Members of the European Parliament have backed a motion calling for an assessment of whether Europe should stop moving clocks forward and back between summer and winter time.

EU law since the 1990s has coordinated the shift to summertime, with citizens in all 28 EU countries moving their clocks an hour forward on the last Sunday in March and switching back to winter time on the final Sunday in October.

MEPs voted today by 384 to 153 for a motion calling on the European Commission to study the effects of switching clocks and, if necessary, to come up with an alternative plan.

Finland, which has the most northerly EU national capital, called in January for the EU to scrap the clock switches, following a public petition that secured more than 70,000 signatures.

Senior politicians in Lithuania, Poland and Sweden have also criticised the time change, which is used across most of North America too.

Critics of the system say it can cause long-term health problems, especially among young children and elderly people.

Research has shown that the time change disrupts sleep schedules and can impact productivity at work.

Supporters say the extra morning daylight in winter and the extra evening light in summer can help reduce traffic accidents and save energy.