Proposals to end biannual clock changes from 2021 were backed by the Transport and Tourism Committee on Monday.

The Transport Committee proposes that the clock change on the last Sunday in March 2021 should be the last one for EU countries that decide to permanently keep their summer time. Member states that prefer to keep their standard time, also known as ‘winter time’, could change the clocks for the last time on the last Sunday in October 2021.

Today the transport and tourism committee in the European Parliament backed the report of S&D MEP Marita Ulvskog calling for the abolition of seasonal time change, by 23 votes in favour to 11 against, but postponed the start date from 2019 to 2021. This would not modify EU countries’ right to decide on their standard time.

Protecting the single market

Transport Committee MEPs also want EU countries to coordinate any changes they make with each other. The Commission should assess a member state’s decision to change its standard time to ensure that the application of summer time in some countries and winter time in others does not disrupt the functioning of the internal market.

2021 could be the last year with a seasonal change of time in the EU

If the Commission determines that the foreseen time arrangements could significantly and permanently hamper the proper functioning of the single market, it may submit a proposal to postpone the date of application of the directive by a maximum of 12 months and submit a new legislative proposal.

The text, once approved by the full Parliament, will form the MEPs’ position for negotiations with the Council of Ministers.

EPP proposes a coordination mechanism

“The introduction of the time change years ago did not lead to the expected benefits, such as energy savings. Instead, there are serious warnings from doctors about health hazards caused by the bi-annual time change. It is high time that we address this now”, said Czech MEP Pavel Svoboda on behalf of the EPP Group.

“For us, it is clear that subsidiarity is key here. However, we want to make sure that the Single Market is not hampered by the initiative. This is why we want to establish a coordination mechanism with the aim of finding a good solution for all Member States”, Svoboda explained. “This mechanism will consist of one representative for each Member State and one for the Commission. Together they will discuss and assess the potential impact of a country’s decision for summer or winter time on the functioning of the internal market in order to avoid significant disruption,” Czech MEP pointed out.

“It is important that we closely monitor the impact of Member States’ final choices. If problems appear in the internal market because of time differences, for example with timetables in the transport sector or flight schedules for airlines, we want to make sure we have a backstop. Should significant problems arise, we want the European Commission to trigger a 12-month delay of the legislation in order to change it to deal with the problems”, Svoboda concluded.

S&Ds demand that the seasonal time change is abolished by 2021

“Member states choose if they want wintertime or summertime as permanent standard time. But it is very important for the EU internal market to work and to keep a harmonised approach with the internal market, with for example transport and communications. We want a coordinated mechanism, where member states need to cooperate and coordinate between themselves to avoid a patchwork of different times in the EU,” said Marita Ulvskog.

“Instead of April 2019, as proposed by the Commission, to postpone it to 2021. The Commission proposal to be somewhat premature, as no proper impact assessment was performed before the proposal to revise the Directive was drawn up. The Commission’s open consultation was also conducted over a relatively short period, eight weeks, rather than the customary 12 weeks. This is regrettable, as impact assessments of legislative proposals are an important way of providing policymakers with sufficient information to base their final decision on,” she added.

“A harmonised time system within the EU is essential. Member states should be free to decide which time they choose, but they must coordinate their work on the choice of time zone and standard time among themselves. Decisions on this could be coordinated by exchanging information between responsible contact points in the member states in the form of a network,” said S&D spokesperson on transport, Ismail Ertug MEP.

Negative effects on human health

Referring to scientific studies indicating negative effects on human health and a number of concerns expressed by citizens’ initiatives, in a February 2018 resolution the Parliament called on the Commission to conduct a “thorough assessment of the current summer-time arrangements directive and, if necessary, come up with a proposal for its revision”.

Member states will keep their right to decide on their time zone

In response, the Commission organised a public consultation in the summer of 2018, which received 4.6 million responses, of which 84% were in favour of discontinuing the biannual clock changes, while 16% wanted to keep them. On 12 September 2018, the European Commission tabled a proposal for discontinuing seasonal changes of time.

The EU first unified the summer-time arrangements in 1980, in order to ensure a harmonised approach to time switching within the single market, as until then, national summer time practices and schedules were diverging. The current summer time arrangements directive requires EU countries to switch to summer time on the last Sunday of March and back to standard time on the last Sunday of October.