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Spain urged to return to Greenwich Mean Time

Sat 30th Jan 2010

A Government-backed commission has shocked many Spaniards by urging the country to switch its clocks to Greenwich Mean Time, a move that could bring an end to one of Europe's quirkiest lifestyles.

The oddly named National Commission for the Rationalisation of Timetables described how the proposal would "increase productivity at work together with improving the quality of life of citizens".

The proposed change, aimed at shaking up the fundamental nature of the typical Spanish daily existence with lengthy coffee-breaks, two-hour lunches and late evening meals is the upshot of a survey conducted at Spanish embassies in 23 European countries into host nations' daily timekeeping.

In bringing in such a change, the commission envisages Spain emulating the more intensive working patterns of northern European countries.

The switch back to Greenwich Mean Time would bring an end to more than 60 years of time-zone difference with neighbouring Portugal and Spain's Canary Islands off Africa, which both keep GMT. Spain did not return to Greenwich Mean Time following the end of Second World War, having switched to Central European Time known as "Berlin Time" on 16 March, 1940.

"Information gathered from 23 of our embassies in Europe all point out Spain's singularity; we start our day similar to the rest of Europe but we end much later," said Ignacio Buqueras, chairman of the commission.

According to Mr Buqueras, Spain is one of the least-productive countries in Europe despite the fact that, in theory, it is the European country where most hours are spent at work.

The proposal clashes with the claim that Spain's daily breaks and siestas are far healthier for people than almost non-stop work patterns of northern Europeans where office lunches are often eaten at desks while working.

Typically, the Spanish working day begins at about 8am, with a 30-minute break at 11am, then lunch usually starts at 2pm or 3pm, with people returning to work about two hours later, then often working on to 8pm, dinner being enjoyed as late as 10pm or 11pm.

It remains uncertain whether switching the clocks back to GMT would obtain the goal of improving productivity.

A previous study from the commission in 2008 showed that Portugal's productivity was lower than Spain's even though its neighbour runs on GMT.

The daily El Mundo newspaper said the proposal, which comes as Spain continues to be hard hit by the recession, was a "surprise" to the government.

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