EU transport ministers requested on Monday (29 October) more time to decide on ending the twice-yearly clock change, pointing to the preparations needed to avoid chaos in the European transport system.
Austrian minister, Norbert Hofer, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, told reporters after a meeting of fellow transport ministers in Graz that the European Commission’s plan to scrap the clock change next year was too soon.
Last month, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a plan to stop changing Europe’s clocks in 2019, after millions of people responded to a survey by calling for the decades-old practice to end.
“There was a majority of countries for ending clock changes. Three countries were sceptical and one was concerned that we could end up with a patchwork of different time zones,” Hofer told reporters.
The meeting took place only a day after clocks went back an hour for winter time. No formal decision was expected as it was an informal meeting of ministers.
Hofer said there was broad support for Austria’s proposal that the switch to permanent winter or summer time should take place in 2021 instead.
The airline industry, for example, has said it needs 18 months to prepare, he said. Air carriers were concerned that the clock change would force them to adjust 75% of the permits (slots) to take off and land in more than one hundred airports.
These concerns came on top of the uncertainty around the UK’s withdrawal from the EU that could affect flights between the UK and Europe after 29 March in case of a no-deal scenario.
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.
Britain was one of the countries sceptical about ending the clock change, together with Sweden and Poland.
The Commission wants each EU government to decide by April which time zone they want to be in permanently from October 2019.
EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc admitted there was now a possibility that more time might be needed.
Other governments requested more time to discuss with their citizens. Danish Transport Minister Ole Birk Olesen said there needed to be a full public debate on the issue, and it was not realistic to scrap clock changes next year.
The Commission’s public consultation that led to the proposal was controversial given that 70% of Europeans who participated in the poll were Germans. In most member states the participation was minimal.
Meanwhile, other countries were against the proposal. Luxembourg, where nearly half the local workforce actually lives in Belgium, France or Germany, urged the continuation of a harmonised system, its minister saying it would be “catastrophic” if those countries were on different time zones.
Countries in the north, with sharper seasonal differences in their hours of daylight, and notably those like Britain and Sweden with big differences between north and south, may face especially difficult choices.
Even in countries where there is a consensus to scrap clock changes, there is not necessarily agreement on whether to pick summer or winter time. Estonian minister Kadri Simson forecast a “heated debate” over which time to pick.