Breaking With Old Politics May Begin With Clock Change in Spain

  • Ciudadanos campaigned in favor of returning to Greenwich time
  • Spain has been running on Central European Time since Franco

Albert Rivera wants to reset the clock on Spanish democracy. Literally.

The 36-year-old head of Ciudadanos is trying to shift Spain back onto Greenwich time as part of a broad package of measures aimed at bolstering economic growth and reviving democratic institutions. The proposal was included in a deal that Rivera signed Wednesday pledging to support Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez’s bid to form the next government in Spain.

Sanchez faces a confidence vote in parliament next week and still needs either the incumbent People’s Party or the anti-austerity group Podemos to abstain in order to take office.

Although Madrid is further west than London, so the sun rises as much as an hour later in summer, Spain runs an hour ahead of the U.K. on Central European Time. The dictator Francisco Franco moved the clocks forward in 1940 to align Spain with the axis powers of Germany and Italy during World War II.

More than 70 years later, there’s a growing concern about the costs of operating on the same time as Budapest, 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) to the east.

Spain is stuck in a form of permanent jetlag that ultimately means eating later, getting less sleep and -- as a result -- being less productive, according to a parliamentary paper produced in 2013. That report recommended a return to Greenwich time to bring Spain back into line with neighboring Portugal and the U.K. The paper also suggested prime-time television, which usually starts at 10:30 pm, should be brought forward to let Spaniards get to bed earlier.

“The question is whether you could use this ‘trick’ of moving the time to the natural time to coordinate everybody,” Luis Garicano, Rivera’s chief economic adviser, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a way to get the change started.”

Spanish Nighthawks

The move would also mean a symbolic break with the aftermath of the Franco era. Rivera has been calling for a wholesale renewal in Spain, to address the failings of the economy and the breakdown of democratic checks and balances that have seen Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy cling to power despite a growing list of corruption allegations against him and his party. Rajoy denies any wrongdoing.

Still, some argue that it will take more than a change of time to shake Spanish nighthawks out of their habits when executives are used to calling meetings at 8 p.m. and dinner often doesn’t start until 10 p.m.

“I don’t think setting back the clock tackles core issue when it comes to
boosting productivity,” said Jose Carlos Diez, an economics professor at the University of Alcala de Henares. “It has a lot more to do with improving the corporate culture in this country and optimizing working hours.”

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