Belgian farmer accidentally moved French border

Brussels, Belgium: By removing an old stone boundary marker that has marked Belgium's border with France since the 1820 Treaty of Kortrijk, a Belgian landowner risked causing an international incident.

According to David Lavaux, mayor of Erquelines, Belgium, the bold proprietor had underestimated the consequences of moving the historic marker two meters and 20 centimeters back (seven feet).

"I was happy, my town was bigger," the Belgian mayor said with a laugh. "But the mayor of Bousignies-sur-Roc didn't agree."

The stone demarkation came on his way and apparently annoyed by the stone in his tractor's path, had moved it inside French territory.

Instead of causing an international uproar, the incident has been met with smiles on both sides of the border.

"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. 

"Obviously, that increased the size of his property," the bourgmestre told AFP. "What he didn't realize was that the border had been precisely geo-located in 2019, so it was easy to prove that it had been moved."

Members of a group of history buffs on the French side of the border discovered the clandestine land grab about a month ago.

When the frontier was traced, Belgium was not sovereign, but when Napoleon was defeated by allied powers at Waterloo in 1815, the kingdom fell under the Dutch throne.

As a result, the 1819 boundary markers have a 'F' for France on one side and a 'N' for the Netherlands on the other.

The border was established in law by the Treaty of Kortrijk in 1820, and it remained in place after Belgium gained independence in 1830 — at least until the Erquelines landowner's recent ruse.

However, war is not inevitable. According to Mayor Lavaux, a meeting with the landowner has been scheduled to resolve the matter.

"We'll see him before the end of the week and if he replaces the stone, we'll make no more of it," he told AFP.

The farmer will be contacted by local Belgian officials, who will ask him to return the stone to its original site, according to the BBC. 

If this does not occur, the case could be referred to the Belgian foreign ministry, which will be required to convene a Franco-Belgian border commission, which has been dormant since 1930.

The farmer also risks international criminal charges if he failed to comply. 

COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF DAVID LAVAUX VIA THE BBC

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