A farmer in Belgium has caused an international incident by inadvertently redrawing the border between Belgium and France. The farmer moved a border stone that stood on the grounds for over 200 years because it was blocking his tractor.
The two countries share a 390-mile border that was established under a treaty signed in 1820.
The stone, marked 1819, was put in place four years after the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Nearly 50,000 soldiers died in the battle that would determine the border.
However, for the farmer, it was much more important for him to be able to move his tractor than to protect the integrity of the Franco-Belgium border.
Two weeks ago, a historian was taking a walk through the Belgian village of Erquelinne and saw that the stone had been moved seven-and-a-half feet. The redrawn border expanded Belgium and diminished France by about 3,200 square feet.
David Lavaux, the mayor of Erquelinnes, was amused by the farmer's actions, but asked him to please move it back to avoid creating a "diplomatic incident."
"We have no interest in expanding the town, or the country. He made Belgium bigger and France smaller. It's not a good idea," Lavaux told the French TV channel TF1. "I was happy, my town was bigger. But the mayor of Bousignies-sur-Roc didn't agree."
Bousignies-sur-Roc lies on the French side of the border and is home to around 400 people.
"If [the farmer] shows goodwill, he won't have a problem, we will settle this issue amicably," Lavaux added.
Lavaux knows exactly where the stone should be moved to keep the original border intact. "We know exactly where the stone was before, right next to a tree," Lavaux told CNN. "In 2019, during the 200th anniversary, they were geo-localized very precisely."
If the farmer refuses to move the stone back to its original position, it may cause some tension between the two countries. The problem would have to come before the Belgian foreign ministry. The ministry would then have to call a summit of the Franco-Belgian border commission to determine exactly where the stone goes.
The commission has been dormant since 1930.
"We should be able to avoid a new border war," Aurélie Welonek, the mayor of Bousignies-sur-Roc, a French town the borders Belgium, said, citing the fact that the two countries get along much better than they did during Napoleon's reign.
"Our two countries get along well, so there were no great concerns at this point," she said. "I fully trust my Belgian counterpart who did what was necessary with the farmer. We asked him to move the stone back, and should he not cooperate, then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would get involved."
Let's hope that the farmer does what's right and moves the border stone back where it belongs. Or, maybe he can petition the Fracno-Belgium border commission to find a way for him to drive his tractor without having to redraw the map of Europe.
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