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Why it's time Spain turned back the clock forever

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Why it's time Spain turned back the clock forever
The clock in Madrid's Puerta del Sol sets the time for Spain. Photo: Pablo Lopez/Flickr
09:31 CEST+02:00
When the clocks go back in Spain this Sunday, many in Spain hope it will be for the last time.

When the EU announced a movement to abolish the practice of daylight saving last year, it particularly struck a chord in Spain, where many believe they are living in the wrong time zone.

Current convention has it that all of Europe changes its clocks back one hour during the night of the last Saturday in October and forward again on the last weekend of March.

The practice was introduced in the early 20th century as a way of making the most of the natural light and conserving fuel, but is considered by many to be obsolete.

EU wide movement against it

In 2018, the President of the EU Commission announced his plan to abolish the changing of the clocks after an online survey showed that Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on "summer time".

Jean-Claude Juncker said he wanted to follow the wishes of the 80 percent of Europeans who voted to get rid of the seasonal changing of the clocks, so Europe could remain on Summer Time all year round.

But earlier this year the measure was postponed until 2021 to allow all the national government time to decide which time-zone they want to stick in. 

This means that European nations must communicate whether they choose summer or winter time, at the latest, by April 2020. If they opt for the first option, the last time change will take place in March 2021, while the clock will be changed for the last time in October 2021 in those nations that decide to stay with winter time.

READ MORE: EU aims to scrap turning the clocks back for winter 


Photo: AFP

Is Spain in the right time zone?

The EU-wide discussion ties in with a campaign within Spain to move the clocks back an hour permanently, ending a Franco-era legacy that has been in place more than 75 years.

Spain (apart from the Canary Islands) has been running on standard Central European Time (CET) zone, since 1942, when Spanish dictator Francisco Franco supposedly turned the clocks forward in solidarity with his allies, Nazi Germany. 

The change would make sense for Spain, which geographically lies further west than London, yet runs on the same time as the Serbian capital Belgrade, 2,500km (1,550 miles) to the east.


Map: Lmbuga/Wikimedia

The time difference also explains one of Spain’s most striking peculiarities: its late meal times. Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards' eating patterns mirror GMT; people tend to eat lunch at what would be 1pm in London (but 2pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but a yawn-inducing 9pm in Spain).

A parliamentary paper in 2013 recommended Spain return to GMT bringing it in line with the UK and Portugal. It also suggested that prime time television, which usually starts at around 10.30pm, be brought forward so Spaniards could go to bed earlier. 

Turning back the clocks one hour would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards "return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany".

"If we don’t (change time zones) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep," she added.

José Canseco, a professor at EAE Business School and a member of National Commission for Rationalizing Spanish Timetables (ARHOE) argues that the reasons for changing the time zone twice annually are now obsolete.

 “The reasons why the time change was introduced (energy saving, fewer accidents, benefitting agriculture and livestock) are no longer in force: energy efficiency measures save much more energy, developments in infrastructure and advances in car technology prevent accidents (at night) and agriculture and livestock industries have made enough progress to not depend on one more hour of sunlight,” he said.

“In contrast, the impact of changing the time in some population groups - children, the elderly, pregnant women, or people with chronic diseases or pregnant women - is very high.

“On average, a person takes 4 days to adjust to the new schedule, but these groups can take up to two weeks to adjust.”


Photo: Justyna Rawińska / Flickr

Some opposition

Not everyone, however is in favour of putting the clocks back an hour. Not even just for winter.

The Balearic Islands want to introduce a measure that will see time stand still across the archipelago, or at least will see the islands keep summertime when the rest of Spain turns the clocks.

MPs from all parties in the Balearic parliament support the initiative that argues that the hour change is bad for islands that depend so much on daylight.

Given their easterly location, the sun sets over the islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera almost an hour earlier than in the westernmost parts of Spain’s peninsula.

READ MORE: Balearic Islands choose to keep summertime forever

Keeping summertime, they argue, could also bring an economic boost, bringing more tourism during the winter months and keeping down electricity bills.

The Canary Islands, which get their own mention on the hour on every radio station, have also rejected any permanent time zone change for Spain arguing that it “in no case” wants to have the same time zone as the mainland.

Spain is yet to decide

In the wake of the EU decision, Spain approved the creation of a commission of experts to study the consequences of scrapping the hour change and settlling permanently on either Summer or Winter time.

A group of 14 experts are preparing reports on how Spaniards could be adversly affected, especially those in the most vulnerable population groups. They are also tasked with looking at how the different schedules influence social, environmental and economic sustainability.

 
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