A Belgian farmer has risked an international incident, after inadvertently moving the French border.
Annoyed with a large stone marker getting in the way of his tractor, the farmer reportedly moved it a few metres back, before continuing on his merry way. As it turned out, the stone was where it was for a reason. It marked the land border between France and Belgium, and the farmer’s decision resulted in France’s territory being shrunk by about 2.25m.
The diplomatic faux pas was only uncovered when a group of local history enthusiasts came across the stone during a walk through the forest. Armed with old school maps showing the official location of the border, they soon realised something was out of place.
In many places, unilaterally moving a border would be cause for a pretty serious international dispute, but in this case, both sides were able to laugh it off.
‘He made Belgium bigger and France smaller, it’s not a good idea’ David Lavaux, mayor of Belgian border village Erquelinnes, told French TV station TF1. ‘I was happy, my town was bigger… but the mayor of Bousignies-sur-Roc didn’t agree.’
Speaking to La Voix du Nord, Bousignies mayor Aurélie Welonek confirmed that the farmer had ‘repositioned his fence on trees which belong to the woods of Bousignies,’ joking ‘we should however be able to avoid a new border war.’
According to BBC News, the stone itself dates back more than 200 years to 1819, when France’s northern land border was first being marked out. The Franco-Belgian border itself was formally established a year later with the signing of the Treaty of Kortrijk, with Belgium then still part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Running approximately 620km from Luxembourg to the English Channel, the border set out by the Treaty remains essentially the same to this day.
It’s not clear whether the farmer was unaware that the stone marked out the land border, or whether he figured clearing a path for his tractor was more important than observing a centuries-old international border.
With Belgium and France operating an open border under the Schengen agreement, the farmer can probably be forgiven for not being aware of the boundary’s location, but even so, he’s being asked to move the stone back to its original location ‘so as not to create a diplomatic incident.’
If he doesn’t, local news site France Bleu Nord notes that the Treaty of Kortjik has a solution for exactly this kind of issue, setting out that ‘a Franco-Belgian commission should meet to determine the exact course of the border.’ Although when they drew up those plans, this probably isn’t quite what they had in mind.