How Switzerland changed its mind on daylight saving time?


Switzerland is one of the many countries that observe daylight saving time (DST), the practice of advancing clocks by one hour during summer months to make better use of natural daylight. However, this was not always the case. In fact, Switzerland was once a “lost island” in Europe, refusing to adopt DST until 1981, when it finally aligned itself with its neighboring countries.


The 1978 referendum: a rejection of DST

The history of DST in Switzerland is a story of its place in Europe and its relationship with its linguistic regions and political parties. The first attempt to introduce DST in Switzerland was in 1978, when the federal government proposed a “time law” that would allow the country to switch between standard time and summer time according to the European Union’s directives. However, the law faced strong opposition from farmers, who preferred longer mornings in winter to longer evenings in summer, and from some conservative groups, who saw DST as an unnecessary and harmful interference with natural rhythms.

The law was challenged by a referendum launched by the Swiss Farmers’ Union and supported by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. The opponents argued that DST would have negative effects on health, agriculture, tourism, and energy consumption. They also appealed to the Swiss sense of independence and sovereignty, claiming that DST was an “imposition from above” by the EU and that the Swiss people should have the right to decide for themselves.

The referendum was held on May 28, 1978, and resulted in a narrow rejection of the law by 52% of voters. The outcome revealed a clear divide between Switzerland’s linguistic regions: most of the German-speaking cantons voted against DST, while most of the French-speaking cantons voted in favor of it. The main reason for this difference was the inconvenience caused by having different time zones from neighboring France, which had already adopted DST in 1976. The French-speaking Swiss were annoyed by the discrepancies in train timetables and television schedules, while the German-speaking Swiss were less affected by their border with Germany, which had not yet introduced DST.

The 1981 change: a concession to Europe

The rejection of DST in 1978 did not settle the issue for long. As more and more countries in Europe began to adopt DST, Switzerland faced increasing pressure to follow suit. The Swiss government revised the law again and tried to persuade the public of the benefits of DST, such as better coordination with other countries, more leisure time in summer evenings, and potential energy savings. The supporters of DST also argued that Switzerland risked becoming a “lost island” in Europe, isolated and out of sync with its partners.

In 1980, Germany and Austria decided to introduce DST, making it almost impossible for Switzerland not to do the same. The Swiss People’s Party attempted to launch another referendum against the new law, but failed to gather enough signatures. Therefore, on March 29, 1981, Switzerland switched to DST for the first time, joining most of its neighboring countries.

Since then, Switzerland has followed the EU’s directives on DST, changing its clocks twice a year: forward by one hour on the last Sunday of March and backward by one hour on the last Sunday of October. However, this practice may change again in the future, as the EU has proposed to end DST by 2023 and let each member state decide whether to stay permanently on standard time or summer time. Switzerland, as a non-EU member but closely linked to it, will have to decide whether to follow the EU’s decision or keep its current system.

By Kane Wilson

Kane Wilson, founder of this news website, is a seasoned news editor renowned for his analytical skills and meticulous approach to storytelling. His journey in journalism began as a local reporter, and he quickly climbed the ranks due to his talent for unearthing compelling stories. Kane completed his Master’s degree in Media Studies from Northwestern University and spent several years in broadcast journalism prior to co-founding this platform. His dedication to delivering unbiased news and ability to present complex issues in an easily digestible format make him an influential voice in the industry.

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