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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Clocks Throw Union Off Schedule

French Prime Minister Alain Jupp? is the sort of tirelessly busy politician whom one doesn't normally think of as having a lot of time on his hands. All the more surprising, therefore, was his recent announcement that his Gaullist-led government proposes to stop changing French clocks twice a year between summer and winter time.


Some of France's neighbors are wondering why Jupp? could not find the time to alert them to his brainstorm. For the proposal, made without any prior consultation with other European Union countries, puts France's neighbors in a real pickle.


If they do not follow suit by abolishing summer and winter time, millions of people in Germany, Belgium and other continental countries will suffer the inconvenience of having to reset their watches for half the year every time they enter and leave France. Worse still, continental businessmen who deal with France will spend half the year either starting work one hour earlier than normal or staying at work one hour later, depending on which way the Jupp? government sets the French clock.


If, on the other hand, other continental countries follow France's example, the impression will arise that the French have once again gotten their way simply by charging ahead and effectively forcing everyone else to go along meekly with them. This is not, to put it mildly, the sort of spirit in which European cooperation is supposed to proceed.


It is possible to sympathize with Jupp?. Judging from France's record in this century of tinkering with clocks, the time was fast approaching for Jupp? to take action. From 1916 to 1946, in various forms, France used the summer and winter time system that it has now.


Then Charles de Gaulle decided it was time for a change and put France one hour behind its continental neighbors in summer. Another 30 years passed before, in 1976, Val?ry Giscard d'Estaing's government restored summer time in an effort to limit energy consumption.


Under the 30-year rule, Jupp? should have waited until 2006 before taking action. One should perhaps be grateful that he did not go even further and emulate the French revolutionaries of the 1790s by abolishing the traditional names of the months as well as Sundays and the seven-day week. Had he done so, his Sept. 4 announcement might have gone down in history as "the gaffe of 18 Fructidor."


Jupp? defended his proposal on the grounds that the summer and winter time system had not, over the last 20 years, produced any economic benefit. In any case, he said, more and more French did not understand the system.


Knowing how sensitive French governments must be to the agricultural lobby, he may also have paid heed to the complaints of farmers that in summer, "while we are working in the fields in the evening, everyone else in the country is watching television." This argument puzzles me, for it must logically mean that, while most French are rushing off to work on a summer morning, farmers are happily watching breakfast television.


In the end, nothing may come of Jupp?'s proposal. The head of a French parliamentary committee, Fran?ois-Michel Gonnot, has been given six months to prepare a report weighing up the various arguments in favor and against. Common sense may prevail in France's eternal wrestling match with the clocks, and not before time.