candles.

The establishment of the twice-yearly change – one hour forward in the summer, one hour back in winter – was adopted in 1916 by the German and Austro-Hungarian empires, to save on electricity during World War I.

The same year the British empire and France also introduced the clock changes.

The main idea behind clock changing was to harmonise the hours of activity with those of daylight to limit the use of artificial lighting.

Under pressure from the agricultural community, many countries in Europe and the United States stopped the practice between World War I and World War II before reintroducing it in the 1970s in the wake of the oil crisis.

Since 1998 the date for the start of summertime – the last Sunday in March – and the start of wintertime – the last Sunday in October – has been harmonised throughout the European Union.

Protest movements have emerged around the world highlighting the negative impact of clock changes and arguing that with the progress of technology, the energy-saving ritual has become irrelevant.

Critics say the changes impact on our health by playing havoc with the body clocks of children and the elderly in particular and hitting hardest those who work outdoors.

The environment is also a factor to take into consideration. Atmospheric pollution increases in the summer and traffic peaks coincide with maximum sunlight.

The agricultural community also says clock changes are disruptive to farm animals.

With reporting from © – AFP, 2018 and Órla Ryan

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Adam Daly

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