A Belgian farmer caused an international stir last week after he unknowingly shifted Belgium’s border with France by roughly seven and a half feet.
The actual moving is said to have happened roughly two to three months ago, but it was unknown to the government until a little happenstance a few days ago.
The border separating Belgium and France was marked out by stone markers weighing roughly 150 kilograms, which until this point had remained unmoved by anyone. The farmer was apparently annoyed by one of the stone markers being in the way of his tractor.
Not realizing what it is, and assuming it’s a normal piece of rock, moved it from the Erquelinnes town border roughly 7.5 feet inwards of French territory causing an unintentional land grab of approximately 1000 square meters.
Later, a local history enthusiast came upon the marker while on a walk in the woods, and recognized it as being a stone marker set up at the border in 1819, when it was first marked out.
Local authorities subsequently alerted, after which this matter reached the government. This moving of the stone marker could, in theory, be a very serious issue as it violates the 1820 treaty of Kortrijk. This treaty was established after Napoleon’s defeat in the battle of Waterloo, in present day Belgium, and therefore has extreme historical significance.
Luckily for the farmer, instead of causing an international uproar this mishap has led to an amused response from both countries.
“He made Belgium bigger and France smaller, it’s not a good idea,” David Lavaux, mayor of the Belgian village of Erquelinnes, told French TV channel TF1.
“I was happy, my town was bigger,” the Belgian mayor added with a laugh. “But the mayor of Bousignies-sur-Roc didn’t agree.”
The mayor of the neighbouring French village, Aurélie Welonek, also humorously added that they should be able to avoid a new border war.
However, she also added that the farmer also repositioned his fence on trees that belong to the wood of Bousignies.
The two towns lie roughly midway on the Franco-Belgian border, with Erquellines a Walloon municipality with a little under 10,000 residents and Bousignies-sur-Roc a commune in France’s Nord department with a population of around 400.
Belgian authorities plan on simply contacting the farmer and asking him to return the stone. In case he doesn’t abide by the request, the Belgian foreign ministry could open a Franco-Belgian border commission, something that hasn’t happened since 1930, according to BBC News.
The farmer could also face criminal charges if he doesn’t comply. “If he shows good will, he won’t have a problem, we will settle this issue amicably,” Lavaux told Belgian news website Sudinfo.
The ending of this case remains to be seen. If the farmer takes initiative and puts the marker back in it’s initial position, no charges will be tacked and he will be free of any judicial pressures.
Any refusal to do so will lead to him potentially facing the aforementioned criminal charges which would not be a minor offense. It is likely that the farmer will put the marker back in place, but only time will show their definitive action.