EU economy seen in need of Turkish labor in the future

ANKARA – Europeans seem anxious to keep the door firmly closed to Turkish workers as Ankara prepares for EU entry talks, yet 20 years from now they could be crying out for more immigration, a Turkish labor official said. But Turkey must do much better in training its workers for tomorrow’s high-tech economy if it is to meet the new demand, Gulay Aslantepe, Turkey’s representative to the International Labor Organization, told Reuters in an interview yesterday. «Free movement of labor will be a necessity for Europe 20 to 25 years from now. But the need will be for a well-qualified and well-trained work force equipped for the economic expectations of that time,» Aslantepe said. «The EU has for now restricted free movement of labor even for eight of its 10 new members (in Central and Eastern Europe) because unemployment of nearly 10 percent is not something they can handle,» she said. «But if for no other reason than to keep its social security systems afloat, Europe will need young workers (in the future)… We see the European economy is slowing down and the EU needs to find a way to jump-start its economy,» Aslantepe added. Turkey is due to start its long-delayed talks to join the European Union on October 3, but is not expected to become a member of the wealthy bloc before 2015 at the earliest. Young population Critics of Turkey’s EU bid sometimes raise the specter of unrestricted labor migration from the predominantly Muslim country of 72 million people. They also point to the problems countries like Germany have already had in trying to integrate often poorly educated immigrant workers from rural Turkey. Faced with such hostility, EU leaders agreed at a summit last December that the bloc could impose «long transition periods, derogations… or permanent safeguard clauses» against the free circulation of labor from Turkey after it joins. But supporters of Turkey’s bid like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, say taking in Turkey, with its young work force, will boost Europe’s economy and offset the effects of its rapidly aging population. Official data show that Turkey has a work force of 25 million people. Around half of the total population of 72 million is under 30 years old and only 7 percent is over 65 – a demographic profile Europeans can only dream of as they battle low birth rates and try to fund a growing army of pensioners. But Aslantepe said Turkey needs to invest more in training. «Europe’s labor demands are not going to be the same as those of the 1960s,» she said, referring to a period of high Turkish worker migration to German and other European cities. «Turkey has to understand that fact and train its young workers. In the ’60s, qualified or not, everyone could go and find work outside Turkey,» she said. «With the progress of information technology, future jobs will be much more compact. Even now, it is rare to see new factories opening that employ 5,000 or 10,000 workers because the models of production have changed,» she said. «If we do not manage to meet the requirements of the future, other countries will benefit from the EU’s labor opportunities. Maybe North African countries. We are living in a very competitive world,» Aslantepe said.