Time complicates the situation in Europe. We won't have cows adjusting our watches!

The situation is stalemate. Although most Europeans do not want the time to change, they will still adjust their clocks twice a year - like last Sunday, October 29. The European Commission favours eliminating the time change but believes that the Member States must first reach an agreement on this matter.

In 2018, 4 million 600 thousand citizens of EU countries expressed their opinion on the time change in research organised by the European Union. As many as 84 percent were in favour of giving up the time change, and as many as 76 percent (over three-quarters!) said they had negative experiences with it. These consultations were attended by the most significant number of EU citizens so far. Therefore, the European Commission decided that it should address this issue, which is so important to citizens of Member States.

Already in 2019, the inhabitants of Europe, rubbing their sleepy eyes and troubled twice a year, hoped that their torment would end very quickly. This is because the directive adopted a year earlier assumed that April 1, 2019 (with a possible correction in the autumn of the same year) would be the last day of the time change, at least in some countries. After all, member states were given the freedom to choose a standard time.

The directive was submitted to the European Parliament, where several amendments were introduced at the end of March 2019. The biggest one was the postponement of the time change date to April 1, 2021 (with a possible autumn correction), and after the corrections were made, the directive was submitted to the Council of the European Union, where intergovernmental arrangements were to be made.

And there was a stalemate in the Council. Most countries want to stick to summer time, but the Nordic countries favour winter time instead. The South, on the other hand, doesn't want to change anything. The largest EU countries, Germany and France - although they do not declare it strongly - favour adopting one standard time for the entire community. The discussion has no clear conclusion, so the European Union may still be divided into different time zones.

Europe of time zones

It seems that the majority of those in favour of a uniform standard time for the entire EU are the business circles, which fear that the diversity of time zones may disrupt the harmonious flow of goods and services. This could make market coordination more difficult. In such cases, citizens' well-being issues become secondary. Capital first.
Zmiana czasu z letniego na zimowy – w Polsce w ostatni weekend października, w nocy z 28 na 29, cofnęliśmy zegarki o godzinę: z 3:00 na 2:00, i o tę jedną godzinę śpaliśmy dłużej. Fot. PAP/Darek Delmanowicz
And the biggest problem with the time change is that no common position has been reached. This lack of solution applies to issues such as opting out of time changes, selecting time options and selecting or changing a specific time zone or groups of time zones. In short - and as the classic would say - nobody knows anything.

Although it is true that in October 2021, the European Commission obliged member states to prepare legal provisions in the years 2022-2026 - "based on which the current arrangements regarding the time changes will be continued" - it didn't look like anything was to be modified any time now.

There are currently three time zones in the European Union: Western European Time, also known as Universal Time (GMT), Central European Time (GMT+1) and Eastern European Time (GMT+2). Two countries used GMT after Britain left the EU: Ireland and Portugal. Eight countries use Eastern European Time (GMT+2): Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania. Now, most countries – as many as seventeen - use Central European Time, i.e. GMT+1: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Malta, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Hungary and Italy.

The choices and separate decisions - to be made by different countries regarding changes from winter to summer time - probably complicate the situation in Europe. This may create additional time zones. The desire to coordinate this process is understandable. However, there are fears that the anxiety over any change will completely stop the need to eliminate the time change.

From war savings

In the past, time changes were introduced for cost-saving reasons. This is what the governments of France and Germany, on opposite sides of the fighting, did during World War I - they introduced summer time. Great Britain soon joined them, then the allies of the warring parties, and later also neutral countries. After the end of the war, the countries of the Old Continent gradually moved away from war decisions, but the problem returned during the next world war. In the case of invaded Polish lands, the time was first changed in the areas occupied by the Soviets; it was managed by adjusting the Polish time according to the European part of the USSR. In turn, in the areas occupied by the Third Reich, Berlin time was in force, with summer and winter changes. After the war, time changes were in force in Poland for the first five years and at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s.

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Time changes returned to Poland and other European countries in the 1970s, mainly due to the global energy crisis. In the post-war period, Europe almost completely abandoned the use of summer time, although some countries in the European South - such as Italy and Greece - introduced summer time. Britain and Ireland moved away from daylight saving time in the late 1960s to align with other European countries before returning to daylight saving time in the early 1970s. Spain introduced summer time two years after the British, in 1974, and two years after them, in 1976, the French made this decision. Successive European countries introduced time changes in 1976-1981, and the most common reason for such a decision - apart from savings issues - was the need to standardise the watches of their citizens with those of their neighbours. In Poland, summer time has been in force since 1977.

Time changes don't save energy

The reason that played a major role in these changes, i.e. the economic factor, is currently of little importance. This was confirmed by the analysis of the European Commission. For example, electricity savings achieved thanks to the time change in Italy in 2016 amounted to only 0.2%. In France - six years earlier, in 2010 - this saving reached approximately 0.1 percent. In turn, German research showed that 2015 energy savings related to time changes were irrelevant. Why are they so irrelevant? Because energy consumption decreased by as much as 8 percent in general! In Spain, for example, energy consumption fell by 5 percent in the same year.

Concurrently, research carried out by independent centres, various governments and European structures shows that people tolerate the change from winter to summer time worse than expected - the adaptation period may even last many weeks. It looks a little better when changing from summer to winter time because people can sleep longer, but it is not indifferent. However, European policymakers say the research is inconclusive. The balance of negative and positive factors is not clear to them, and as you know - people like to complain, so they are probably whimsical when changing their clocks instead of showing enthusiasm.
Employees of the City Observatory in Edinburgh walk around a clock with two faces. Photo PAP/PA
Cows shouldn't complain about the time change either because officials say that artificial lighting and automated technology do not disturb their feeding and milking rhythm. Besides, it is known that these cows are responsible for greenhouse gases and global warming in general, so it is better to change cow's milk to oat milk than to endure the time change. Cows won't adjust our watches.

The end of the American dream

But not only Europe, especially the United one, has problems adjusting the time. Nearly sixty countries around the world change the time. Some states have given up on it in recent years, but these examples cannot be encouraging for the democratic community because these are Belarus, Russia and Turkey. Those nations are not the best allies for opponents of changing times, from summer to winter and vice versa.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE Americans also struggle with the time change. Reports from the USA were initially very optimistic. In recent years, there has been an informal but powerful movement favouring daylight saving time as standard time. Appropriate regulations have been introduced in over thirty states. There were cultural, ecological, economic and medical arguments. In 2015, the Nevada Assembly passed a resolution calling the US Congress to adopt daylight saving time. A similar document was adopted by the Florida Senate three years later. Then there were other states: Washington, Tennessee, Oregon, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia. Finally, on March 15, 2022, the US Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act, which stated that daylight saving time becomes mandatory and there is no longer any need to change the clocks.

A great triumph was announced. It seemed that nothing would stop the victorious march of the supporters of summer time - and simultaneously - opponents of constant time changes. A new reality was to be declared on November 5, 2023. The blow came from an unexpected direction. The House of Representatives did not accept the bill. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine opposed the project, supported by the American College of Chest Physicians and the World Sleep Society, which had completely different visions of standard time. And until the bill passes both houses of Congress, nothing will change in this matter.

For now, only a minority, i.e. 21 percent of US citizens, do not want it to remain the way it is now, 17 percent cannot decide. Of the remaining half of Americans, 31 percent prefer summer time all year round, and 31 percent prefer only winter time. It is not likely that anything will change quickly in America due to the time change.

I am one of those who have always had a hard time dealing with the time change. And I'll still feel terrible for a few weeks, twice in a row. Unfortunately, I'm not a cow, so neither artificial light nor feeding automation could help me.

– Grzegorz Sieczkowski

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Katarzyna Chocian
Main photo: According to officials, cows cannot complain about the time change because artificial lighting and automated technology do not disturb their feeding and milking rhythm. The photo shows a cow in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin, the seat of the German parliament, next to a banner with the inscription "Cows to pasture!" In May 2023, the so-called The Working Group on Rural Agriculture of Greenpeace protested against supporting animal feeding in stables. Photo PAP/EPA/Clemens Bilan
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