Wednesday, 26 May 2021 10:23

How could a Belgian farmer accidentally move the border with France? It’s surprisingly easy, as history shows Featured

A farmer recently raised the potential for an international incident when he inadvertently redrew the border between Belgium and France

He was reportedly annoyed at a piece of rock that blocked the path of his tractor, and so he moved it. But this rock turned out to be a border stone which had been in place since 1819. By throwing it out of the path of his tractor, he redrew the Franco-Belgian border by 2.29 metres (7.5ft), making Belgium larger and France smaller.

The incident was, fortunately, met with good humour – but if the farmer refuses to return the stone to its original position he could face criminal charges, and the case would need to be escalated to the Belgian Foreign Ministry. The ministry, in turn, would need to convene a Franco-Belgian border commission. There hasn’t been a meeting of such a body since 1930.

The Franco-Belgian border was established under the Treaty of Kortrijk – signed in 1820 after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo five years earlier. This was one of a series of border treaties signed by France in the 19th century. But these treaties were never the end of the matter. The border’s exact position needed to accommodate the landscape, and so in the case of the Franco-Belgian border the negotiations between local administrators on both sides lasted until 1825.


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One of the stones that marks the border between France and Belgium. Shutterstock


In other areas of France, borders that lay alongside rivers moved as the rivers were rerouted or burst their banks. Some towns were overlooked by the border commissions completely. On the Franco-German border, everyone living in the area had assumed that a forest belonging to the town of Leidingen sat on the German side of the border. In 1918 it was discovered that the protocol of 1833 had made no provision for this and the forest had been in France all along. Meanwhile, regular crossings for work or shopping combined with few (if any) border restrictions meant that the people living alongside the border generally paid little attention to it.



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