'Mickey Mouse time' has UK all wound up

One British member of Parliament (MP) called it "Mickey Mouse time-keeping." Another said that changing it would "rob" the United Kingdom. At issue was summer time -- and whether it should end in the United Kingdom on the same day it does on the European Continent. Debate on the subject virtually paralyzed the 434-member European Parliament for hours a fortnight ago. The Parliament decided the UK and Europe should not be synchronized. And the debate -- like that over nuclear arms and other momentous problems -- continues.

On Sept. 27,200 million clock watchers in the eight Continental European countries turned back their Mickey Mouses one hour, ending summer time for another year. In England and Ireland, however, 60 million people will wait until Oct. 25 to do the same.

For six years, the European Commission has been trying to convince European governments that beginning and ending summer time uniformly throughout Europe has enormous advantages for trade and industry.

But the ever-watchful British and Irish publics have resisted the pressure with clockwork precision whenever the matter has been raised.

Last year, after 36 months of wrangling, Europe's governments agreed that summer time would begin throughout Europe, including Britain and Ireland, on the last day in March (or the previous Sunday if the former was Easter), an agreement that will hold for this year and next. Beyond that, no one knows.

Defining a common end to summer fun, however, has eluded European governments with regularity. Last spring, the European Commission suggested ending it for the years 1983 to 2000 on the last Sunday in September or the first Sunday in October, but the European Parliament, whose consent is necessary, voted against the proposal, and now the commission will have to come up with new ideas. "We don't have many choices left," said one commission official.

It is a "diabolic plot" that would "rob the United Kingdom of the summer days it needs so much," a British socialist, echoing the majority view in the European Parliament, said of the commission's proposal. "Are we even going to have to harmonize siesta time?"

Some Euro-MPs saw the problem from the businessmen's point of view. They don't care about daylight, one said.

"This Mickey Mouse timekeeping has made it difficult for British companies to wake up to the opportunities on the Continent," said a British Conservative.

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