BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union said on Friday it would propose a legal change that would end the ritual of switching between summer and winter time, leaving it up to governments across the bloc to agree on whether to permanently use summer time or winter time.
The proposal comes after a survey found 84 percent of 4.6 million citizens across the EU's 28 member states opposed changing the clocks ahead in the summer or back in the winter or just opposed switching either way.
In response, the EU's chief executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, said Brussels would propose scrapping an EU law requiring member states to change their clocks.
"Millions ... believe that summertime should be all the time," Juncker said on German television.
Since 1996, EU law has been moving clocks forward an hour on the last Sunday in March and back an hour on the final Sunday in October. The proposal would drop that requirement, a Commission spokesman said. He rebuffed suggestions that would lead to confusing variations in keeping time from one country to the next.
"It would be surprising if the outcome of the directive was one that doesn't make sense for European citizens and for business," spokesman Alexander Winterstein told a news briefing.
Spain backs the proposal to stick with just one time, government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa said on Friday. But it may have to use another time zone more in line with its western geographical position following the Commission’s proposal, Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told reporters in Vienna.
Critics of the clock change say it can cause long-term health problems, especially among young children and elderly people. Supporters say making the switch to give extra morning daylight in winter and evening light in summer can help reduce traffic accidents and save energy.
Any change would need approval from national governments and European Parliament to become law - a process that can take up to two years.
Participation in the EU's survey varied country by country. Germans, Austrians and Luxembourgers were the most active - 3.79 percent of people in Germany took part. Elsewhere, less than 1 percent of citizens took part. Italy, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands had some of the lowest participation.
Outside the EU, a handful of European countries have stopped switching between summer and winter time, including Russia, Turkey, Belarus and Iceland.
(Reporting by Gernot Heller and Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonel in Brussels, Jesus Aguado in Madrid and Robin Emmott in Vienna; Editing by Larry King)