By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union governments began discussions on Monday to assess whether and when to scrap the twice-yearly clock change, amid doubts the requirement would be dropped in 2019 as the EU executive has proposed.
Last month, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a plan to stop changing Europe’s clocks next year, after millions of people responded to a survey by calling for the decades-old practice to end.
Norbert Hofer, transport minister of Austria, whose country holds the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, told reporters on Monday that 2019 was too soon for most.
“We will need to find a compromise as some countries, actually most, have reservations about changing the system in 2019,” he said before a meeting of fellow transport ministers in Graz, Austria, a day after clocks went back an hour for winter.
Many countries had referred to an array of technical issues to solve, adding that the airline industry for one had said it needed 18 months to prepare, he said. Monday’s meeting was a first informal discussion with no decision due. The transport ministers’ next formal meeting is on Dec. 3.
The Commission had wanted each EU government to decide by April which time zone they want to be in permanently — whether in October 2019 they want to stay in summer time year-round or turn their clocks back one last time to permanent winter time.
Hofer said Austria agreed that the switch should take place, given studies showing clock changes had a negative effect on people and animals and that they did not meet their original goal of saving energy.
“It has not brought us anything. It was an idea from the 1970s, the time of the oil crisis, and now is the time to end this measure,” he said. “The majority (of countries) supports this goal. There are some countries that are sceptical.”
Danish Transport Minister Ole Birk Olesen said there needed to be a full public debate on the issue, which had not yet happened in Denmark, and it was not realistic to scrap clock changes next year.
Luxembourg, where nearly half the local workforce actually lives in Belgium, France or Germany, urged a continued harmonised system, its minister saying it would be “catastrophic” if those countries were on different time zones.
Even in countries where there was a consensus to scrap clock changes, there was not necessarily agreement on whether to pick summer or winter time. Estonian minister Kadri Simson said there would be “heated debate” over which time to pick.
(Editing by Alastair Macdonald, Larry King)