Thirty years of Swiss summer time

March 28, 2011, 2 Comments

Summer time! At the end of March the clocks in Switzerland (and across the European Union) all leap forward one hour. I always find these time changes a difficult concept to get my head around: suddenly it goes from 2am to 3am just because we say so. You wake up at your ‘normal’ time, and it’s an hour later. How does that work? Too much for my brain. And that’s obviously what the Swiss used to think as well, because summer time is only thirty years old in Switzerland. It was introduced permanently on 29 March 1981, but only after quite a battle at the ballot box.

Back in 1977, the government brought in a new summer time law, proposing that Switzerland follow other European countries, particularly neighbouring France and Italy, by having daylight saving between March and October. The farmers weren’t happy (or at least their cows weren’t) and they forced a referendum on the issue. And the cows won: in May 1978 the Swiss voted against summer time by a majority of 52.1%. Only six cantons voted yes, with Canton Geneva the most heavily in favour (78%), no surprise given that it’s almost entirely surrounded by France. The government leaflet advocating a yes vote was great, not least because one argument was that TV & radio times wouldn’t be in synch – you’d come home from work to find that you’d missed your favourite show.

But in Switzerland there’s one thing more important than cows, and that’s trains. And train timetables. Once Germany and Austria had both introduced summer time in 1980, Switzerland became a little time warp in the centre of Europe. Now, some might argue that the Swiss are always one step behind the rest of Europe, but being one hour behind all its neighbours proved to be a logistical headache for the train timetablers. Not forgetting that most of Switzerland watches German television, but all the programme times were now wrong. So the government brought back the summer time law, and this time the cows lost.

Ever since that first change on the last Sunday in March, Switzerland has moved its clocks forward one hour each spring until October, when they fall back. There are still grumblers who complain about this process, not least some farmers, but I love the longer lighter evenings it brings. What I can’t work out is why Britain remains one hour behind most of the rest of Europe, even though it’s geographically in the same place. Isn’t it time that was changed too?

2 Comments on "Thirty years of Swiss summer time"

  1. swisswatching Monday March 28th, 2011 at 05:54 PM · Reply

    Yes, Britain is where “time starts” with the Greenwich meridian – but that also passes through France, which ignores it completely and sticks to CET. Maybe we should look at it the other way round: all of Western Europe should be on GMT!

    As for Portugal, it is Britain’s oldest ally so…

  2. expatraveler Wednesday March 30th, 2011 at 01:10 AM · Reply

    I love the summer time change but hate the concept itself. Luckily I was very rested this time during our change 2 wks earlier than yours. Now why is that??? I think the idea is dumb not to do it all at the same time! But really is the time change needed? Or why not just keep it like summer all year long! I like the longer nights, especially when you can see the changes at the higher locations such as Canada… It does make a big difference!

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