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Summer all year round?

The end of Central European Summer Time (CEST) inevitably spurs debate about the benefits of Daylight Saving Time and the need for it. But the idea that we put the clocks back an hour at 3 a.m. on Sunday, thus gaining an extra hour’s sleep, seems to have prompted one Hungarian political party to wonder if we are even in the right time zone.

 According to online news portal index.hu, the far right Jobbik party, has gone as far as submitting a proposal to the Hungarian Parliament to introduce Eastern European Time (EET) in the country. The idea comes from Jobbik MP Lajos Kepli, who says that the switch would be more cost-effective than the current system and would improve mental health.

Hungary, in line with the vast majority of EU states, operates on CET, one hour ahead of Universal Coordinated Time (UTC). Since 2011, EU states have applied Daylight Saving Time (DST) during the summer (hence CEST), putting the bloc two hours ahead of UTC for that period. The EU also ensured that all states change from winter time to summertime (and back again) on the same date.

 AT UTC plus two, CEST falls into the same time zone as EET (used in the winter by Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine, though they too apply daylight saving in the summer months). The Jobbik proposal is that Hungary would remain at UTC plus two hours throughout the year, with the party arguing this would save on energy costs. But while it is true it would give more sunlight hours in the afternoon, it would also mean Hungarian schoolchildren would be going to school in the dark for much of the winter.

 Daylight saving seems to have been unpopular ever since it was introduced on both sides of the Atlantic during World War I, in an attempt to preserve resources. There is an urban myth that farmers supported DST and it was introduced for their benefit. In fact, farmers successfully lobbied against its adoption in the United States from the end of World War II until 1966. The auto and fuel industries do like it, however. People are more likely to go out on the longer summer evenings, and they tend to drive. Some scientists believe the changing of the clocks interferes with the internal circadian rhythms of the body, disrupting sleep patterns (this may also be why dairy farmers, in particular, do not like DST, claiming it interferes with their cows’ milk production). There’s evidence suicides go up in the immediate aftermath of clocks going forward, although it drops by a similar amount when the clocks go back.

Most people, if they think of it at all, argue that DST must bring energy savings. But it seems that might not always be true. A famous study was done in Indiana in 2006; the state was switching from a mix and match approach to DST – some counties used it, others did not – to a state wide adoption, which made it possible to do a before and after comparison. This found that lighter evenings did, indeed, mean less use of lighting. But the savings were more than offset by an increased use of air conditioning on summer evenings, and heating on early winter mornings.

This is not the first time Jobbik has floated the idea of what would effectively be permanent summer time. It was even debated back in April, but index.hu says Lajos Fónagy, state secretary in charge for energy policy, rejected the idea then, insisting that the annual move from CEST to CET has more benefits for Hungary because “most of our trading and business partners” belong to this group.

And therein lies the biggest hurdle for Jobbik. There are plenty of people opposed to DST as a principle, but no state is going to be a standout country and make a switch when it would put it on a different time zone from most of its trading partners. And for all Hungary has been “Opening to the East”, most of its trade is done firmly within the CET time zone.