France may chime in with the rest

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The Independent Online
When France joins Britain and most other European countries in putting back its clocks by an hour this weekend, it could be for the last time.

A groundswell of popular resistance has galvanised politicians into action and Paris is likely to ask Brussels to be exempted from the European directive on harmonising time zones as soon as possible: if not next year, then from 1998.

After three months of discussion and two parliamentary reports, it is clear that France intends to rid itself of a device that its experts say no longer saves fuel or manpower, upsets farmers, reduces milk yields by almost one-third and disrupts children's body-clocks.

The strength of feeling became apparent last spring, when the Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, let slip that he found clock-changes irksome. Expressions of support flooded in and a "consultation process" began.

The committee of the Senate (the upper house of parliament) reported last month and recommended that clock-changing be abandoned. The National Assembly (lower house) committee published its report yesterday. It likewise recommends the earliest possible end to summer time and winter time, with a constant French time to replace it all year round. The report added that if Brussels made any objections, the issue should be made a test case for the principle of "subsidiarity" - local issues to be decided, where possible, locally.

Opinion polls show more than 70 per cent opposed to clock-changing.What they want instead, however, is more complicated. When asked whether they favour year-round "winter" or "summer" time - in practice, GMT + 1 hour or GMT + 2 - there is an even split.

Families with children, and farmers, tend to favour permanent summer time, giving lighter evenings all year round. Business and transport organisations, however, strongly favour "winter time" as keeping France more in line with the rest of Europe.

The Senate report offered an added advantage of "winter time" as representing an ideal diplomatic balance: France would share a time-zone with Britain in the summer and with Germany in the winter.