In the night from Saturday to Sunday, as happens every year, the clocks go back one hour and 03.00 becomes 02.00 again, in the change to winter time – but is this the last time that will happen? It appears not, since the Flemish government has asked its federal counterpart for a year to allow it to prepare for the change. That means the clocks go back tonight, to go forward again in March as usual, switching to summer time. And there, if all goes according to plan, they will stay for good. But the principle is not yet unanimously accepted.
Far from being a long-held tradition, the change from summer time to winter time in Belgium only goes back to 1977, primarily as a measure to save energy. The proposal to do away with the change comes from the European Commission, which has asked member states for their views.
In Belgium, that means getting the opinions of the three regions. In the meantime, prime minister Charles Michel has insisted he wants his government to remain in line with the Benelux partners Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
For the Commission, the agreement of all member states is the ideal. However time differences are not uncommon in the EU: Portugal and the UK are in a different time zone than most of continental Europe: on Saturday London is at GMT + 1 hour; Brussels and Madrid are at GMT + 2, and Bucharest at GMT + 3. On Sunday each clock goes back one hour, and the differences remain.
Supporters of the change had hoped this year’s switch to winter time would be the last, and in March when we go back to summer time, we would remain there without any further changes. But opponents point out that the switch to summer time messes with the biorhythms of humans, and the milking needs of dairy cattle. Some experts, on the other hand, argue that winter time is better for children’s sleep, as it gets dark earlier in the evening and gets light later in the morning.
Last week a meeting of experts took place, and came out in support of a proposal by the Austrian presidency of the EU to delay the decision until 2021 – even longer than Flanders is asking for. Mobility and environment ministers will meet in Graz on Monday to discuss the issue. In the meantime, don’t forget you have an extra hour in bed tonight.