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Time for a change: EU lawmakers vote to scrap clock shifts in 2021

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - European Union lawmakers voted on Tuesday to scrap from 2021 the practice of moving clocks forward by an hour in spring then back again in the autumn, two years later than the EU executive initially proposed.

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The European Parliament voted by 410 to 192 in favor of ending the practice of seasonal time shifts. The vote is not the last word on the issue but will form the basis of discussions with EU member countries to produce a final law. The countries have yet to take a stance.

Since 2001, EU law has required all countries in the bloc to observe daylight saving time, moving clocks forward by an hour on the last Sunday of March and back by an hour on the final Sunday in October.

The practice of switching clocks was first introduced in World War One and brought back during the 1970s oil crisis, aiming to save energy by prolonging evening daylight in summer.

The European Commission proposed in September ending the practice after an EU-wide opinion survey showed a large majority in favor of doing so.

A parliament report in favor of operating on a single time throughout the year said scientific studies link time changes to diseases because they interrupt biological cycles, and that there were no longer any energy savings.

“New technology and different ways of living mean that we no longer earn anything, in fact we don’t save,” Marita Ulvskog, the lawmaker in charge of the time change file, told the EU parliament during a debate on the issue on Monday.

Under the Commission’s proposal, initially planned for this year, EU countries would not be able to change their clocks forward and backward during the year in future, but would be free to decide which time zone they wanted to be in.

EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc said during Monday’s debate that EU countries saw the need for coordination.

“No one wants to see a patchwork of time zones within EU,” she said.

The European Union will have 27 members once Britain leaves the bloc. The UK government has indicated it will stick to the current system of seasonal changes after Brexit, according to Britain’s ruling Conservatives.

The seasonal time shift has also been the subject of debate in the United States, where legislators have tried unsuccessfully to abolish it. For now, Hawaii and most of Arizona do not follow the practice.

Russia switched to permanent summer time in 2011 in an attempt to improve citizens’ well-being, then shifted to permanent winter time in 2014 after public complaints.

The majority of countries outside Europe and North America do not adjust their clocks.

Reporting by Clare Roth and Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Frances Kerry