Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, passed away on Nov.10, 1938. Every year on Atatürk’s death anniversary, his successors visit his mausoleum to pay their respects and speak on the state of the nation. This year while paying his tributes at the mausoleum to commemorate the death anniversary of Ataturk, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “As we have ensured that our country reached its goals in many areas, so too, God willing, we will make sure that our country places among the top 10 economies in the world. I believe that will the greatest gift to Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.” Turkey is now at number 17. The president often speaks of the year 2023 as a marker for such goals. Looking at the basic economic indicators, I think that this would be doable. Let me elaborate.
The Lancet published a new population forecast by Oxford University in October 2020. Turkey’s population is aging and becoming less fertile, but it is still expected to surpass 100 million according to this new forecast. Why? Turkey is to become one of three net immigration countries in the world, together with Canada and Sweden. Hence, migrants will buttress the working population of the country and maintain its economic growth.
The rest is straightforward growth accounting. In the last five decades, it has been an internal migration that made Turkey grow. This new study reveals that it will be an external migration — people coming into the country and making it their new home – that could put Turkey on the list of top 10 economies in the world. In the past, rural to urban migration within Turkey led the workforce to move from agriculture to industry and services. Now external migrants will flow into those sectors and will change the distribution of labor further.
Where are our new neighbors coming from? There are already about 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey, but according to the 2020 figures, the new arrivals are of different makeup. In 2019, there were around 500,000 irregular migrants, 200,000 of whom were from Afghanistan, and the rest from Pakistan and Syria.
According to the Lancet study, Turkey is to become number 9 on the top 10 list of the world economy by 2050. Yet by 2100, we are due to drop back down to number 11, as Australia and Nigeria squeeze past us.
In the past, the Customs Union with the European Union protected Turkey from South East Asian competition, providing jobs for the newcomers and boosting growth. Close contact with the EU has changed Turkey from a sleepy agrarian country into a dynamic industrial economy. In 1980, total Turkish exports were worth around $3 billion, and by 1990, that had increased to $30 billion. Now it is around $150 billion. In 1980, only 10 percent of Turkish exports were industrial products, and now that has changed to 90 percent. Europe has transformed Turkey into the only industrial country in its region aside from Israel.
Today, the EU is the largest market for Turkish industrial products. It may seem counterintuitive, but now is the time to make the next jump by deepening EU-Turkey economic cooperation. Turkey needs a new Europeanization reform agenda to secure higher productivity and to attain an even higher place on the top 10 list.
Europe, on the other hand, needs to be in close contact with the Turkish economy, a powerhouse for Europe. Through Turkey, it can integrate migrants from the East to its labor markets and enlarge the sphere of its economic zone of influence. That is why Europe needs to respond to the political will for course correction in Turkey. Since the times of former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, Europe has simply ignored Turkey and its normalization process. There is still time to change that.
Regarding European Council decisions this week, I like paragraph 33 the most. It states that “the EU will seek to coordinate on matters relating to Turkey… with the U.S.” It is right to do so. As Churchill once noted in April 1945, right at the end of the Second World War, “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.” The last four years have taught all of us in the Transatlantic Alliance that being without allies is a terrible thing. I believe we can still turn around and continue to build the foundations for a sense of shared peace and prosperity.