Turkish convergence to the EU

Güven Sak

Here is a great Albert Einstein quote: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” You need to first define problems, which will hopefully separate the significant facts from the trivial ones. Our European friends sometimes don’t think about the problem of Turkey clearly and fail to distinguish the essential from the trivial.

This has had a huge price. The European transformation of Turkey has gained pace with the Customs Union process that became operational in 1996. In 1996, Amazon was just in the second year of its operation. Elon Musk was at the University of Pennsylvania studying towards economics and physics degrees. Think about how much commerce has changed since then. Yet we still trade with the EU through the customs union agreement we negotiated at that time. That is because we are focusing on the wrong things.

Turkey today is an integral part of not only the European economy, but Europe itself. Let me give you a few data points regarding Turkish convergence to Europe.

Turkey’s per capita GDP in 1996 was around $3,000, and, by 2008, it had increased to $10,941. Things were going well up until that time. Since then, a stalled Europeanization process, as well as several global and domestic crises with no structural reform agenda in sight, have led to a decline in Turkish per capita GDP to around $7,700 in 2020.

The EU process has stalled, yet Turkey’s convergence towards Europe hasn’t. Take a look at the newly announced population growth figures in Turkey. According to the Turkish Statistics Institution (TÜİK), Turkish population growth has declined significantly to a mere 0.5 percent in 2020. It was 1.4 percent just a year ago. It was 1.5 percent in 2000. That’s what I call a significant decline.

Why? The virus? Of course not. It’s social change, the continuing Europeanization of Turkish society, despite the political noise. Let me give you another figure. According to the household consumption surveys of TÜİK, the share of one-person households in Turkey was around 3.5 percent in 2002, and it was 16.8 percent in 2019. The share of crowded households with grandparents has declined from 16.5 percent in 2002 to 12.5 percent in 2019. That looks to be a change in the Turkish way of life as we know it.

Turkish life expectancy has increased to 78.6 years and fertility rate has dropped to 1.88, below the replacement ratio, again in 2019. Turkey is quickly turning into a country with aging population together with the atomization of the family.

Now we have it. 2020 population figures also note that the share of those aged 0–14, i.e. children, of the population has declined from 26.4 to 22.8 percent, while that of 65+ has increased from 7.1 percent to 9.5 percent. There has not been a decline in the working population yet, but it is inevitable.

I don’t mean to present these facts as necessarily good or bad things. It is what it is. Rather, I implore anyone thinking about Turkey to focus on the essential, not the trivia of day-to-day events. Do not get lost in clickbait journalism. When you look at the essential indicators, such as demographics, Turkey looks more European every day.

This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 27.02.2021

Originally published at https://www.tepav.org.tr.

Notes from Turkey and its vicinity: It’s the economy, stupid

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