By the end of his mandate the time change system would be finished, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared in September 2018.
But, while those who are in favour of the end of the clock change twice a year manifested their satisfaction, a summit of EU ministers of transport, presided by the Austrian Presidency, said that it was too quick to adopt such drastic measures and would be better to postpone the entire affair for the 2021.
Annie Schreijer-Pierik, an MEP of the European People’s Party (EPP) for the Netherlands was at the core of the movement in the European Parliament that promoted the idea of stopping the change of the clocks.
In an interview with European Interest, Schreijer-Pierik explains the system doesn’t save energy while provoking a series of health problems by disrupting people’s biorhythm.
According to Schreijer-Pierik, the European Commission made a mistake by not choosing wintertime or summertime.
The discussion will continue and the Dutch MEP declares that: “I would be happy if we could clock change, even if it is only in 2021. It is high time. The EU is also directed to improve the daily life of citizens. Ending clock change is certainly helpful.”
European Interest: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged in September to do away with the time change in 2019. It seemed that Brussels backed the move. But now the EU transport ministers decided to postpone that date to 2021. What happened during these two month that changed the situation so dramatically?
Annie Schreijer-Pierik: A considerable number of citizens, and also Members of the European Parliament, oppose this changing of the clocks twice per year. I have been opposed ever since this measure was introduced in my country, The Netherlands, in the 1970s. I did not believe for a single minute that we would save energy. And obviously there were problems in family life: most little children have trouble adjusting. And recently, research showed that elderly and heart patients face more problems because of the disruption of their biorhythm. Several countries, like Russia and Turkey, have already ended clock change, because there is no good reason to continue this bad habit.
Together with MEPs like Pavel Svoboda from the Czech Republic, we concluded: there is no good reason for the EU to place this burden on 520 million citizens twice per year. So, we were happy that the European Parliament adopted our resolution in February, demanding more studies on this issue. As a result, the European Commission then did an online public consultation. A record number of 4,6 million citizens replied, most of them asking to end clock change.
It was very good that Mr Juncker of the European Commission tabled a proposal to end clock change. But we were not happy that the European Commission did not propose to have either wintertime or summertime in the EU. The European Commission should have had the courage to choose. The proposal should have been more thorough. The idea that every Member States should decide for itself on the time, could be very divisive – and is contrary to European harmonisation – the core business of the European Commission.
Do you think it was possible to stop the clock change by 2019 without creating any confusion, for example to international flights?
It is not realistic that the EU would have been decided in around 8 months, as the European Commission proposed. That would have been a new record in EU-decision making, Mr Juncker should know that. We do understand that the EU Member States need a bit more time to unite on this issue and find more scientific basis for the choice between permanent wintertime or summertime. I am okay with that, we should prevent a patch work of times when travelling through the EU. That would be no improvement. But the issue should not be postponed, the Member States and European Parliament need to keep working on this.
For IT and transport, I see no real problem, as long as the decision is taken a reasonable time before the new schedules for flights or train transport. Software is updated all the time, so the end of clock change can be done rather simple, the IT-experts tell me.
The main argument in favour of the time change is the necessity to save energy. Is there any evidence for this?
We know of no thorough study that concludes the clock change does save a significant amount of energy. Some studies indicate even the opposite, because people stay up later, using the tv or watching tv.
On the other hand, according to reports, clock change harms human health. How strong is the impact to humans?
Indeed! Studies indicate around 20% of the people have significant problems adjusting to either winter time or summer time. For days they feel uncomfortable or even sick. The problem is, most other people cannot imagine that others suffer from clock change. Some of us fly to other continents, without much problems adjusting to jetlag. Well, that is fine for them. But we cannot continue to create such jetlag to the group of citizens that has problems adjusting – especially when there is no good reason for this.
What makes some countries oppose resistance? Which sectors will benefit by the time change system?
A lot would depend on their choice for continued summertime or either wintertime. I can understand that some people or restaurants prefer more light at night, however they could start their day a bit earlier if they prefer.
Since some countries from southern Europe oppose the end of the clock change, such as Spain and Greece, do you think that part of EU will not be particularly benefit from the end of the system?
In general, we all benefit for less disruption of our biorhythm. That makes everybody a bit healthier. After we are used to a permanent time, we will look back in amazement, that there were many decades in which people changed their clocks twice per year for no good reason.
The proposal to stop the twice-year clock change has to do only with the adoption of winter or summer time. At the end, every single EU member state will choose a time zone to follow. Is this true? It is possible that this freedom to choose a time zone will create further confusion?
The European Commission has indeed proposed that every Member States should choose either wintertime or summertime. I do hope many member States will choose the same time – I strongly oppose a patchwork blanket of different times. That would be very unpractical for people travelling by car from let’s say Greece to Austria – or from The Netherlands to Italy.
I hope and expect that EU Member States and the European Parliament will create unity, by repairing this weakness in the proposal of the European Commission.
Do you consider this matter closed? Will there be any new developments until 2021? Are there plans from the partisans of the ‘stop change the clocks’ in order to make that period shorter?
In the next few months, we will see Member states and European Parliament find an agreement on the end of clock change. And then decisions on the year to end it and choosing either wintertime or summertime. As said, I do work and hope we get a lot of unity in choosing this time.
Some people suggested me that the EU should compromise on a 30 minute- time change forever. That is very creative, but not very practical. Almost all timezones in the world differ 1 hour, not 20 or 30 minutes. I appreciate that people come up with these suggestions, and in politics you never know what the outcome could be, but to me it does not seem an advantage.
I would be happy if we could clock change, even if it is only in 2021. It is high time. The EU is also directed to improve the daily life of citizens. Ending clock change is certainly helpful.