The European Commission presented in 2018 a proposal to end seasonal time changes in 2019, leaving the Member States the freedom to decide their standard time. The European Parliament also adopted its position in 2019, supporting the stop to the seasonal clock changes by 2021. It is now in the hands of the EU Council, in which all Member States are represented, to adopt a final position on the issue and to agree amongst Member States which should be their standard time.
The current energy crisis, together with health and economic crises faced because of COVID-19 and the Ukraine war, make a decision about clock changes even more urgent, as eliminating clock changes and living in the correct time zone will provide benefits in terms of health, economy, and the environment. According to the proposal presented, maintaining clock changes has no significant effects on energy saving, with some studies even showing that it increases energy spending.
After signing the Barcelona Declaration on Time Policies (2021), that has as one of its goals to “Promote the debate among the scientific community and the relevant policy makers regarding the end of seasonal time changes, establishing health and well-being as main criteria while respecting individual freedom.” a group of experts and advocates was created. The group includes renowned chronobiologists such as Till Roenneberg, Martha Merrow, and Erik Herzog, as well as key organisations advocating for healthy time zones , namely the International Alliance for Natural Time, the European Biological Rhythms Society, and the European Medical Association.
They have worked together this past year in order to help Member States finally take that decision, by elaborating aproposal on implementing permanent time zones in the European Union. The proposal involves aligning the different countries’ time zones as close as possible to their solar time. This means that each country will adopt the time zone that reflects their geographical situation (similar to time zones in the USA), thereby promoting health, economy, safety, and the environment.
To adopt this final situation, the experts propose a two-step plan:
Step 1: All EU countries abolish the clock change in spring and remain on the clock time they use in winter. For those countries whose recommended time zone is their current standard time, no further steps need to be taken.
Step 2: Those countries whose recommended time zone is not yet their standard time (Belgium, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain), additionally turn back their clocks one last time by one hour in autumn, in order to adopt their recommended time zone as their new standard time.
According to the experts, this should be accompanied with awareness-raising campaigns, as well as support for those sectors that expect to be affected by the change, so they can swiftly adapt to the new situation.
The key argument to adopt this proposal is that misaligned clocks increase sleep deprivation and social jetlag in the majority of the population, which is associated with significant negative effects on human health, economy, and safety, as shown by a large body of scientific publications in high ranking international journals.
As Ariadna Güell, co-coordinator of the Barcelona Time Use Initiative and one of the promoters of the group, states: “This proposal is easy to implement and will improve the health of many and save energy. We hope that this proposal will facilitate a practical dialogue on how to enable an end of clock changes in the EU”.
So far, the proposal has been endorsed by several organisations and individual scientists, and the group is actively looking for more endorsements to reinforce its relevance.