Clock stops on EU plan to scrap daylight savings time

Contentious move to abolish mandatory seasonal clock changes ‘not top priority now’

What will happen to time, going forward? Photograph: David Sleator

What will happen to time, going forward? Photograph: David Sleator

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Clocks move forward by one hour at 1am on Sunday with the beginning of “summer time” but the clock appears to have stopped on a contentious EU plan to scrap biannual seasonal time changes.

Brussels unveiled the plan in 2018 to do away with daylight saving time this year, setting off sharp debate on the merits of changing the clock on the final Sunday of March and October.

More than 16,000 people responded to a Department of Justice survey in 2019, with a majority in favour of abolishing a practice that was introduced in Ireland in 1916.

Changing the rules would lead to brighter winter evenings but the Government has opposed such a move, fearing it would result in different time zones on either side of the Border.

Now the plan has stalled. Coronavirus overshadows all European governments, sapping any enthusiasm to tackle wide differences between member states on the question of time. “The clock has not moved forwards,” said a European Commission spokesman when asked recently about the initiative.

While the last mandatory time change was supposed to take place this weekend, disagreement is as constant as the proverbial timepiece. The last big effort to settle divisions was 2019, with little sign now of any fresh moves to break the logjam.

“It’s kind of stuck. It doesn’t look like it is going anywhere soon,” said an EU diplomat. “Given everything that’s going on it might not be top priority at the moment.”

Cross-Border divergence

Finland and the Baltic states favoured change. But Ireland was opposed, not least because Brexit means the UK would not be bound by the European time standards.

That in turn could lead to a cross-Border time divergence between the Republic and the North, a no-go for Dublin after painstaking diplomacy to avert Brexit friction between the two jurisdictions.

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

Public support in Ireland for changing the rules of time was not unqualified. In a 2019 survey by pollsters Amárach for the Government, some 82 per cent did not favour any measure that would lead to different time zones on the island.

“The results demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of members of the public would not be in favour of any change that would result in two time zones on the island of Ireland, which would inevitably lead to increased difficulties for business and the general public,” the department stated.

Long disagreements over time are nothing new. European legislation on summer time was first introduced in 1980 after a four-year negotiation. But as many as nine directives were required to put a uniform EU-wide system in place, a process that carried on for 20 years.