Clock changes: is it time for change? Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.Member States of the European Union (EU) have exclusive competence for determining the standard time(s), or time zone(s), applying on their territory.1 They are, however, required by EU legislation to shift their time forward by one hour on the last Sunday of March and back again on the last Sunday of October, a practice referred to as seasonal changes of time or, more commonly, as clock changes.

2.Seasonal changes of time predate the EU and its predecessor organisations. First proposed in the UK in 1907 to allow for more leisure time in the summer, they were adopted by several European countries during the First and Second World Wars as an energy-saving measure. Most countries abandoned the system at the end of the Second World War, except for the UK.

3.During the 1960s and 1970s, seasonal changes of time were re-introduced in several Member States of the European Economic Community (EEC). The start and end dates of summer-time differed, however, across countries. To avoid adverse impacts on the functioning of the Single Market, a series of European Directives were adopted, progressively harmonising seasonal changes of time across Member States. This involved three main stages:

4.At present, seasonal changes of time are governed by Directive 2000/84/EC, also known as the 9th Summertime Directive.2 Unlike predecessor legislation, it provides for the arrangements for seasonal changes of time to apply indefinitely and, in the Commission’s view, makes them compulsory.3

The debate on seasonal changes of time

5.Seasonal changes of time are the subject of strong opposition in some EU Member States. For example, in Finland in 2017, both a citizens’ initiative and the Finnish parliament’s transport and communications committee asked for them to be abandoned, citing evidence of their negative effects on work performance and sleeping patterns.4 The Finnish government subsequently wrote to the Commission with the same request.5 Pieter Cleppe, Head of Brussels Office, Open Europe, told us that clock changes were also “seen as a great concern” in Germany,6 and the Government’s submission to our inquiry named Poland among the opponents of the clock change system.7

6.In February 2018, the European Parliament (EP) passed a resolution calling on the Commission to conduct a “thorough assessment” of the 9th Summertime Directive in the light of the citizens’ initiatives.8 That resolution referenced an October 2017 review by the European Parliamentary Research Service of the literature on summer-time arrangements, which pointed to evidence of clock changes adversely affecting human health.9 That review referred in particular to health research summarised in a report by the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag, which highlighted negative effects on concentration and cognition in the days after a time change, and possibly more long-lasting effects on sleep patterns, hormone release, and the body’s metabolism.10 The Office of Technology Assessment’s report concluded, however, that further research was required on the “short-term and long-term [health] implications related to the time change”.11

7.The Commission held a public consultation on the possibility of abolishing seasonal changes of time between 4 July and 16 August 2018. The consultation was open to citizens (with no age restrictions), businesses and other stakeholders, including Member States. Respondents were asked to:

8.The consultation received an unprecedented 4.6 million responses, the highest number ever received by a Commission consultation, of which 99.8% were submitted by citizens.12 Strikingly, 3.1 million responses (70% of the total) came from Germany. The UK recorded the lowest participation rate, with UK responses only accounting for 0.1% of the country’s population.13

9.84% of all respondents to the Commission’s consultation supported the abolition of clock changes, with 43% indicating health as the main reason for their preference. 56% favoured the adoption of permanent summer-time in their country. Around 82% of responses from UK citizens and 73% of those submitted by UK businesses and stakeholders supported ending seasonal changes of time. 53% of citizens and 73% of businesses and stakeholders chose permanent summer-time as their preferred option.14

The current proposal

10.On 12 September 2018, the Commission published a proposal that would replace the obligation to apply clock changes with an obligation to discontinue them. Member States would retain the discretion to decide which standard time—permanent winter-time or permanent summer-time—to observe. The Commission initially intended for the last clock change to occur on 31 March 2019 in countries adopting year-round summer-time, and on 27 October 2019 in those choosing winter-time.

11.In the explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposal, the Commission reasoned that abolishing seasonal changes of time would maintain a harmonised approach across Member States while addressing the concerns raised “by citizens, by the European Parliament, and by a growing number of Member States”.15 It found, however, after a review of existing studies, that evidence of the health implications of seasonal changes of time was “inconclusive”.16 A very brief impact assessment noted, in broad terms, that the abolition of seasonal changes of time would “bring about transition costs” in the IT and transport sectors.17

12.As with the 9th Summertime Directive, the legal basis used by the Commission in bringing forward the proposal was Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which justifies EU intervention to promote the functioning of the Single Market.

Legislative negotiations

13.The EP adopted its position on the Commission’s proposal on 29 March 2019. While endorsing ending clock changes, the EP proposed a postponement to 2021 and a different implementation process. Under the EP position, Member States intending to adopt permanent winter-time from October 2021 would need to notify the Commission by 1 April 2020. Any such notification would be considered by a ‘coordination mechanism’, made up of the Commission and Member State representatives, to assess the risks to the functioning of the Single Market. If deemed necessary, the notifying Member State would be given an opportunity to revise its choice or set out how it intends to address any implications for the Single Market. The Commission would also be empowered to delay the application of the new Directive by up to 12 months, or submit a new proposal, if it foresaw significant risks to the functioning of the Single Market.18

14.Council discussions on the proposal have made little progress since December 2018. In October 2018, the Austrian Council Presidency put forward a compromise text that would postpone implementation of the proposal to 2021 and extend the notification period for Member States from six to 18 months. While the text was welcomed by Member States as a step in the right direction, it has not been taken for a General Approach.19

15.The Government told us that Member States remained concerned by “the legal basis of the proposal, potential de-harmonisation across the EU and … the Commission’s limited impact assessment”.20 Added to this, the Irish government reported that the Council Legal Service had, in a June 2019 legal opinion, criticised the proposal for not being sufficiently justified in the light of the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity.21

16.Three national parliament chambers also raised concerns about the proposal on subsidiarity grounds through the Reasoned Opinion procedure:22 the Danish parliament,23 the House of Commons,24 and the House of Lords.25 In our Reasoned Opinion, we expressed scepticism about what the Commission called “increased questioning” of the current summer-time arrangements and noted that none of the studies and reports on the application of summer-time cited by the Commission recommended abandoning existing arrangements. We therefore concluded that the proposal’s subsidiarity statement fell short of the requirements set out in Protocol 2 annexed to the Treaty on European Union and the TFEU.

17.The Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, Kelly Tolhurst MP, told us on 24 October 2019 that she expected the Finnish Presidency to “agree some steps” later in 2019.26 On 2 December 2019, following a Transport Council meeting, Finland’s Transport Minister was reported as stating that Member States were still unable to establish their positions “because of a lack of information”.27

18.The Minister told us that the Government had opposed the proposal in Council discussions and had worked “hard to create an understanding of the UK’s position” on the proposal.28 She highlighted, in particular, the role of Lord Henley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) until July 2019, who had engaged bilaterally with EU Ministers about the UK’s concerns.29

This inquiry

19.On 22 October 2018 we published a Reasoned Opinion on the Commission’s new proposal, concluding that it breached the principle of subsidiarity. A response by the Commission followed on 24 January 2019, which in our view did not meaningfully engage with the arguments set out in our report.30 This inquiry has considered the Commission’s proposal in greater depth.

20.Given the Government’s commitment that the post-Brexit transition period will end on 31 December 2020 and the lack of evidence of the proposal currently being prioritised at EU level, it is unlikely that the proposal will be agreed and transposed into Member States’ national law while EU rules remain binding on the UK. Should the proposal eventually become EU law, the UK will be left to decide whether to end its own clock changes in the light of its neighbours abolishing theirs. Any such decision will merit careful consideration.

21.Chapter 2 sets out the various responses to the Commission’s proposal from EU and non-EU countries and representatives of the industries that might be most affected. Chapter 3 sets out the potential implications of any non-alignment between the UK and its EU neighbours on clock changes. Chapter 4 then considers the possible impacts in the UK if both the UK and the EU discontinued seasonal changes of time. Finally, Chapter 5 considers how the UK Government might gather an evidence base to help inform its decision-making should this EU proposal proceed.

22.The EU Internal Market Sub-Committee, whose members are listed in Appendix 1, met in September and October 2019 to take oral evidence, and received 27 pieces of written evidence. Witnesses are listed in Appendix 2. The Committee is grateful for their participation in this inquiry.

23.We make this report for debate.

1 There are currently three standard times in the EU: Western European Time or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), Central European Time (GMT+1), and Eastern European Time (GMT+2).

2 Directive 2000/84/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 January 2001 on summer-time arrangements, OJ L 031 (2 February 2002)

3 Answer to parliamentary question E-015476-15 given by Ms Bulc on behalf of the Commission (3 February 2016): [accessed 4 December 2019]

4 ‘Why Finland wants the EU to abolish daylight saving time’, The Economist (30 October 2017): [accessed 29 November 2019]

5 European Commission, ‘Public Consultation on summertime arrangements’: [accessed 29 November 2019]

6 Q 3 (Pieter Cleppe)

7 Written evidence from Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (SCT0023)

8 European Parliament resolution of 8 February 2018 on time change arrangements: [accessed 2 January 2020]

9 European Parliamentary Research Service, EU summer-time arrangements under Directive 2000/84/EC – Ex-post impact assessment, October 2017 (October 2017) [accessed 29 November 2019]

10 Claudio Caviezel and Christopher Revermann, Bilanz der Sommerzeit: Endbericht zum TAProjekt, TAB, Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag, Report No 165, February 2016: English summary, ‘Assessment of daylight saving time’:

11 Ibid.

12 European Court of Auditors ,‘Have your say!’: Commission’s public consultations engage citizens, but fall short of outreach activities: [accessed 4 December 2019]

13 European Commission, Public Consultation on EU Summertime Arrangements: Report of Results (September 2018): [accessed 11 December 2019]

14 Ibid.

15 Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council discontinuing seasonal changes of time and repealing Directive 2000/84/EC, COM(2018)639, p 1

16 Ibid, p 4

17 Ibid, p 6

18 European Parliament legislative resolution of 26 March 2019 on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council discontinuing seasonal changes of time and repealing Directive 2000/84/EC (COM(2018)0639 – C8-0408/2018 – 2018/0332(COD)): [accessed 2 December 2019]

19 Council of the European Union, Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council discontinuing seasonal changes of time and repealing Directive 2000/84/EC—Progress report, 28 November 2018: [accessed 16 December 2019]

20 Written evidence from Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (SCT0023)

21 Republic of Ireland, Department of Justice and Equality, Report of the Interdepartmental Group on EU Proposal to Discontinue Seasonal Clock Changes : [accessed 2 December 2019]

22 Under Protocol No 2 annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, national parliaments can challenge EU legislation for any failure to comply with the principle of subsidiarity within eight weeks from the date that the proposed legislation is transmitted to them in the official languages of the Union.

23 Danish Parliament, Reasoned opinion regarding the Commission’s proposed measures to discontinue seasonal changes of time (13 November 2018): [accessed 10 December 2019]

24 European Scrutiny Committee, Ending Seasonal Changes of Time Directive (Forty-second Report, Session 2017–19, HC 301-xli)

25 European Union Select Committee, Subsidiarity Assessment: discontinuing seasonal changes of time (22nd Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 200)

26 Q 19 (Kelly Tolhurst MP)

27 ‘Finnish minister: Impact assessment is sticking point on clock change, Politico (February 2019): [accessed 4 December 2019]

28 Q 20 (Kelly Tolhurst MP)

29 Q 19 (Kelly Tolhurst MP)

30 European Commission response to Subsidiarity Assessment: discontinuing seasonal changes of time (24 January 2019): [accessed 20 January 2020]

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