Spain looks set to drop its fascist-inspired extra hour

More than 70 years after Franco set Spain's clocks to sync with Hitler's Germany, a Spanish parliamentary commission recommends realigning with the Brits.

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    A worker (c.) took a nap beside a fast-food restaurant in Madrid in July 2012. A parliamentary commission is set to approve a report that recommends switching Spain's time zone back to that of Britain, which experts say will dramatically improve Spanish eating, sleeping, and working habits.
    Andres Kudacki/AP/File
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Could synchronizing Spain's time with Big Ben in London – and doing away with trademark Spanish siestas – boost Iberian productivity and quality of life? Spaniards may be set to find out.

After almost three-quarters of a century of setting its clocks to match Central Europe, which runs an hour earlier than countries sharing the Iberian longitudes, Spain looks likely to shift its time zone back to a more natural hour.

A parliamentary commission, businesses, and civil society groups have all asked the government to study the possibility of correcting an almost 75-year-old anachronism. And the Popular Party government said last week it will seriously consider it.

“The official time doesn’t coincide at all with the solar time. We wake up too early and sleep almost an hour less than recommended," said a parliamentary report on ways to improve productivity and quality of life in Spain. The report, nine months in the making with the input from 60 experts, found the time shift "is detrimental to productivity, labor absence, stress, work accidents, and school dropout rates.”

A Spanish anachronism

Confirming that the government was already studying the implications, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos explained that “from a geographic point of view, there is a divergence between current time and the one that corresponds” Spain.

Spain’s natural time zone is that of Britain and Portugal. But in 1940, dictator Francisco Franco, in an effort to showcase Spain’s sympathies with Germany, changed to the Central European time zone, following Adolf Hitler’s decision to align French time with that of Berlin.

Though symbolic in intent, the practical effects of the unnatural time zone are profound. Sunrise and sunsets come later in Spain. So does lunch, the end of the workday, prime time on television, and more.

It also explains why there is a three-hour lunch break, which includes a siesta, and why many businesses do not close until 9 p.m. 

The unmatched time translates into less productivity, increases power consumption, and makes it harder to do business with the rest of Europe, according to the parliamentary report.

Time for a better life?

Loud support for the proposal, along with government control of parliament, means that it will likely be approved – although the change is not imminent, as significant preparations would have to precede the decision, the government admits.

But “the changes will favorably affect all people, allowing more time to spend with the family, to study, for personal life and leisure, and to avoid so many dead hours in our daily labor schedule,” the report concludes.

“It implies transforming daily customs – time of waking up and going to sleep, total hours of sleep, TV and show schedules – but it’s undeniable that the results would allow us to converge with Europe in many aspects that we are currently very distanced from, and very specifically productivity and competition.”

Aside from changing the time zone, the conclusions suggest changing work shifts to a nonstop schedule with only a small lunch break, much like the rest of the world. That would allow employees to go home sooner to their families.

Some companies are already voluntarily implementing work-shift reforms along the lines proposed by parliament. According to some surveys and the companies, not only have they successfully increased productivity and decreased labor absences, but the vast majority of employees say they prefer to end sooner to have more time with their families.

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