Daylight saving time may become a thing of the past in Europe

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LONDON — What is the point of daylight saving time if the sun doesn’t rise or set for most of the year?

That’s a question that Finland — the most northerly nation in the 28-member European Union — has been asking for a while.

Now some Finns are hoping that a Europe-wide public consultation, which closes Aug. 16, will put an end to the biannual hassle of changing the clocks.

It comes after lawmakers in the country, in the easternmost of the bloc’s three time zones, concluded in an official report that putting the clocks forward and back might even be making citizens sick.

Jarmo Hietala, 45, a student from Kokkola who attends the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi in the north of the country, despises daylight saving time. So much, in fact, that he refuses to ever change the clocks in his house.

“I don’t need to follow daylight saving time. All my clocks are in normal winter time. And when people say ‘10 o’clock,’ I just add one hour and use mathematics and my brain,” he told NBC News.

“There are some problems in that you have to adjust your computer. I have the South African time zone on my computer — they don’t have daylight saving time there, but they have the same [standard] time zone as Finland.”

The sun doesn’t go down on Rovaniemi for most of June and July, and in winter it barely rises. In Lapland, therefore, daylight saving time barely saves any daylight at all.

Image: Helsinki
The sun sets behind the presidential palace and cathedral in Helsinki.Leonhard Foeger / Reuters

For Finns such as Hietala, moving the clocks forward an hour in the spring, and back an hour in the fall, is a pointless inconvenience.

Yet the country has followed the practice — observed by some 70 nations worldwide, including most of Europe and North America — since 1981.

However, 70,000 Finns last year signed a petition asking the government to scrap it.

That prompted a Finnish parliamentary committee to consult experts on the topic, leading to the recommendation that the government should do what the petition asked.

Changing the clocks, the committee concluded, causes short-term sleeping disorders, impairs performance at work and could lead to serious health problems as citizens struggle to adapt.

Finnish researchers, for example, found in 2016 that the rate of the most common kind of stroke increases 8 percent after the clocks are changed.

“The primary objective should be to abolish the clock movements on uniform basis throughout the European Union,” the committee concluded in October.

European Union rules require all member countries to follow the same changeover dates — from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October — in order to ensure travel and trade runs smoothly across the bloc.

Finland’s move prompted a debate in the European Parliament, where lawmakers called for a “thorough assessment” of the value of daylight saving time.

Nils Torvalds, a Finnish member of the European Parliament, said there is a consensus among Finnish lawmakers, and most of his constituents, to abolish it.

“The message I get on my email, or whenever I’m somewhere in Finland, is that ‘could you please have this finished?’” he told NBC News by phone from his office in Brussels.

Finns aren’t alone in pushing for an end to clock changes, with some support for abolishing the practice in Lithuania, Poland and Sweden too.

Seán Kelly, an Irish member of the European Parliament (MEP), has been calling for an end to daylight saving at the E.U. committee level.

“On a personal level I have found increasingly over the years that the biannual clock change was outdated,” he told NBC News. “Then when I became an MEP, I found that there were others with a similar view.”

He has argued for a switch to permanent summertime, whereas Finland simply wants to see an end to the constant changing.

Kelly hopes the European Commission’s consultation will provide answers on what arrangement the general public wants. It contains a multiple-choice question asking respondents whether they’d prefer permanent summer time, permanent winter time, or sticking to daylight saving.

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