YESTERDAY countries in the European Union gained an hour of Sunday, thanks to daylight saving time (DST). The biannual turning of the clocks—an hour forward in the summer, an hour back in the winter—aims to maximise hours of natural daylight in the higher latitudes during the darker winter months. But Finland has had enough. Last week a parliamentary committee argued that it was time for the European Union to get rid of daylight saving time, and called for the Finnish government to start actively pushing for change. Why does Finland think it is past time for the EU to abolish daylight saving time?

Some 70 countries observe daylight saving time. The practice was introduced in most EU countries in the 1960s and ’70s, but its roots go back even further. An entomologist from New Zealand, George Vernon Hudson, was the first to formally suggest the idea, in 1895. Hudson figured out that moving clocks twice a year would make best use of natural daylight. The response he received was sceptical at best, and he was mocked for suggesting such a ridiculous and impractical idea. Benjamin Franklin had written a similar thought 100 years earlier in a letter to the Journal of Paris, a newspaper, in 1784. He thought that the only downside to daylight saving would be two or three days of grogginess while adjusting to a new time zone.

Franklin was perhaps a bit too optimistic. After listening to several experts, a Finnish parliamentary committee concluded that the transition between times is anything but smooth. Changing the clocks causes short-term sleeping disorders, poorer work performance and potentially serious health problems, as well as hassle for transport and industry. Moreover, it does little to help those, like the Finns, who live at very high latitudes. In northern Finland, the sun does not set at all during the summer, and does not rise in the winter. A citizen’s initiative against time-turning deemed it a waste of time and effort, and clocked up 70,000 signatures. So far, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has maintained that daylight saving time’s benefits outweigh the inconvenience, listing greater opportunities for evening leisure activities, synchronised transport schedules and potential for small energy savings. Finland’s hands are tied by an EU directive from 2000, which forbids individual states from abolishing daylight saving time. The directive harmonised EU-wide timekeeping to help make the transition from one time to another smoother within the internal market.

Despite an increasingly fragmented political landscape, this temporal topic has united the country’s politicians of all ideological orientations, from the left to the far-right. All 13 Finnish Members of European Parliament have pledged to work to abolish daylight saving time. Turkey and Russia have already scrapped it, and some American states are also questioning its usefulness. Yet Finnish MEPs will struggle to push up the agenda an issue that is both contentious and seemingly trivial. Coming from a country that gets only a few hours of sunlight a day during wintertime, they will need intense lobbying to convince EU bigwigs that every second counts.

(The Economist)

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