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stop the clocks

Remember the plan to stop twice-yearly clock changes across the EU? Well, it's stalled - here's why

The summer and winter changes were set to be scrapped from 2021, but there’s disagreement among EU countries.

IN 2019, THE European Parliament voted in favour of abolishing seasonal time changes by a proposed date of 2021.

That year has obviously arrived, but disagreements at state level in the EU have put the plan on pause for the moment. In case you have forgotten, the time is set to go forward an hour from tonight in Ireland and across the EU.

Let’s take a look back at what happened in 2019, and what the current situation is with the plan. 

What was agreed in 2019? 

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favour of scrapping seasonal time changes by a margin of 410 to 192 on 26 March 2019.

Under this agreed proposal, which does not yet have legal effect, the twice-yearly changes would stop from 2021.

However, disagreements at state level on whether to remain in summer or wintertime, and disagreements about the removal of the time changes, have stalled the process.

After the 2019 agreement, Ireland and other member states were given a period of 12 months to decide if they would stay on summertime or not.

The government here agreed in July 2019 to oppose the EU proposal on the basis that it could result in two different time zones on the island of Ireland after the UK left the EU. 

What is the current situation?

Speaking to The Journal, Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune said the proposal “isn’t advancing at this point” and has been stalled. Clune has long advocated for abolishing time changes in the EU and wants countries to stay in summertime year-round. 

“Parliament agreed with [the proposal] and we voted for it, but member states had to agree and there was division there,” she said. 

It hasn’t advanced because it has been stalled by differing opinions at state level.

“They did a consultation at European and national level and they were amazed at the response to it. People overwhelmingly want to stop the time changes.”

An EU consultation on scrapping the seasonal clock changes, completed in 2018, found that 84% of respondents supported the move. In this poll, nearly 90% of Irish respondents supported getting rid of the changes. 

The top reasons for abolishing the switch were the health benefits of doing away with the twice-yearly time shift, energy savings and allowing more time for evening leisure activities. 

As mentioned earlier, the government has agreed not to support this proposal.

The former Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said at the time that it would be “profoundly serious” to have two different time zones on the island.

The Department of Justice held consultations and analysis on the proposal through an opinion poll, a public survey and submissions from stakeholder groups. 

The opinion poll, conducted by Amárach Research, found that two-thirds of people supported scrapping the seasonal time changes, with 77% preferring summertime. 

It also found that 82% of respondents would not be in favour of any measure that results in two different time zones on the island. 

A statement from the Department of Justice said Ireland’s position has “reflected concern that the proposal could reduce synchronicity and result in a ‘patchwork’ of time zones across the EU”. 

“The EU Commission’s proposal would have particular implications for the island of Ireland, especially in the context of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union,” the statement said.

It said the country supports a call for a “full impact assessment” of the proposal to be carried out before a final decision is reached. 

The current Justice Minister Helen McEntee was asked about the issue in September last year, saying the government has made the European Commission “aware of the difficulties the proposed directive would cause in Ireland if it were to result in two time zones in this island”. 

“We have opposed the introduction of the proposed directive on this basis,” the minister said.

In a statement on Friday evening, McEntee said that “this year, more than ever, we are all keen to put the short days and dark evenings of winter behind us”.

“The clocks moving forward marks the point when we can move on from winter and look towards summer.

The winter of 2020-2021 has been the hardest in living memory, but the summer of 2021 will be one of hope, as we begin to overcome Covid-19, re-open our society and economy and move on with our lives.

So what next? 

MEP Deirdre Clune said she doesn’t think the issue will be addressed much this year.

She said it would require “some level of co-ordination” to get all states to agree on either summertime or wintertime. 

A spokesperson for the European Commission said: “The ball is now in the Member States’ court as it is up to them to find a common position in Council.”

“The Commission proposed to end the seasonal clock changes in September 2018. The proposal followed requests from citizens and Member States, a resolution by the European Parliament, a number of conducted studies, as well as a public consultation.

Following an assessment of the existing arrangement on seasonal clock changes, the Commission came to the conclusion that, while avoiding fragmentation, Member States are best placed to decide on whether they want to keep permanent summer- or wintertime.

When were the seasonal time change arrangements brought in?

According to the European Commission, summertime arrangements were introduced in the 20th century to save energy.

Since 2001, EU summertime arrangements have fallen under a directive which obliges all member states to put the clocks forward an hour on the last Sunday of March and to put them back an hour on the last Sunday of October. 

If countries chose summertime, we would have brighter evenings all year round but in winter, mornings would be darker that our current winter mornings.

This is a consideration in particular for children who would be going to school in the dark on winter mornings and also commuters heading to work. 

But there are benefits as there is an extra daylight hour for outdoor activities in the evenings. 

If countries chose wintertime, we would have brighter mornings than we do now for work and school commutes, but our summer evenings would be shorter.

The UK has no great desire to shift the way it observes time. Any directive approved would not apply to them and as a result Ireland may be left out of kilter with the North and the rest of the UK for half the year. 

This throws up a range of potential complications for communities, farms, businesses and transport operators in the border region and beyond.  

Who has the final call on this?

The final decision lies with the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. 

They will have to reach an agreement together for the proposal to take legal effect, and the council has not yet finalised its position. 

The Council’s final decision will be made on the basis of what’s called Qualified Majority Voting.

That means that if 55% of countries representing at least 65% of the population of the EU want this to happen – even if the remaining countries vote against – all countries have to go along with it.

The Journal previously took an in-depth look at this topic in a 2019 episode of the Explainer podcast. 

You can listen back to it wherever you get your podcasts, or via SoundCloud below.

The Explainer / SoundCloud

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