A Belgian landowner risked triggering an international incident by moving an old stone boundary marker that has denoted his country's border with France since the 1820 Treaty of Kortrijk.
Keeping his plough on the straight and narrow became a problem for the farmer, who moved the stone out of his way.
According to the mayor of the Belgian town of Erquelinnes, David Lavaux, the bold proprietor had underestimated the implications of pushing the historic marker back two metres and 20 centimetres.
“He made Belgium bigger and France smaller, it’s not a good idea,” Lavaux told French TV channel TF1, adding that this sort of “landgrab” could cause clashes between private landowners, let alone neighbouring states.
“Obviously, that increased the size of his property,” the mayor told AFP. “What he didn’t realise was that the border had been precisely geolocated in 2019, so it was easy to prove that it had been moved.
“I was happy, my town was bigger, but the mayor of Bousignies-sur-Roc didn’t agree.”
The discreet land grab was spotted about a month ago by members of an association of history enthusiasts from the French side of the border.
Belgium was not independent when the border was traced, but in 1815 when Napoleon was defeated by the allied forces at Waterloo, the realm fell under the Dutch throne. Hence the border markers, placed in 1819, are marked with an F for France on one side and an N for The Netherlands on the other.
The frontier was enshrined in law in 1820 under the Treaty of Kortrijk and remained in the same place after Belgium became an independent kingdom in 1830 – at least until the Erquelinnes landowner’s recent ploy.
War is not imminent, however.
“We should be able to avoid a new border war,” the mayor of neighbouring French village, Aurélie Welonek, told La Voix du Nord.
According to Lavaux, an appointment has been made with the landowner to resolve the issue. “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.
However, if the farmer refused, the case could make its way to the Belgian foreign ministry which would have to recall a Franco-Belgian commission for the first time since 1930.