EU leaders should not fear a 'Turkish invasion of Europe'

Just 13 per cent of Turkey’s adult population expressed a desire to migrate, lower than many other countries.

With a year to go until the people of Romania and Bulgaria gain free movement across the EU, familiar concerns have already been raised about the possibility of uncontrolled immigration into the UK and the consequences this could have on the housing and labour markets.

Stoking up such fears has long accompanied talks of EU expansion to Eastern and Southern Europe nations. But the economic balance of power in Europe has shifted, and European leaders need to take a more sensible view of migration. Nowhere is this more the case than with Turkey, which would become the EU’s most easterly and second most populous nation. Accession talks with Turkey began in October 2005 but have stalled, primarily due to opposition in Germany and France.

While there are concerns over the Cyprus issue and the Turkish justice system, ‘freedom of movement for workers’ remains one of the most intractable barriers to Turkish accession, particularly for Germany and France. Turkey’s history as a major source of immigration into Europe since the 1960s, creating visible and sizeable Turkish minorities, has long held back its ambitions to join the EU. If Turkey joins, the fear is that millions of Turks will migrate to Europe, overwhelming local labour markets and exacerbating cultural tensions.

Yet analysis of Gallup World Poll data on migration prospects show there is little basis for this fear. While the desire to migrate is always higher than actual migration rates, comparing data across different countries helps us understand patterns in mobility routes and intensity today and in the future. The findings, which I presented last month as chair of the Turkish Migration in Europe Conference at Regent’s College London, allow us to evaluate the notion of a ‘Turkish invasion of Europe’ following its accession to the EU.

The data showed that around 630 million individuals reported a desire to move to another country, with about 7.6 per cent of the world’s adult population saying they would like to migrate within a year, and about 3 per cent already preparing – so, applying for visas and booking travel.

Comparing Turkish migration attitudes in relation to other nations, we see that 13 per cent of Turkey’s adult population expressed a desire to migrate, lower than popular immigration destinations like Germany (18 per cent), France (19 per cent) and the UK (30 per cent). Turkey’s figure is also lower than the 16 per cent among Southern and Eastern European neighbours. Desire to migrate is relatively high in the troubled countries in Turkey’s neighbourhood: Iraq (16 per cent), Syria (27 per cent) and Iran (15 per cent). Meanwhile, other emerging market economies like Brazil and Russia have reported similar rates to Turkey: both 13 per cent.

Turkey’s record of economic progress and relative political stability in the last decade are key reasons for this shift. Turkey is rapidly becoming a destination country for thousands coming from Africa, Asia and Middle East, as a beacon of stability for the region. Continuing economic crisis in Europe and Turkey’s steady growth, as well as discrimination in some cases, has paved the way for further migration from Europe to Turkey, including many second and third generation Turkish minority members arriving from Germany. Indeed, in the last decade the net Turkish migration to Germany has been negative.

Although it is clear that Turkey is likely to produce some more outward migration, all of her European neighbours are more likely to generate more migrants in the near future. Turkey can already be considered as an immigration destination, and this trend is likely to continue.

With the launch of the "positive agenda" between Turkey and the EU in May last year, and the EU Commission's report in October which called on Turkey to do more to progress its membership bid, 2013 promises to be an important year for Turkey’s European ambitions. Its path to the EU is unlikely to be straightforward, with many barriers still to be crossed, and many politicians in influential nations opposed to its membership. Yet the shift in migration trends is great reason for optimism – showing how the nation’s rapid economic growth is making it increasingly plausible for these barriers to be overcome.

Ibrahim Sirkeci is director of Regent's Centre for Transnational Studies, Regent’s College

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule (R) and Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis give a joint press conference in Ankara on May 17, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ibrahim Sirkeci is director of Regent's Centre for Transnational Studies, Regent’s College

Ellie Foreman-Peck
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Martin Schulz: could this man bring an end to the reign of Angela Merkel?

The German Eurocrat is the biggest threat to the possibility of a fourth term for Merkel. 

At first sight, Martin Schulz looks like an unlikely political saviour. Thin of hair and thick of waist, the 61-year-old was a member of the European Parliament for 23 years and its president for five. In an anti-establishment age, it was predicted that Schulz would struggle when he became the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) candidate to replace Angela Merkel as the German chancellor in January. Instead, he is spearheading a remarkable revival in his tribe’s fortunes. On 19 February, for the first time in a decade, the SPD polled above Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), attracting 33 per cent to their 32 per cent. The SPD vote share has increased by 12 points in a month. The cause is clear: “Martin mania”.

For months, it was assumed that Merkel would secure a fourth term as chancellor in September’s federal election. The SPD, the grandfather of European social democracy and Germany’s oldest party (it was founded in 1863), had polled as low as 19 per cent. After forming a grand coalition with the CDU in 2013, Schulz’s party was marginalised as Merkel claimed credit for policies such as the country’s first minimum wage. Voters defected to the far-left Die Linke and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. The SPD’s future looked to be one of managed decline.

Sigmar Gabriel, the party’s leader since 2009, stood little chance of supplanting Merkel as chancellor. As a result, like François Hollande, he reached for the pearl-handled revolver: he announced his intention to step aside on 24 January after internal SPD polling showed that Schulz would perform significantly better against Merkel. “It was not an easy decision but I’m convinced it was the right decision,” Gabriel told reporters. His judgement was vindicated as public polls gave Schulz an 11-point lead over Merkel (49-38).

The German chancellor’s apparent unassailability owed less to her strength than to her opponents’ weakness. Eleven years after she entered office, voters had grown weary of Merkel’s leadership but saw no viable alternative. In Schulz, they have found one. Having been engaged at EU level and held no domestic office since standing down after 11 years as mayor of the north-western market town Würselen in 1998, Schulz has been embraced by voters as a relative outsider.

Unlike his SPD colleagues, Schulz can criticise the CDU’s record without appearing hypocritical or feeble. He has attracted voters with a centre-left emphasis on redistribution and social justice. “When people see that their taxes are used to give their children a future, they buy into it,” Schulz has said in interviews.

The European Parliament has been a useful platform for his pugnacious style. He is best known for being compared to a concentration camp guard by Silvio Berlusconi in 2003 and for his interjection in 2010 after Nigel Farage branded the then EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, a “damp rag”. Schulz retorted: “It’s not right that this man should be able to trample over the dignity of this house!”

Voters have warmed to Schulz’s personal story as well as his political history. He was born on 20 December 1955 in the village of Hehlrath, North-Rhine Westphalia, to a policeman father and a homemaker mother (he is the youngest of five). Rather than going to university, he trained as a bookseller and was a promising footballer. Two severe knee injuries ended his playing career at the age of 18 and he sought refuge in alcohol after falling into depression. Having contemplated suicide, he recovered to open a bookshop in his home town (which he ran until he became an MEP in 1994) and has been teetotal since 1980.

Schulz educated himself by devouring historical fiction (his favourite writers are John Steinbeck and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) and retains the restlessness of an autodidact (he often works 18-hour days). His bonhomie and blunt manner appeal to voters who regard Merkel as aloof.

That Schulz has come to the SPD’s rescue is unsurprising. He joined the party at the age of 19 and became the youngest mayor in North-Rhine Westphalia when he was elected in Würselen at 31. After more than two decades serving the EU, the attractions of a return to domestic politics were obvious. “People must look into your eyes and see that you are a bloody streetfighter,” he remarked in 2013, as he presciently dismissed Ed Miliband’s electoral chances.

Schulz has disoriented the Christian Democrats, who failed to anticipate a centre-left renaissance. In a mark of how much he has unsettled them, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has denounced him as a Trump-like populist for his slogan “Make Europe great again”. Were Schulz to replace Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to be elected French president, the pair would unite in seeking to impose punitive Brexit terms on the UK.

For Germany’s Social Democrats, the fear is that Schulz’s surge has come too soon – voters could swing back to Merkel and the CDU before polling day. But after years as an emblem of centre-left malaise, the SPD has momentum. Schulz is determined to prove that there are second acts in political lives. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit