Clock-changing is one issue (the only one we have found) that is to be re-delegated (sort of) to the member states. We look at what this means in practice for subsidiarity, and some broader implications.
At the weekend just after un-Brexit Day, when the UK was supposed to leave the EU, the clocks were set forward an hour to British Summertime. It could be one of the last times this happens; soon we may have choose whether to stick with Summertime (BST) or opt for Greenwich Meantime (GMT) if Brussels bans the bi-annual switching back and forth. That may be a good thing but were you asked (and would it have made a difference anyway)?
Apparently 4.6 million EU citizens were ‘consulted’ and 84% of them wanted to end clock-changing; 70% of those whose opinion was sought were German, none were British. Had we been asked we might have voted the same way. If this law change goes ahead and we are still subject to directives over which we have no say we will at least be able to opt for summertime, all the time. Hooray!, if you’re English: Boo!, if you’re Scottish! From 1968 until 1971 our Parliament decided to experiment with leaving the clocks alone and set to BST but it was too dark in the mornings for those in the far north so switching time was restored – are we to divide the United Kingdom again at the direction of a foreign power with no understanding or sympathy for our sensitivities?
“Starting in 1981 the European Commission began issuing directives requiring member states to legislate harmonised start and end dates for Summer Time” (Wikipedia: Summertime in Europe). Note “directives requiring…states to legislate”: it weren’t me guv, it was you lot done it.
Whilst the idea of fixing the clocks originated with the EU Commission we don’t yet know whether it will add this new law to the ‘acquis‘. The Commission doesn’t have to acquiesce to the recommendations of its Parliament. In a rare moment of acquiescence to the Treaty of Maastricht, Jean-Claude Junker suggested that this might be a case where ‘subsidiarity’ should apply. J-C’s suggestion came in his State of the European Union 2018 presentation to the European Parliament:
“We all say in soap-box speeches that we want to be big on big things and small on small things. But there is no applause when EU law dictates that Europeans have to change the clocks twice a year. The Commission is today proposing to change this. Clock-changing must stop. Member States should themselves decide whether their citizens live in summer or winter time. It is a question of subsidiarity.” (see State of the European Union 2018 – 2).
There are thousands of powers like this, that have sucked away the people’s right to chose. The EU has decided that from 2022 all new cars must have technology to slow them if they exceed speed limits and MEPs also want to impose an ‘alcohol interlock installation facilitation’ device – a gendarme on the driver’s lap. From 1972 UK law required seat belts be fitted to all newly registered cars (and from 1983 that they must actually be worn). Next, passenger belts and child seats were added to the rules. In 1973 motorcyclists had to wear crash helmets (unless their religion demanded they wear turbans). Since 2007 smoking in pubs and other indoor, public places became illegal. Why now does the EU need to tell the British people how not to kill themselves?
Some EU rules might perhaps be in our best interests but the UK is quite capable of deciding for itself. Why do so many of us acquiesce to uniformity imposed by a remote authority? The EU doesn’t always act in our best interests; for example, it’s obligatory standards allowed builders to clad Grenfell Tower and other buildings in dangerously flammable materials, overriding a British Standard which recognised the risk (see Shorties-10: Distributed Culpability).
Now the European Parliament has voted by a big majority (410/192) to end the practice of changing the clocks, after a selective public ‘consultation’ (a result of a Citizens’ Initiative). Member states will be allowed to decide whether to stick with standard time or summer time. So, by subsidiarity they have a choice but, in line with usual practice, they can’t choose flexibility, it must be one or the other. We must stop fiddling with our clocks but at least we’ll be free to set them on BST or GMT – we might call that sub-subsidiarity (see More is Less: Subsidiarity-1)
“The European Parliament on Tuesday backed a proposal to stop the obligatory one-hour clock change between summer and winter time, leaving it up to member states to decide on their time zone and adjust their clocks for the last time in October 2021, 20 years after daylight-saving time was made compulsory in the EU. The text…needs final approval by EU ministers.”
(EUObserver (27/03/2019): https://euobserver.com/tickers/144503)
The EU’s own site says that the proposal came from the Commission (as it should, by the treaties):
The site is clearer than usual for the EU:
“MEPs backed the Commission proposal to end seasonal time changes, but voted to postpone the date from 2019 to 2021.” (Why would they do exactly what the Parliament wishes?)
The point is that, regardless of who initiated it or has the authority to impose it, British citizens have not been consulted, or even informed. We might have approved, had we been asked, though perhaps Scotland and England would have different views, as they do so often.
Let’s hope Bess was right (Gershwin et al, Porgy and Bess):
“One of these mornin’s, you goin’ to rise up singin’
Then you’ll spread yo’ wings an’ you’ll take the sky”
We don’t need “Daddy and Mammy standin’ by” in Brussels.