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Brief History on Daylight Saving Time in Europe

timeanddate.com  gives a brief background on daylight saving time (DST) in Europe.

Astronomical clock, Prague

Many countries in Europe change their clocks to observe daylight saving time on the last Sunday of March each year. Pictured above is a clock in Prague, the Czech Republic's capital city.


World War I

Daylight saving time (DST) was used in some countries, such as Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom, during World War I, with 1916 being the first year in that period. However, most European nations gave up DST after 1919. There were mixed feelings on DST in France, where the rural population got rid of DST by 1920 but Paris and other major cities still favored DST. In 1923 the French Cabinet decided that the time would remain the same, but work hours would start and stop half an hour earlier between April 28 and November 3.

World War II

During World War II, Hitler’s commanders imposed German time as they moved through Europe but it did not always work. Denmark was one of the countries that adopted DST during the war and planned to end it in mid-August in 1940. The French resisted DST at the start of the war but they failed to resist the German army, which meant that they were officially on “Hitler time” by 1941.  There were some French patriots who stuck to the old French time, two hours behind the Berlin-based DST.

After World War II

DST was also implemented in the aftermath of World War II mainly to help people conserve fuel for national recovery and rebuilding programs. Berlin, in Germany, was divided into four occupation zones after the war and until 1948, the French, British, American and Soviet occupiers imposed DST on residents in the city.

However, many European countries later abandoned daylight saving time, as DST became a reminder of the war itself and the humiliation of foreign occupation. Both the Italians and the French repealed DST after clearing up the debris of German occupation. In fact, the French refused to adopt DST until the worldwide oil shortage during the 1970s. Daylight saving time was instituted in France in 1975 following the oil shock of 1974 with the aim to make savings by reducing lighting needs. This is mainly to better match the operating hours with daylight hours to limit the use of artificial lighting.

1980s Onwards

By the early 1980s, many countries of the European Union were using daylight saving time, but they had different practices, thus impeding transport schedules and communications within the continent. In 1996 the European Union (EU) standardized an EU-wide daylight saving time for consistency to apply across the EU. Most European countries that are EU-affiliated follow the EU rules or directives. The EU daylight saving schedule runs from the last Sunday of March through the last Sunday of October.

In 2000, an EU directive was issued on daylight saving arrangements. In the directive, it was mentioned that summer-time arrangements maintained for the past 20 years would be renewed for an unspecified period. It also noted that the last Sundays of March and October were to be the dates definitively adopted for the daylight saving schedule among EU countries.

Most countries in Europe now follow a synchronized daylight saving time that lasts from the last Sunday of March until the last Sunday of October each year.

Note: Any mention of summer and winter in this article refers to the seasons in the northern hemisphere. timeanddate.com wishes to thank sources such as M. Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, and D. Howse, author of Greenwich Time and the Longitude, for some of the information on this page.