Informal meeting of EU transport ministers: Putting an end to seasonal clock changes requires harmonisation between member states
National consultations and bilateral consensus are a first important step
The first plenary session of the informal meeting of EU transport ministers that began on 29 October 2018 showed that a substantial majority of EU member states are in favour of ending seasonal clock changes . A mere three countries – Portugal, Greece and the United Kingdom – spoke out strongly against ending seasonal clock changes, while Cyprus, Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland, France and Denmark have not yet taken a stance. EU Commissioner Violeta Bulc and Federal Minister Norbert Hofer, who currently chairs the Council meetings in the area of transport, view this first major discussion as a success and are confident that a common position on the way forward can be found as early as December, when the EU Council meeting of transport ministers will take place.
There was general consensus that the end of seasonal clock changes may only be implemented when the next steps are known and an impact assessment is available. Most importantly, it must not entail any disadvantages for the single market and economy. The ministers called on the Commission to make sure of that. All of the proponents also stressed that it will be imperative to find a solution that doesn’t result in a “patchwork” of European times zones. This can only be guaranteed by an appropriate timeline.
“The decision on which time to use in each country in the future will remain within the competence of individual states. So as not to rush this important decision, studies and surveys are needed, which will also take time. And there is no doubt that we are prepared to give the EU countries this time”,
assured Commissioner Bulc.
“I am pleased that the Commission is doing what is expected of political decision‑makers: it is responding to the public opinion, listening to citizens and trying to fulfil the wish of the vast majority to end seasonal clock changes Europe‑wide. This matter, however, gives rise to huge challenges – not least because the EU has three different time zones. If we were to now do away with seasonal clock changes, this might in fact result in a “patchwork quilt” that would have disastrous consequences for the single market”,
said Minister Hofer, thereby also expressing the concerns of his colleagues. The Austrian minister currently chairing the Council meetings in the area of transport thus proposed three ways to resolve the current problems: firstly, more time for the adjustment, that is to say, the timeline should be extended until 2021. Secondly, the Commission should nominate a coordinator who will be in charge of harmonisation and coordination. And last, but not least, a safeguard clause should allay any remaining concerns: should unforeseen problems arise, the European Commission will have to present a new directive.
“I am convinced that such a safeguard clause will be the key to an even broader majority. It is the safety net that is needed to be able to make the leap”,
said Minister Hofer optimistically.
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