You snooze you lose (one hour). PICTURE: 123RTG/olegdudko
You snooze you lose (one hour). PICTURE: 123RTG/olegdudko

Belgium — The EU said on Friday that it will recommend abolishing the twice-yearly clock change amid unprecedented demand from European citizens who call it disruptive and even harmful to health.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said "summer time should be year-round" with his commissioners pledging to act on the move during their annual retreat to a lakeside hotel in Genval, Belgium.

The commission is now preparing a proposal to send to the European parliament and the member states in the following weeks, which could be enacted by 2020 or 2021, transport and Slovenian commissioner Violeta Bulc told reporters. "Millions of Europeans use our public consultation to make their voices heard. The message is very clear: 84% of them do not want the clocks to change anymore."

According to preliminary results, some 4.6-million European citizens responded to the online poll — the biggest in EU history, Bulc said — on whether they wanted the change.

Since 1996, all Europeans have been advancing their clock by one hour on the last Sunday of March and putting it back one hour on the last Sunday of October. Under the new proposal, it will be up to each individual member state to decide whether they follow winter time or summer time.

The EU has backed a uniform seasonal clock-change for 12 years after many European countries began the practice during the First World War on the premise that it saved energy. The practice was reinforced during the Second World War and during the energy crisis in the 1970s.

However, Bulc said the energy-savings argument is less powerful in a modern economy that is also moving to cleaner forms of energy, telling reporters, "There is no obvious evidence that energy is saved." She said citizens complained about disruption to their home lives, the number of hours spent in darkness, as well as negative effects on their health.

Speaking to German public broadcaster ZDF, Juncker said the survey indicated "summer time should be year-round, and that’s what will happen. I will recommend to the commission that, if you ask the citizens, then you have to do what the citizens say."

The survey was conducted between July 4 and August 16.

Public consultations are one of the tools the EU commission uses to assess policy, along with scientific studies. Though an unprecedented number of people responded to the survey, the participation rate was 0.89% of the population across the bloc, with the highest in Germany at 3.79% and the lowest in Britain, which is leaving the EU, at 0.02%.