Turkey’s Population And Immigration To The European Union


  1. As part of the EU’s efforts to tackle the migrant crisis they have turned to Turkey. This has resulted in a joint EU-Turkey action plan[i] on migration along with wider incentives to “re-energise” Turkey’s application for the EU and an offer of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the Schengen zone from October 2016.
  2. The EU has a re-admissions agreement with Turkey that will become fully applicable in 2016[ii]. This provides for the return of third-country nationals who have crossed directly from Turkey to a member state in the EU. The introduction of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU[iii] is conditional on its application. Although the agreement includes Turkish nationals living illegally in the EU it seems unlikely that many will be returned, given the limited EU capacity for removals and the potential scale of removals of migrants refused asylum.
  3. Under the action plan Turkey will register migrants on its soil and do more to prevent irregular migration into Europe while the EU will pay Turkey 3bn euros as a contribution towards the welfare of Syrian refugees residing there.
  4. Turkey’s population has grown rapidly and is projected to continue growing. It grew from under 50 million in 1985 to 78.7 million in 2015. It is projected to overtake Germany’s declining population by 2018 and to reach over 95 million by mid-century[iv]. Thus Turkey would have the largest population in the EU with implications for its voting power if it were eventually to join.

Figure 1: Actual and Projected populations of Germany and Turkey


  1. Turkey has been a candidate to join the European Union since 1995. The accession process formally began in 2005 but to date has made slow process with no planned joining date. To join the EU, negotiations have to be completed in 35 separate areas of policy and the candidate country has to take a range of EU rules and regulations into their national law[v].  The European Council announced in October 2015 that Chapter 17 (economic and monetary policy) would now be formally opened.
  2. Turkey has a GDP per capita of $10,500, less than one quarter of that of the UK and on a par with Romania and Bulgaria[vi]. Parts of Eastern Turkey are impoverished so there must be a considerable risk that visa free access to the Schengen zone of the EU will lead to a significant increase in illegal working by Turkish “visitors”, especially to Germany where there is already a substantial Turkish population.

11th December 2015

[i] http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/migration/docs/20151016-eu-revised-draft-action-plan_en.pdf

[ii] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2012:0239:FIN:EN:PDF

[iii] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-15-6194_en.htm

[iv] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision

[v] Turkey 2015 Report, European Commission, http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2015/20151110_report_turkey.pdf

[vi] World Bank

11th December 2015 - Asylum, European Union, Population

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