Daylight Saving Time in Switzerland: Why do we change the clocks twice a year?

Daylight Saving Time in Switzerland: Why do we change the clocks twice a year?

It’s almost that time of the year again: every year in March and October, we dutifully set our clocks forward and back one hour. While many countries around the world do not use Daylight Saving Time, it is still in place in Switzerland, and can sometimes be the cause of much confusion to expats. This begs the question: Why do we change the clocks twice a year?

Does Switzerland have Daylight Savings Time?

Switzerland has followed Daylight Saving Time since 1981, one year after it was adopted in most of Western Europe. While originally intended to make sure farmers have enough sunlight during the winter, with modern working hours and jobs, the switch in October often leads to complaints of a lack of sun during the evenings.

What time zone is Switzerland in?

Despite being notoriously independent, all Swiss cities and cantons fall under the same unified time zone: Central European Time (CET) - also known as UTC+1.00. CET and Central European Summer Time (CEST) have been used in Switzerland since 1894 - before this, local time was measured from the Zytglogge tower in Bern, making Swiss time roughly UTC+00.29.45,5.

The change in 1894 means the time in Zurich and Geneva is also the time in Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin.

When does the time change in Switzerland?

Daylight Saving Time begins in Switzerland at 2am on the last Sunday in March, and is when people have to move their clocks forward an hour. This is also when Central European Summer Time begins.

Daylight Saving Time ends in Switzerland at 3am on the last Sunday in October, when the clocks move backwards an hour and the alpine nation resumes running on Central European Time.

When do the clocks change next in Switzerland in 2024?

At 2am on March 31, 2024, people in Switzerland will have to move their clocks forward by one hour. While this will lead to brighter evenings for everyone to enjoy, it may lead to some drowsiness in the morning as we will all get an hour's less sleep. The clocks will go back at 3am on Sunday, October 27, 2024, when you will notice the evenings suddenly getting darker earlier. 

Inventor of Daylight Saving Time (DST)

The notion of Daylight Saving Time (DST) has very ancient origins, dating all the way back to the Romans, who used the flow of water to measure time along with various scales that were adjusted throughout the year in accordance with solar times.

The idea of moving waking hours to align better with daylight hours was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784. In a satirical letter to The Journal of Paris, he suggested people should wake up earlier in summer to save money on candles and lamp oil. 

Later, in 1895, New Zealand scientist George Vernon Hudson proposed changing the clocks by two hours every spring, to give him more daylight hours to collect and examine insects. In 1907, British builder William Willett suggested implementing a clock shift to save energy. Although there was interest in all of these ideas, they were never followed through.

History of changing the clocks

The first region to implement Daylight Saving Time was actually Canada, specifically the couple of hundred Canadians who resided in Port Arthur, Ontario, in 1908. Their idea was to make more use of the daylight hours during the spring and summer. Various other regions in Canada soon followed their example, starting with Winnipeg and Brandon in 1916.

The first countries to utilise Daylight Saving Time were Germany and Austria, who both implemented the policy on April 30, 1916. This was two years into World War I, and the logic was to reduce the use of artificial lighting, to save fuel and energy for the war effort. Seeing sense in the idea, other countries across Europe began to adopt the same practice. However, they returned to standard time after the war, with Daylight Saving Time relegated to a wartime phenomenon. 

DST was implemented again during World War II by the Germans and then spread to many other European countries. In the Netherlands, the Germans advanced the local time by one hour and 40 minutes, changing the time in Amsterdam from “Dutch Time” to the “Central European Summer Time” (CEST). Again, Daylight Saving Time was used to conserve energy and fuel during wartime.

Which countries use Daylight Saving Time today?

Nevertheless, after World War II, many countries once again stopped Daylight Saving Time, although the United States has implemented it consistently since 1918.

With each country either adopting the clock change or not, there was a lot of confusion across Europe, and so in 1996, the European Union standardised the Daylight Saving Time schedule across the bloc. On March 26, 2019, after years of debate on the issue, the European Parliament voted in favour of removing Daylight Saving Time in the European Union permanently; however, because countries were unable to agree on whether to stick to the summer or winter time, this change has yet to be implemented. 

Even in the US, the issue is continuously debated. Almost every year since 2015, a proposal has appeared on the agenda to stop changing the clocks twice a year. For a decision to be made, Congress must pass a federal law allowing states to observe Daylight Saving Time year-round, but so far no such federal law has been passed. 

Nowadays, less than 40 percent of countries around the world use Daylight Saving Time. Those that do are typically countries at a greater distance from the Equator, who want to make better use of daylight during seasonal fluctuations. Some countries implement it due to research that correlates fewer road accidents to more daylight during the day, while other countries avoid it due to research that shows how health may suffer from Daylight Saving Time. 

Daylight Saving Time in Switzerland 

Switzerland adopted the European framework on Daylight Saving Time in 1981, and since then it has remained in place, despite several attempts to reject the practice via referendums.

When the EU voted to abolish the clock changes in 2019, the Swiss Federal Institute of Meteorology said the alpine nation would be following their lead and getting rid of the practice by 2021. While the EU continues to debate the issue - although it has recently been put on the back burner by a number of other issues - it seems likely that Switzerland will end up following their lead, whatever they decide. 

Eesha Wirk


Eesha Wirk

Eesha studied in the United States, obtaining a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience and Studio Art. She is currently getting her Research Masters in Cognitive Neuropsychology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. In...

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