Belgian Farmer Moves Border Stone, Breaking 200-Year-Old Treaty With France

If the man refuses to put it back, a Franco-Belgian border commission that hasn’t met since the 1930s would have to be reinstated.
May 5, 2021, 1:00pm
Bousignies-sur-Roc_(Nord,_Fr)_vue_du_village
Image: Havang(nl)/Wikimedia Commons

French media reported on Sunday that a Belgian farmer had displaced an entire border when he moved a border stone that was in the way of his tractor. 

In moving the border marker further into French territory, the farmer enlarged the border of Belgium. More severely, he also broke the over 200-year-old Treaty of Kortrijk, an agreement stipulating the border between the two countries that was signed after the infamous battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by a coalition of European nations. 

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The disrupted border—near the towns of Bousignies-sur-Roc and Erquelinnes—was originally discovered by a trio of local history aficionados who were exploring the local area with old maps, local French newspaper La Voix du Nord reported. They found that the border stone, which weighs over 150 kilograms, had been moved over 2 meters (~6.5 feet) from its original location. 

The two mayors of the adjacent towns have responded to the situation amicably so far. 

“Already we can’t move the [border] markers between fields, obviously between countries it is even more serious,” David Lavaux, mayor of the nearby Belgian town of Erquelinnes, told French newspaper and radio network France Bleu. “We will kindly ask him to put the marker back in its original place.”

If the farmer for any reason refuses to put the stone back, Lavaux said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have to get involved and a Franco-Belgian border commission that has not been called since the 1930s would have to be reinstated to solve the dispute. He also noted that technically speaking moving the marker is a criminal act. 

Neither Lavaux nor the French and Belgian Minister of Foriegn Affairs immediately responded to an email from Motherboard asking what such a commission would involve and how it functioned in the past. 

“As far as I know, these kinds of ‘border disputes’ between Belgium and France have barely taken place between 1820 and today, and I do not know why the [border] commission met in 1930,” Marnix Beyen, a historian at the University of Antwerp, wrote in an email to Motherboard. “I do guess that if they would have to meet again, they would handle the matter in a rather neutral and friendly way.” 

“Probably this kind of incident would have aroused more consternation if the border were moved the other way (at least in the 19th century), because fear of French annexation has been an important feature of Belgian political and cultural life,” he added. 

In any case, those involved seem to think that the quandary will be solved peacefully. 

“We should be able to avoid a new border war,” Lavaux told La Voix du Nord.